Opinion: Interpreting the internal election results

The bare bones of the internal party election results were set out here on Saturday showing who had been elected by conference reps to the various committees.

The detailed results for the Federal Executive and the Federal Policy Committee, hosted by Colin Rosenstiel, show some revealing trends when compared with previous years’ election results.

This year, in the Federal Executive elections, Evan Harris came top on first preference by a long stretch with 263 votes. Following him was David Rendel (107) and Ramesh Dewan (77) with others on 55. Evan is clearly identified with the progressive, Social Liberal wing of the party, as opposed to the orange book wing. In his manifesto for the Federal Executive he specified his membership of the Social Liberal Forum and his message was stark and specific:

* We need to find ways of making crystal clear that there will be no pre-election pacts and that we will not be de-stabilised by right-field suggestions of this.

* We need to make a virtue of the fact that we make policy transparently and democratically to stress our progressive and radical credentials, and to help the party’s campaigners identify in the public mind which coalition policies are Lib Dem inspired and which are not.

* At the next election we need the public to know that we have no preference for the Conservatives if a coalition is needed. Any post-election partnership working should be based purely on the arithmetic and on the policy overlap and that policy work should derived totally independently of the views of our coalition partners.

Of course Evan is a high profile former MP, so that name recognition will have had a big impact even among the discerning electorate of conference reps. But the scale of the support he received is much greater than that of former MPs and mayoral candidates in this election and in previous elections. Also, unlike some high profile Lib Dems, the strong position he takes on matters secular and scientific means that that profile may result in some people specifically not voting for him, so there may be more to the good showing than mere profile. He also got three times more votes (in the FPC election) than ex-MP Sandra Gidley, who is less clearly identified with the Social Liberal cause.

A similar is picture is seen on the Federal Policy Committee where the top votes were Harris with 169 and Duncan Brack – a founder member of the Social Liberal Forum – on 103. Also elected with high scores were other candidates associated with the Social Liberal position Tony Greaves, Linda Jack, Gareth Epps and Susan Gaszczak.

Evan’s manifesto for FPC was again clear and specific, pulling no punches:

* We need to develop a manifesto which is distinctive, radical and progressive – to ensure:

  1. We are seen as entirely independent of other parties at the next general election (and in elections in the interim).
  2. We distance ourselves from Conservative policies that have been imposed on our ministers and our party by virtue of the coalition.

This means that the FPC should in no way be inhibited by current coalition policy from pursuing true Liberal Democrat inspired policies.

* We need to use policy development – and re-assertion of some existing policy – to assist Nick and our ministers in resisting non-progressive policies from the Conservatives to balance the lobbying from the Tory right.

* We need to make a virtue of the fact that we make policy transparently and democratically to stress our progressive and radical credentials, and to help the party’s campaigners identify in the public mind which coalition policies are Lib Dem inspired and which are not.

At the next election we need the public to know that we have no preference for the Conservatives if a coalition is needed. Any post-election partnership working should be based purely on the arithmetic and on the policy overlap and that policy work should derived totally independently of the views of our coalition partners.

I believe we must always stress our progressive values and prioritise social justice. I welcome Nick’s speech where he said that he does not believe in a smaller state as a basis for the cuts. So, by the time of the next election, economic growth permitting, we must plan to re-invest in pro-poor areas and vital public services.

This platform is almost identical to that of the Social Liberal Forum and as Chair of that, I am very encouraged that the Social Liberal position appears to have become the mainstream. The challenge will now be to have this reflected in policy and strategy – which is what the Social Liberal Forum is all about.

David Hall-Matthews is Chair, Social Liberal Forum

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38 Comments

  • Darren Reynolds 16th Nov '10 - 4:13pm

    On the whole I think this is good, I mean, for the party and the country. But I wish there wasn’t an orange / social dichotomy in our labelling of people. Quite often I find myself radically orange on one issue, but radically social on another.

  • David Allen 16th Nov '10 - 4:39pm

    “the lack of attention to equidistance”

    hmm, yes, that has been a teentzy bit of a problem, come to think….

  • Liberal Neil 16th Nov '10 - 5:07pm

    I agree with @Alix and @Benjamin.

    It will be good thing for the party as a whole if we have a strong Federal Executive and a strong Federal Policy Committee.

    Evan is right that we need to find a way to take ownership of the coalition policies which are ours and be honest that there are some areas where we have had to compromise.

  • The number of first preference votes a candidate receives need to be treated with caution as an indicator of opinion. Suppose there were three “Social Liberal Forum” candidates who received 263, 5 and 3 first preferences, but 90% of the 263 didn’t transfer to the other two candidates and 3 “Liberal Vision” candidates who received 110, 110 and 35, and where their third candidate picked up transfers throughout the election and picked up the final place. You would end up with 1 SLF and 3 LV elected (on a quota of 105).

