Opinion: Let’s move to one-member one-vote

Following on from Sue Doughty’s excellent invitation to the consultation session on one-member one-vote (OMOV) for our party’s important committees, I’d like to give my perspective as a young(er) member on why I will be supporting this move at conference this weekend.

Sometimes people on the inside of the party can forget what it’s like to be on the outside, and also what it’s like to be a new member. Imagine for a minute you’ve just joined the party, your eyes and ears full of ideas. You’ve joined the party because of a shining commitment to involving members in policy creation, something the party is rightly proud of and you’re likely to have heard about from the leadership, your local party and conference itself.

Then conference time rolls around, you excitely sign up and you find you can’t vote on policy, or even the make-up of the committees as you’re not a conference representative, a concept you may not even have heard of! Perhaps you’ve joined through the website as an ever growing number of us now are, and haven’t been able to get in touch with your local party yet? How disappointing would that be? Unmet expectations are at the bottom of a lot of dissatisfaction with politics. So, let’s take a moment to contemplate how much worse it would be if you’re that rare breed, someone with enough oomph to join a political party, especially the one that prides itself on member involvement and is looked on with envy by the others?

Some might say this detracts from holding the leadership to account, but I can’t see how: as the committees will still be there, only elected from a more comprehensive franchise, it’s the same structure but with a more inclusive electorate, a more modern one. It would be a very conservative view to assume there aren’t any improvements to be had from where we are, one looking back and not forward. I want to be part of a progressive party.

Some might say that they don’t understand our motives, but in reality they are clear – we want to improve the membership experience, include more party members in the franchise and stand up for democracy and an egalitarian approach to our party.

I look forward to this debate, because I hear from my younger friends, newer members and people that for whatever reason can’t be part of their local party structure, how frustrated they are with not being able to vote on policy or party committees. Let’s go forward to the future, and understand every liberal and democratic voice, through working to make more of our decisions mandated by more of our members.

* Louise Shaw is a member in Hazel Grove, a board member of Liberal Reform and a member of the working group on the OMOV proposals

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34 Comments

  • I don’t really see how anyone can support a universal franchise for elections to Parliament but think that votes for the running of the party should be kept to a narrow few. This might sound dramatic but just wait for the arguments against it to be aired below and ask yourself whether they also apply to voting in general.

  • Couldn’t agree more Louise, this is a fantastic post.

    In fact the first time I decided to go to conference was last year – I had no idea you needed to be a ‘voting rep’ to vote. I was under the impression in this party everyone could have a say on policy, that’s what proudly lord over the other parties. I was fortunate that not many people from my local party (Tatton) were attending so I got a precious pass. I imagine in your constituency with a local party which is much more active as they have an elected MP, competition for the voting pass is much stronger. So you end up in the crazy position that because I live in Tatton and you live in Hazel Grove *15 miles* from my house I get to vote and you don’t. Surely this is completely crackers. And those areas with less than 30 members can’t vote *at all*.

    Lets just make the change – anyone who goes to conference can vote. We can sort the rest out (online voting, broadcasting conference etc etc) later.

  • Thanks Gareth (and the other positive comments!)

    I’ve only recently moved to Hazel Grove, but that’s actually part of the problem. I’ve been a voting rep before and in fact was in my old local party, but I moved in November! Prime AGM time, and given that I was *moving* I had other things on my mind so didn’t make it to the new local party AGM. It’s just not practical, as much as anything.

    I have a recently new member on private message *right now* telling me this was their experience about joining the party and then finding out the arcane rules that prevented them voting as they wanted to.

  • James Moore 6th Mar '14 - 4:41pm

    A very good post, Louise. I especially agree as a relatively new member myself, and as a Membership Development Officer having to explain the contradiction between ‘members get to vote on policies’ and ‘oh, but you need to be elected as a conference rep and there are limited places’ hard to explain to brand new members who are keen and eager to get stuck in. However I will disagree with your last point Gareth Wilson as I feel that investigating using technology to get people more involved in making policy is worth pursuing in parallel to any prospective change to OMOV. I suspect some local parties (and mine has been one of them) actually struggle to fill their Conference Rep positions – after all OMOV is only worthwhile is you actually make access to voting available to every member of the party. Otherwise it becomes OMOVIYCAI (One Member One Vote If You Can Afford It).

