Open up the Leadership and relax the rules

The current political climate, with the two main political Parties further apart in their ideologies and policies than they have been for many years, together with the division engendered by Brexit, afford a great opportunity for the party to reinvigorate its place and image with the electorate.

To date, the Party has not persuaded the electorate that its Liberal values and principles make it their natural political home. Supporting Remain has not delivered a magical formula. The spectre of a new independent party should be a wake-up call to all Liberal Democrats.

The Party is too often seen as excluded from the battleground of British politics, not a vibrant and existing choice for disillusioned voters. The Party presents as a monochrome image of middle England. Labour is the party that has captured the passion of the youth vote. Local parties run as retirement pastimes or as an alternative to the allotment, will not make the Liberal Democrats the voice for the centre ground voter.

I agree with the proposals to open up membership and the leadership of the Party. At a recent International Women’s Day event Liberal Democrat peer, Floella Benjamin, made the point that no one group of people have a preserve over politics and that it is for everyone. Opening the pool of persons eligible to stand as Leader gives the Party the best chance of attracting a potentially exceptional leader. We need to focus on persons who can ignite Liberal democracy in the mindset of voters.

Love or loathe his politics, Nigel Farage has managed to secure a prominence and influence on the political landscape which any Lib Dem politician would die for. Vibrant and in-touch leadership is crucial. Gina Miller is an example of the type of leader the Party needs in the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and diverse society that the UK in the 21st century has become. We need to be led by a leader who mirrors our society as it is today and one who can send the message of inclusivity that is at our core; one who can bestride the global stage with true credibility to propel the Party to a position akin to Justin Trudeau of the Canadian Liberal Party.

If the fortunes of the Party are to radically change so must the membership. A registered supporter scheme would encourage a groundswell of support that the Party crucially needs to change its fortunes. We should foster a culture in the Party which values support however it manifests itself and wherever it comes from, rather than a myopic approach which looks merely to members. That is the difference between being a party and becoming a political and social movement. Our present leader, Vince Cable, has said that once you open a window you may let in some flies. However, a window which opens onto a vista of Liberal Democracy poses no danger of extremes as with the two main Parties. Robust safeguards can be developed to deal with supporters whose conduct is contrary to the rules and values of the Party.

I also agree with the proposal to remove the minimum period an individual must be a party member before seeking selection as PPC. However, we must have rules and procedures in place which prevent local parties seeking to stymie candidates, particularly female and transgender candidates from diverse ethnic backgrounds, becoming involved in the Party and fulfilling their potential. We need to move to become a real force for Liberal values in British politics. The changes proposed will no doubt encounter opposition, however they are the only hope of making a real change to the Party’s standing with the electorate.

* Almona Choudhury is a member of the West Berkshire & Newbury Liberal Democrats and an Executive Member of the Green Liberal Democrats.

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31 Comments

  • James Baillie 14th Mar '19 - 6:03pm

    With every one of these articles that gets pumped out, I feel a greater sense of deja vu.

  • “The Party presents as a monochrome image of middle England”

    “Local parties run as retirement pastimes or as an alternative to the allotment”

    “we must have rules and procedures in place which prevent local parties seeking to stymie candidates, particularly female and transgender candidates from diverse ethnic backgrounds”

    So, is the strategy now to insult the current membership into supporting the proposals?

    “The changes proposed will no doubt encounter opposition, however they are the only hope of making a real change to the Party’s standing with the electorate”

    Do you seriously think that the lack of a registered supporters scheme and having an MP as leader are what’s holding us back? I’m sorry, but that’s delusional.

  • Ian Patterson 14th Mar '19 - 8:19pm

    Brother Trudeau’s name should be invoked lightly these days. As mirrred in allegations of cover up, wrongdoing and casually losing female cabinet members.

  • Martin Land 14th Mar '19 - 8:33pm

    You are Mrs. May and I claim my £5.

  • Hard work and ruthless honesty are what will restore the Party’s reputation with the electorate, not these half-baked ideas which are being peddled as a short-cut by the Party establishment. These proposals will result in the Party becoming even more vacuous and ideology-free than it already is.