    Colin always used to rail against poor reporting of Northern Ireland elections which said that the DUP had come top because of their high number of first preferences

  • The SLF should make clear what they are doing in the internal elections. If they are promoting candidates for the policy committees then classical liberals will need to do the same. I am not saying that this is a bad idea we just need to know what the ground rules are. I do not see this as a debate between Orange Bookers and social liberals. It is a debate between libertarians and social liberals in my opinion. ‘Orange Booker’ is a slightly ambiguous term, libertarian is a bit clearer.
    Ed

  • tonygreaves 16th Nov '10 - 6:52pm

    I was quite surprised to get elected quite so comfortably. But I was not part of any slate I was aware of. (I used to organise such things a long time ago but this time I just decided to stand.) The phrase “Social Liberal” seems to have come in after my day!

    Tony Greaves

  • mike cobley 16th Nov '10 - 9:02pm

    At first I thought this would be a positive step forward, and then this – “We need to make a virtue of the fact that we make policy transparently and democratically to stress our progressive and radical credentials, and to help the party’s campaigners identify in the public mind which coalition policies are Lib Dem inspired and which are not.”

    Really, whats the point? Our policy formulation process and which coalition policies come from us dont matter a tinkers damn. You think that benefit claimants, especially housing benefit, are going to turn round and say, “well, I`m being made to suffer, being made to move house, lose my job and friends and have terrble stress placed on my family, but you know what? – them Libdems have some good policies on renewables and recycling. Yeah, they get my vote.” – well, sorry, its not going to work that way. We are supporting the Tories, keeping them in power, enabling them EVERY DAY, therefore it is THEIR policies which we are taking ownership of in the public’s eyes, and theres not a thing you can do about it.

    Then came this beauty – “Any post-election partnership working should be based purely on the arithmetic and on the policy overlap and that policy work should (be) derived totally independently of the views of our coalition partners.”

    Purely on the arithmetic? So principles and idealism play no part in such an appraisal? You are kidding, aren’t you? Because that makes the joke I made earlier today (that we should have 2 manifestos, one with the good stuff and one with blanks to be filled in by our coalition ‘partner’) look utterly prophetic.

    Sorry if this sounds like I’m being vitriolic, but thats because deluded waffle evokes it in me.

  • Is it really helpful for the SLF to factionalise party elections like this?

  • @ Ed Joyce
    “I do not see this as a debate between Orange Bookers and social liberals. It is a debate between libertarians and social liberals in my opinion. ‘Orange Booker’ is a slightly ambiguous term, libertarian is a bit clearer.”

    I would agree that there is no distinction to be made on civil liberties, human rights, international and most environmental issues between those who self-describe as orange book liberals, and those of us described as social liberals. So using the term libertarian is not helpful. However there is a difference on social justice, the size and role of the (welfare) state, the role of taxation vs spending cuts, and the weight given to choice vs fairness.

    David was making the case that those identified with social liberal priorities appeared to have done well in the elections, but I would accept the health warning of @Hywel.

    @mike cobley.
    Weak! I didn’t say any post-election partnership working should be based “purely on the arithmetic” did I? You even quoted the sentence yourself where I said “purely on the arithmetic and on the policy overlap”. So your rhetorical “So principles and idealism play no part in such an appraisal?” is answered by your own earlier quotation as these would be of course be represented in the policy. Like I say, weak.

    @alex wilcock
    David conceded that name-rec counts for a lot, but I hope you’d agree my manifestos for FE and FPC were filled with specific proposals and strategy plans to implement, not biography.

  • Joe Donnelly 16th Nov '10 - 10:51pm

    @ Alex WIlcock

    Although I completely agree with you about how candidates should present themselves for the FPC, I’d argue that the problem of managerial politicians is one that pervades the whole British political system at the moment.

    Because of FPTP and the need to get 30-40% in any one constituency you rarely here socialist views on organisation of production or true liberal views on drugs (even thought 10% of people might agree with them) being put forward by mainstream politicians . I see why practically this must be the case under FPTP elections as you can’t be anything but mainstream and get elected but I don’t see why this culture needs to infiltrate fair lib dem elections.

  • @ Evan – was in a rush earlier, should have pointed out that you cannot base a post-election partnership on the arithmetic AND on the policy overlap: it is easy to how such could severely contradict one another. As with the situation we are in now. The arithmetic did not dictate the course taken since May; it was a matter of choice by the leadership from a range of options which were not properly explored or debated. Arithmetic? – thats what I call a weak justification set against the principles that supposedly animate this party.

  • Nigel Quinton 17th Nov '10 - 12:10pm

    Interesting discussion. Like many above I dislike the tendency to label people as belonging to one faction or wing of the party or another.

    I’d like to offer one other observation though. Is it it just me, or is there a huge bias towards those whose surnames start with a letter in the first half of the alphabet? Just look at the lists of those elected on each list. This bias has been documented elsewhere eg in council elections, so it would be nice to see manifestos and candidate lists either randomly ordered or in reverse alphabetical order for a change.

    (I’m not blaming this for why I did not get elected by the way!!!)

  • Peter Chivall 17th Nov '10 - 12:27pm

    I didn’t even know there was a ‘Social Liberal Forum’ when I put Evan ‘1’ on my ballot and I suspect the 100s of other Conference Reps. who did the same. I just thought ‘here’s someone who’ll stand up for the radical tradition I’ve followed since the ’70s and he knows how to make himself heard.’ He’s also someone who’s pro-Science in an innumerate polity that this country’s cursed with.

  • Peter Chivall 17th Nov '10 - 12:29pm

    Sorry, that should be ‘pro-Science in THE innumerate polity with which this country is cursed’.

  • Terry Gilbert 17th Nov '10 - 1:58pm

    Unfortunate that our archaic rules apparently meant we were unable to read Evan’s manifesto online BEFORE the elections, otherwise, I’m sure he’d have won by an even greater margin.

    Personally, I strongly suspeected Evan would win, so saved my first preference for someone who might not have otherwise got on! (It worked!)

  • If the ‘SLF’ continue to brand build and behave like Militant did within Labour in the 90s I’ll be forced to re-hash all of the sorrows arising from their founding fathers of the SDP!

  • Tony Dawson 17th Nov '10 - 5:59pm

    “what we have is a self-perpetuating group that is more in tune with the Westminster Village than to the real economy or the country at large. The result is a remarkably conservative (small ‘C’), risk-averse approach dominated by group-think.”

    The reality is that, with a few noted exceptions (and, thankfully, slightly more this year than most years), among our Party’s internal election candidates’ lists there are some of the most narcissistic individuals around who appear to want to ‘be’ rather than to ‘do’. I agree with Alex W that the ‘Interim Peers’ list was the worst of these by some distance. Although our party is still considerably more democratic than the other main two, it becomes clear to active Lib Dems at grass roots that the Party’s committees have a potential for being sidelined more than ever while we are in Coalition. I look to Evan Harris, Tim Farron et all to prove this gloomy assessment wrong.

  • David Allen 17th Nov '10 - 6:55pm

    Mike Cobley, Evan Harris,

    I think you’re arguing at cross purposes. If our coalition worked the way Evan would (I think) like it to work, with the Government’s programme worked out in continuous open negotiation, such that the public could easily tell when we had got our way and when we had not, then things would be reasonably fine. But it doesn’t.

    When we are raising tuition fees sky-high, it just looks duplicitous for us to claim that our own policy is still to phase fees out. Had we had a public negotiation with the Tories, and demonstrably bargained fees downwards, things would not have looked quite so dreadful. But we didn’t.

    The real problem is that Nick Clegg would prefer to present himself as 110% aligned with Tory policies. He could easily make us look more distinctive (and, indeed, more genuinely a moderating influence), but he prefers not to.

  • This underlying debate is not, in my experience, between left and right, nor between economic and social liberals. It is a debate between social liberals and classical liberals ie libertarians. Libertarians exist on both the right and left of the party. Libertarians stand for small state and person freedom. The ‘bonfire of the quangos’ allowed for a raising of the threshold of tax on low earners. If we slimmed down the state further we could raise the tax threshold further. This post illustrates roughly where the debate begins http://socialliberal.net/2010/03/15/no-tax-rises-ever-say-it-aint-so-nick/
    My concern is that taxes raised for ‘vital public services’ will be levied on the lower middle class and ununionised workers earning under £20,000 per annum.
    Ed

  • @John

    “If the ‘SLF’ continue to brand build and behave like Militant did within Labour in the 90s I’ll be forced to re-hash all of the sorrows arising from their founding fathers of the SDP!”

    Of course the main difference is that SLF reflects the views of the majority of supporters of the party and that the orange book group on the right of the party and for now leading it represent a small group who are trying to push the rest of the party in a more radical direction away from the general consensus of the party. Now, what was that you where saying about Militant?

  • “Of course the main difference is that SLF reflects the views of the majority of supporters of the party and that the orange book group on the right of the party and for now leading it represent a small group who are trying to push the rest of the party in a more radical direction away from the general consensus of the party. Now, what was that you where saying about Militant?”

    Evidence?

    RIght. There isn’t any, is there? Its just an assertion, because the majority of comments on LDV come from that wing of the party.

    I think if you spoke to our members more generally (not just those who rant at conference) you might get a different picture.

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