  • Thanks James

    On your wider point, I think it’s valuable to have the discussion about online voting/technology, but in a seperate discussion. I’m a bit advocate of the art of the possible, and one way you achieve that is by doing one thing at a time – but I’m not opposed to the discussion at a later date.

  • Tony Greaves 6th Mar '14 - 4:55pm

    This is in my opinion all dangerous nonsense.

    There are two ways to look at OMOV. for EVERYTHING . The fist is a the q

  • Sorry I’ve lost you Lord Greaves – the fist is a the q?

  • Louise Shaw,
    I don’t think you and I have ever me. You describe yourself as”…a member in Hazel Grove, a board member of Liberal Reform and a member of the working group on the OMOV proposals”. That tells me something about you.
    From what you have written here I may be able to form some sort of a view about you and how you might speak and act if you were elected to an important committee of the party.
    But my guess is that I would know a great deal more about you if I had met you, if I had see you in action, if I had seen who you associate with and how you have voted in conference debates in the past. All of those things would have informed me
    I have attended hardly any conferences in the last ten years, partly because at one time I was in a job that was politically restricted, partly because of family and health reasons, and partly because I have not been inspired by the leadership (or lack of it) since 2007.
    Before 2007 I had attended virtually all of the Liberal Party Assemblies andLiberal Democrat Conferences since 1976. Twenty years or so ago I served on various party committees , including the Federal Conference Committee. I chaired various conference sessions over the years.
    I can honestly say that I do not feel any wiser as a result . But I was better informed when it came to voting for members of party committees etc. How could I not have been?
    I also became aware of the ability of some people with money and influence to “fast-track” democracy within the party for their own ends. Obvious slates of candidates came and went over the years. Sometimes these were paid for and organised interest groups, sometimes by rich individuals some of whom now sit in the House of Lords. My observation was that one gets that in democracies. It is not always pretty and it is not always very democratic — there is more to democracy than voting.

    So I ask you now the following questions.
    How is what you propose going to improve democracy within the party ?
    How will it lessen the influence of people who can use their personal or lobby group wealth to skew an election?
    Will a remote electorate, depending mainly on computer screen awareness, be able to make a more informed judgement? Or will lobby groups, those with personal wealth or those with access to sophisticated computer systems be in a stronger position to subvert the democratic will of ordinary members?

  • Tony Greaves 6th Mar '14 - 5:14pm

    Sorry my computer went doolally (or probably I pressed a key that sent it doolally!) I will start again.

    This is in my opinion all dangerous nonsense.

    There are two ways to look at OMOV FOR EVERYTHING . The first is a matter of principles of how a representative democracy should work, and how to avoid the dangers which are typified by populist plebiscitary “democracy”.
    The second is to look at the likely outcomes and check whether they are desirable (or indeed accord with the wishes of those who advocate the change.

    PRINCIPLES. Representative liberal democracy is based on a number of principles. It should be as far as possible bottom up; it should be deliberative and evidential (ie decisions should be based on knowledge by the people making the decisions and sufficient discussion to tease out the questions to be decided); it should be as open (“transparent”) as possible; decisions should be made at appropriate levels (and as widely – at as low a level – as is sensible for each type of decision); persons in positions of leadership and authority should be accountable to citizens/members in ways that have meaning (ie open to questioning, challenge and even having actions overturned).

    You can argue about the best way to apply this to a Liberal and democratic political party, but you cannot deny the need to satisfy these principles as far as it is practical to do so. (Some of us might think that the Liberal Democrats are defective in some of these areas).

    OMOV for the election of Federal Leader works (and arguably would work for Deputy Leader too) because the issue and the choice is clear enough for most members. There will be a lot of open discussion both in the party and in the wider media, the candidates will be sufficiently well known and available (if only on TV etc) for people to judge their personal qualities and political stances. In other words it will satisfy the conditions about knowledge and deliberation/discussion.

    The election for President probably also fits the bill, though it means that only a Parliamentarian is likely to get elected if there is that choice, which shows the problem with such elections.

    For individual members of party committees it is absolutely clear that many of these conditions are not met. Most of the candidates will be unknown to most of the members, and there are no ways in which that deficiency can be remedied to satisfy the conditions of knowledge and deliberation/debate. A “one side of A5” message is just not good enough.

  • Tony Greaves 6th Mar '14 - 5:17pm

    Whoops – it’s happened again… I conclude:

    It is because of such difficulties that we have representative democracy and intermediate bodies (party committees) at various levels. It’s true that new media mean that the way these things work might evolve but that is what should happen – careful evolution, not a major unpheaval. We might start with much more open ways of working by party committees so members can see what they do and how, should they wish to do so.

    OUTCOMES

  • Tony Greaves 6th Mar '14 - 5:21pm

    Well I have no idea what s going on… But to conclude…

    OUTCOMES. The outcomes follow from the deficiencies of OMOV in meeting the principles of representative liberal democracy.

    It is obvious that under OMOV FOR EVERYTHING, only the most well-known people sould get elected (unless a really well-organised faction could spend the previous 18 months campaigning to get their previously unknown people elected – not a likelyi scenario). The elected people would therefore tend to be party establishment, older (ie around a long time to get better known), probably maler, and heavily based around Westminster.

    So I say to the OMOV FOR EVERYTHING

  • Tony Greaves 6th Mar '14 - 5:22pm

    (I think it’s the tab key that’s doing it! What?)

    So I say to the OMOV FOR EVERYTHING enthusiasts –

    BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.

    Tony

    (the end)

  • John Tilley
    Thanks for comments- if you’d like to meet any time at conference come to a Liberal Reform fringe – they should be able to find me – or contact me through Twitter on @LouiseShawLD
    Your questions:
    How is what you propose going to improve democracy within the party ?

    By taking the franchise up to where it should be – every member. As Tommy says at the beginning, all these arguments were used against the universal franchise and nobody doubts that, so what’s the difference in a political party?

    Q . How will it lessen the influence of people who can use their personal or lobby group wealth to skew an election?

    It will lessen this, as much as it is able, as there will be more people voting, those who aren’t entrenched, those who haven’t known so-and-so for years and years and vote blindly out of loyalty. Much like, again, extending the franchise to women, and below thirty, and to the working class – each of led to more people becoming involved with politics, more parties forming, more causes being advanced, and progress. The Liberal Democrats already have the best policies, why not have an even better mandate for them?

    I believe in ideas, and tho I’m not going to sit here and tell you this will irraidicate people using their connections and putting up “slates”, what it will do is give more of a voice to the younger, and newer members, who of course we want to encourage, and therefore the policies advanced by people wishing to be elected to FPC/FCC should include those groups.

    Q: Will a remote electorate, depending mainly on computer screen awareness, be able to make a more informed judgement? Or will lobby groups, those with personal wealth or those with access to sophisticated computer systems be in a stronger position to subvert the democratic will of ordinary members?

    When I first wrote about this I wrote I had no chance of being elected to FPC/FCC, and I was told strongly that of course I did I was a well known blogger, with an amazing reach. Now as flattering as that was, it’s not too much of a barrier to entry, and people talk. At one AGM I was at, the chair shared which way they would be voting and encouraged people to vote that way. That’s what happens, that’s democracy. I don’t think disseminating information over the internet is necessarily bad in and of itself, so with respect I don’t think that’s a good argument for not having OMOV. Jennie Rigg did a great job of sharing information online last time, which would have helped me if I’d been able to vote.

    I wasn’t able to vote in FPC/FCC elections because I wasn’t a conference rep. I was a sub because I WAS able to go to conference, but someone else had the chance to choose FPC/FCC members, someone who didn’t go to conference (This was not in Hazel Grove by the way). It’s just not practical. It doesn’t suit the modern world.

    Actually, can someone help me on this, can you become a member of FPC/FCC WITHOUT being a conference rep? IF that’s the case that would be bizarre, surely?

  • I agree Tony with regards to open ways of working of the party committees – that should certainly happen forthwith.

    I do disagree tho about people being informed, the world has changed- Jennie Rigg’s campaign to get as much information out there fore the FPC/FCC candidates as possible was brilliant, she did Q&As with them as well, providing almost a “hustings” level of information. It can be done.

  • Aye, and it was interesting to see how many people took part, and who.

    HQ seem reluctant for me to make it a thing on the actual party website next time, though. Perhaps my face doesn’t fit.

  • @ James Moore

    Hi James, don’t get me wrong I’m all for online voting and investigating tech to make this work, in my industry (videogames) we’ve used online voting for years for online communities to give us feedback and decide which features we update in our titles.

    I just worry that getting that sorted out (deciding on the technology platform, going to tender, signing off the voting process, security issues etc etc) will take FOREVER to sort out, whereas moving to ‘everyone who goes to conference can vote’ could be done really quickly and immediately provides a route for anyone in the party to access the policy making process. Its not the complete solution but it would be a massive improvement from what we have now

  • On the comments above (Tony/John) – I really don’t get why ignorance of who the candidates are means that person can’t vote. If you applied that rule to the general election you could remove half the electorate.

    It would be straightforward to provide a website or leaflet that allowed each candidate to lay out his/her goals and experience. This happens all the time in other organisations, for example I voted for my regional representative for the Co-operative in exactly this method last year.

    I know some worry that people would still cast their vote for whoever was ‘the most famous’. But really, the sort of person that can be bothered to join a political party in this day an age is the sort of person that will take the time to research all the candidates and make an informed decision.

  • “You’ve joined the party because of a shining commitment to involving members in policy creation, something the party is rightly proud of … “

    That’s a fair summary of the general view, one that’s almost universally treated as an article of faith by Lib Dems. It may be why people join the party but what about the commitment thereafter? Does it stand up to analysis as an effective way (as opposed to a fun way) of conducting the Party’s business? I think not.

    For starters what percentage of the current membership who aren’t in involved with the Party management (e.g. a staffer or member of one of the Federal committees) could even name the policy working groups that are currently active? Some regular conference reps probably but after that I guess it drops to close to 0%. Then again how good are working groups at involving members? How interested are most members in getting involved? My sense is that if you cut through the rosy aura that policy making is invested with it is, in practice, the preserve of a metropolitan inner circle plus a handful of other enthusiasts that have little meaningful accountability to the wider party.

    Then there is the question of whether policy working groups as currently constituted are a sensible way to make policy at all. Before the Liberal/SDP merger it was chaos and everyone naturally wanted a structured and deliberative policy making process – which is what we got and still have. The only trouble is that time has shown that it simply doesn’t work in the only context where it matters – elections. The public just aren’t buying it. For years we could fool ourselves that this was because of unfair coverage (or more usually NO coverage) in the media and that once we got into Government people would see how wonderful Lib Dem policies were. Well, it didn’t work out like that!!!

    To make it worse the time lags make the process supremely irrelevant much of the time. I still remember watching the news as Lehmanns collapsed risking much of the world economy and Conference was debating – well, I forget because it was entirely irrelevant though presumably it had mattered to someone three years earlier.

    Moreover, because we have an official policy on everything it means that when we have a leadership election the candidates all have to say the same because that’s what conference decided. My take on this is that joined-up policy cannot be created by a committee, let alone a series of committees (a camel is a horse designed by a committee and all that). That’s something only individuals can really do which is why in leadership elections we should have candidates laying out their rival visions which, in Clegg’s case, would have presumably included his idea to take the Party in a new direction, very different from its traditional stance. Had that happened his position would have been much stronger and we would have avoided much of the reputational damage that ensued when the change in direction emerged later. That makes a mockery of the Party’s supposed democracy.

    The way the Conservative do it all may not seem so democratic at first blush but Conservative friends clearly feel fully engaged and tend to be more on the ball in policy matters generally than Lib Dems in my experience. And – bottom line – it works. They get to put their thinking into practice; we have to hope for a hung parliament.

  • It’s striking (and encouraging) that no-one’s really argued against giving every member the right to go to conference as a voting delegate. And given how broken the current system of appointing delegates is, that’s reassuring.

    Some of the concerns that people raise are also overstated. For example, those who are worried about slates fighting elections… er… it’s already happening.

    The thorny issue appears to be the election of party committees. But this is also something where the world has changed.

    In the past, the most you could possibly find out about someone in a membership election was whatever appeared on the leaflet that came with the ballot paper – and what you might have seen them do at conference. Because all elections had to be paper elections with manifesto documents and ballot papers posted through (and returned by post), it had to be a hugely expensive project.

    Now you can Google people. Or look at their Facebook page. Or their Twitter account. Or their webpage or blog. Or reports about them in the newspapers. Or their comments on LDV. Or ask them questions directly (without an expensive phone call or letter). Or let someone else (like Jennie) ask them questions. And the whole process of voting and counting can also be semi- or partly done via the internet.

    Is that enough to give the level of deliberation that Tony or John might want to see? Possibly not. But, as a minimum, it means we have a topic worth discussing.

    Martin

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 6th Mar '14 - 7:08pm

    Martin,

    Spot on re conference delegates. It is utterly bizarre that there is a constitutional amendment at conference on Saturday (which seemingly comes from FCC) when there is a working group currently considering whether to introduce OMOV for conference.

  • Nick Barlow 6th Mar '14 - 7:32pm

    I’m not against OMOV, but I don’t think that introducing it and leaving everything else the same is not going to be a magic cure-all for every problem we face with internal engagement. Is the current structure of policy-making that we have the best way of doing it, regardless of how representatives to the FPC are elected? Why is all policy seemingly determined by working groups and committee meetings when we could be developing an online policy forum that allows people to engage more easily. (As an extreme example, look at how the German Pirates have used the Liquid Feedback system to involve everyone in policy making)

    OMOV could be part of improving member engagement and involvement, but I don’t think it’s the magic bullet that’s going to do it all by itself. Democracy isn’t just about getting people to vote every couple of years for a representative, it’s about building an informed and involved electorate and introducing OMOV without changing anything else is not going to bring that about, no matter how many platitudes about ‘it’s more democratic’ get spouted.

    Jennie did a fantastic job in questioning candidates last time, so why won’t the party make it official and include it on the website where it’s a lot easier for people to find? If we’re really looking to increase involvement and engagement, that should be an obvious step, not something that gets resisted.

  • Stephen Donnelly 6th Mar '14 - 8:47pm

    An interesting comment from Nick robinson on Today, whilst discussing another issue ‘it is a small party and they all know one another’. It is also a very difficult party for outsiders, for anyone who moves from one area to another, and has not been part of a local community for years.

    I understand the arguments made by some of the long standing members (Greaves and Tilley). They are principles that I might advance to defend representative democracy. In this case I think they are also, a way that the ‘small party’ defending itself from outsiders. Only those who have spent their lives in politics can hope to be elected. The net result of this is a narrowing of the political base of the party, and it is a danger to democracy.

    Time to move aside, and let other through.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Mar '14 - 10:12pm

    If we have OMOV, can we have it for all those shadowy people who emerge as “advisers” or “directors of strategy” or so on to The Leader, and appear to get to these exalted positions, whence they are regarded by the media who reports what they are saying as the authentic voice of the party, although they have not gone through any democratic mechanism at all.

  • Paul Kennedy 6th Mar '14 - 10:14pm

    I understand the reason for voting reps but the reality is it doesn’t work. From our local party – despite valiant attempts to advertise casual vacancies before the deadline which is far too early – we typically have several voting reps not attending and several non-voting reps who do attend. Far better to go with OMOV. Personally I would extend voting rights to those on day passes too.

  • Martin Tod, Many thanks for your comment, which included —
    ” Now you can Google people. Or look at their Facebook page. Or their Twitter account. