Opinion: Cherish the independence of elected members

House of Commons. Crown Copyright applies to this photo - http://www.flickr.com/photos/uk_parliament/4642915654/I was alarmed initially by the title of Mark Pack´s piece “Lessons from Rennard #4: who gets the party whip is a matter for the whole party”. As it turns out I find myself in agreement with much of it.

Rightly he points out that the smaller the group the more disproportionate influence one person will have. I like his suggestion of referring decisions of removal of the whip to the Federal Appeals Panel. Some scrutiny of the decision from outside parliament will be beneficial to Party and the individual. If adopted, I hope this would apply only to cases of personal misconduct.

The title of the piece gives rise to an expectation of what some might seek to do if they became dissatisfied with the political conduct of MPs and Peers. My worry is that an independent-minded LibDem MPs may become too risk adverse in making statements that might upset party opinion.

As a Party we mustn’t assume we are right and sometimes prevailing party opinion should be challenged. This could put Whips under party pressure for minor transgressions of party loyalty. We know candidates are put through approval process by party figures, selected by their local party and elected by constituents. These filters should be enough to satisfy the party at large that those sitting as LibDems are what the label indicates. I appreciate the Party spends a lot of money and activists commit a considerable amount of time and energy helping to get each LibDem MP elected. However, parliamentarians are delegates of neither their constituency nor Party and represent both, and the country more broadly to the best of their judgement. Parties and constituents should give them space to do that.

One of the reasons for UKIP´s popularity is their appearance of independence and being un-spun. Lynne Featherstone made the best comment on local election night when she said politicians lost some of their humanity. Increased party control over those elected would seem to exacerbate that. I am increasingly in favour of open primaries as I believe it would loosen and the influence of party in candidate selection.

We ought not to bind MP and peers too tightly. They should never be creatures of a party machine but we should cherish their independence instead.


* Matt Burrows is a member of the Spanish branch of Brussels and Europe Local Party.

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  • Andrew Suffield 2nd Sep '14 - 11:25pm

    I am increasingly in favour of open primaries as I believe it would loosen and the influence of party in candidate selection.

    This seems a bit random. We don’t have a “party influence” problem in candidate selection. The problem we have there is most easily summed up with a personal anecdote:

    I have never been eligible to vote in a significantly contested candidate selection.

    (Typical LD candidate selection meeting: “Oh well, you should vote for me because I’m a jolly good chap”. “I’m a jolly good chap too, vote for me”. “I dunno, they both seem like nice guys, I guess I’ll pick him”)

  • peter tyzack 3rd Sep '14 - 8:49am

    by ‘open primaries’ I assume you mean the system that Tories have trialled in a few places. I am surprised we didn’t get there first with the idea, although in the Tory case its really only a recruiting measure.
    It’s a good idea, where there is a competition for the candidacy, for an open, well publicised, public meeting to make the choice.. then the public can feel part of the process, and yes, maybe join or donate too.

  • Alex Macfie 3rd Sep '14 - 9:00am

    Call me old-fashioned but I think that to have a say in selection of a party candidate, you should have some commitment to that party. We have a robust internal democracy where all members of a local party can vote for their local party candidate. Primaries, apart from being expensive to run, would cause parties to degenerate into being merely vehicles for candidate election, as they have become in the US. And although ‘official’ party machines might become less important, their power would merely be transferred to the unofficial pseudo-parties that would form around individual candidates. These caucuses would be much less accountable than the official parties.
    And who should be allowed to vote in them? What would stop an anti-Lib Dem person voting for, say, Lembit Opik in a primary to embarrass us?

  • Hear hear, Alex.

  • Rita Giannini 3rd Sep '14 - 11:46am

    Primaries are only a gimmick and should be avoided like the plague.

  • David Allen 3rd Sep '14 - 12:28pm

    This article is primarily about the consequences of the R*nnard affair for the Party, along with one brief remark about open primaries. I’m surprised, therefore, that the above five responses were not all disqualified for being off topic.

    I wrote a response about the main thrust of the article, and that seems to have been disqualified as being off topic!

  • Matt Burrows 3rd Sep '14 - 12:51pm

    I was initially very suspicious of Open Primaries and I´m not convinced of it *yet*. There are disadvantages as Alex pointed out. We shouldn’t dismiss the idea completely and it would take some working through. There might need to be an intermediate stage between shortlisting and selection so that non-active members had a say. I agree there needs to be some form of affiliation; and that might include deliverers and voters that have supported us at previous elections. I guess this might be an Opaque Primary. *If* it were done perhaps it could be tested out in Starred Seats. The´re´s not much point in doing it in unwinnable seats and too much stake – at least initially – in target seats and ones in which we´re incumbent. It could lead to different candidates being successful. There are two key problems in UK politics to me: one is too strong executive and the other is too much tribalism. This should start to work on the second. My sense is that there´s a lot of homogeneity of view and I thought this might help to broaden this out.

  • Hmmm…yes, no, maybe 🙂 If part of the problem is that we have passed anything that might have been called mass membership parties fifty years ago or so (and even counting union members in Labour’s figures we never had quite as mass memberships as the Scandinavian countries as far as I understand), then we need to understand why. There was a commons research paper about party memberships a couple of years back that seemed to suggest that under New Labour in particular, there was a feeling that “why do we need a membership, they’re only a nuisance” and that party elites needed to get on with policy and candidate selections and just put their outcomes to the people for approval.

    I realise we’re not Labour, but neither can we really be said to be a “mass membership” party, even though we allow the members we do have better access to policy and decision making structures than others, perhaps. I’m not sure about primaries. If we’re not going to decide for ourselves who stands for the party we support, I’m not clear in what way such a resulting candidate could be said to even be “The Liberal Democrat Candidate”. We may as well just have two rounds of voting – one primary in which any Tom, Diane and Harriet can stand for whatever cause or label they like, and which whittles them down to two or three candidates to have on the actual polling day ballot, regardless of party or whatever.

    As most of you will know, I look forward to the day that we don’t look to politicians to rule our lives. So as to the more general point about whether politicians should be held to a higher standard, by parties or “watchdogs” or whatever, I’m afraid I take a rather uncompromising line that if someone is or wishes to be one of the 0.0001% of the country with the privilege and power of being part of our governing institutions, or even the 0.001% who are or want to rule in our town halls, yes, they can and should be held to a more rigorous standard of perfection. One of the most repulsive things I feel are people who think they’ve got some kind of entitlement, that they’re the only one who can do a particular job, often out of tens of millions of people (Ken Livingstone springs to mind), or who are already in power and think a little indiscretion just makes them human like everyone else. Well to me they are not like everyone else – they are the ones who impose others’, often their, wills and opinions on the rest of us and yes, if they are flawed, there are plenty more who want the job.

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