  • David: Although I have covered that news too 🙂

  • Mark Blackburn 14th Mar '19 - 9:27pm

    This barrage of top-down semi-directives reeks of the worst times during the Coalition when the party machine was sending in the big guns to sell stuff grassroots members were wary of – the NHS reforms being the occasion which sticks most in my mind. The barrage has become so constant it’s verging on bullying, and liberals tend to stand up to bullies. In a similar thread a figure of quarter of a million supporters was quoted – I tried to make the point that if we have so many supporters, why do we need to reform? Now I appreciate it would make a lot of sense to coordinate and systemise all this support more and better than we currently do, but I can’t for the life of me see why these people need to get voting status or any sort of instant access to member privileges.

  • Sean Hyland 14th Mar '19 - 9:34pm

    Some policies on what makes a difference in peoples life and how to get them publicised might make more sense to spend time on.

    How many people have actually pre-registered on the main party website? If its a lot then publicise that and that might convince members its wanted.

  • There obviously seems to be a highly orchestrated campaign in support of these proposals – but the real purpose can only be surmised, particularly now it seems that we are likely to be faced with a leadership election in May.

    I do not object to the basic concept of a registered supporters’ scheme – but the taller the claims made for its anticipated benefits, e.g. “… the only hope of making a real change to the Party’s standing with the electorate”, the more dubious the whole project seems.

  • Almona Choudhury 14th Mar '19 - 10:52pm

    Tony Hill, Hard work and transparency are indeed main qualities of a successful organisation which is usually led by charismatic and talented leaders. As far as leading a political Party, we need someone who may resonate with the general public. These ideas are hardly ‘half baked’ but arrived at with much consultation and research. If they turn out to be a ‘short cut’ to lead us to succeed in becoming recognised as a serious third Party contender in mainstream politics -surely that is a job well done? Our Party is hardly ‘vacuous’ and ‘ideology free’ nor is it in danger of becoming so.

  • Almona Choudhury 14th Mar '19 - 11:24pm

    Sean Hagen, rather than ‘an orchestrated campaign’ being conducted, perhaps there is a vast segment of our membership, particularly those who joined of late, who are in support of the proposals? The registered supporter’s scheme has a proven track record having been successfully implemented by the Labour Party so hardly a ‘dubious project’.

  • Almona, I have never had the good fortune to meet anyone in the Lib Dems who considers Labour’s experiment with its registered supporters scheme a success other than in lumbering Labour with a leader who is pro Brexit, and anti a People’s Vote.

    Can you tell me what criteria you have used to determine it a success?

  • “A registered supporter scheme would encourage a groundswell of support”

    Evidence for this?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Mar '19 - 1:27am

    This piece from Almona had my support until the comment refering to the sucess of the Labour scheme, the biggest catastrophe in that party’s history , which led to the extremism, antisemitism that came about before during and after the contest that gave this country the worst opposition leader in years and the sort of party that most democracies thought were confined to the farther right or left fringe, full of conspiracy theories and hatred of anyone not in their ideological grip. Yet still most of Labour who are probably as concerned about that as we all should be, are stuck with their wider clan.

    Alomona is correct a Liberal party, as long as it does not embrace the sort of ultra liberal radicalism a little too identitarianism for some of us,is not likely to deviate from the mainstream, though the moral force for good is somewhat tainted by the awful testimony of an otherwise good man, Steel, in the abuse enquiry, and he reveals a knighthood given for Smith, offered by him, with awareness of the hideous mps crimes.

    Is it any wonder I am one of the few who regularly decries the lack of toughness on violent crime, and promotes a law and order liberal democracy routed in the harm principle of Mill.

    If I had a platform to speak for this , it and I would do more for a real cause, than any supporters scheme!!!!!!!!!!

  • David Evershed 15th Mar '19 - 1:44am

    What elections has Gina Miller ever won?

  • John Bicknell 15th Mar '19 - 8:23am

    There may be exceptional circumstances when the party might need to look outside parliament for its leader, but there are obvious practical drawbacks to this. I note that the article again touts Gina Miller as a potential leader, yet she has stated emphatically that she has no wish or ambition for this role. Nor, as far as I am aware, is she even a party member. It does all sound rather desperate.

  • When I came in to work on Monday I thought “I wonder how many of these sell-in articles there will be” and when they would start. While it may well be that individuals genuinely believe in what they are writing and make their own decisions to do so, this feels yet again like the sell in techniques we have seen time and time again. As someone who has worked in (and taught) PR and politics for quite some time now, I find these campaigns through Lib Dem Voice predictable and annoying. ( I would rather LDV organised these issues as a sort of debate, seeking out people to put each side and to respond to each other over a short period of time)

    And while we are on the subject, can we please stop touting Gina Miller. She has said she doesn’t want to do it and while she has been very good at some high profile stuff, I thought her speech to conference was poor and that she lacked some of the other things we need in a leader.

  • Richard Firth-Godbeh 15th Mar '19 - 9:49am

    I too worry about using Labour as an example for opening up the membership. Labour’s policy changes have been nothing less than catastrophic, leading to an authoritarian cult of personality party with a huge antisemitism problem that is still trailing in the polls to the most incompetent and hypocritical government since the civil war.

    That said, being a movement is a good thing, and coming across as a sensible option whose primary idealogical stance is ‘evidence first’ would, for me, also be sensible. But then, I always thought New Labour’s third way idea was right car, wrong road.

  • As others have already commented, Almona’s advocacy of Labour’s model as a successful example of a registered supporters’ scheme (see her comment at 11.24pm yesterday) further undermines the credibility of her arguments.

    There is probably a valid case for some form of supporters’ scheme, but IMHO the actual model that has been presented for approval by Conference raises more questions/problems than answers/solutions.

  • We need a registered supporters scheme, to end the ludicrous situation where HQ cannot talk to supporters signed up locally, local parties cannot talk to supporters signed up by HQ.
    It’s clear that some of the proposals being hitched onto the back of this proposal appear to be hugely unpopular (and I think

  • The UK is a representative democracy; that is one where we elect people to make decisions on our behalf after doing (we hope!) the necessary ‘homework’ on the pros and cons of the available choices. It’s a tough job needing a great many skills rarely found together.

    It’s impossible to identify those skills in advance but representative democracy works because those who don’t measure up get demoted or kicked out and that winnows out the best candidates.

    Parties that also operate this way like the Conservatives always have several strands of opinion lurking on the margins and ready to take over if/when the mainstream fails – as it always does. This gives the crucial ability to evolve by jumping to a different tack.

    The Lib Dems follow a different model – that of a direct democracy where every member theoretically has an equal say in all decisions. Of course, it doesn’t actually work like that: some are, ahem, more equal than others, particularly a small group of insiders – the Blob who make policy via ponderous multiple committees.

    They do what overly large committees always do – find the lowest common denominator, the safest choice driven always by process more than political nous. And once made, it’s hard to alter anything – the process is too supertanker for that. In theory, conference is sovereign but it mostly rubber-stamps the Blob’s ideas; substantive changes are very rare.

    Problems with this include that alternative strands of opinion are a threat to the, ahem, ‘intelligent design’ of the Blob so must be side-lined and ignored and that precludes the possibility of the system evolving fast, makes it politically tone-deaf and prone to capture by a particular faction.

    Spokespeople are among the ‘more equal’ but aren’t constitutionally responsible for policy except that the leader controls the Blob sufficiently to set his own direction with little or no reference to the general sentiment and, as we have seen, can stay above challenge while doing so.

    Thirty years’ experience under a goodly number of ‘leaders’, many highly talented, says this doesn’t work and that in government it’s a disaster.

    So, hoping for a ‘Saviour’ leader is fundamentally misguided; we need a root & branch overhaul of party management to make it properly democratic.

  • Julian Tisi 15th Mar '19 - 9:33pm

    The idea that a registered supporters scheme is some sort of booster rocket to success is wishful thinking. While I’m not vehemently against the idea I don’t think it’s at the heart of our problems. If anything it’s sending the wrong message – that we don’t know what we stand for and would like others to take us over and tell us what we’re about. Add in the plan for the leader to be outside the Parliamentary Party and you have very poor signalling to the average voter – “we lack ambition and we don’t like who we are”.

    The biggest problem for the Liberal Democrats is the one it has always had. A lack of connectivity with the average voter about who we are and what we’re about. A lack of media coverage is much of this but we don’t help ourselves by failing to set out clearly who we are and what we’re about.

    When the TIG group launched they had a very short, simple statement of belief. We have the preamble to the constitution but it’s short, old-fashioned and does not mean anything to most people. We need such a bold statement of principles that sets us clearly apart from both Labour and Conservatives. It shouldn’t be hard to come up with something when those two parties have gone so far to the extremes. It would mention freedom, a belief in extending opportunity to all, believing in people, seeing the best in them, looking deeply into problems rather than seeking to find easy scapegoats to blame, it would mention fairness – across generations, to our future world, to those in need. It would mention plurality, etc. etc. Then of course we need to build policies that demonstrate these values.

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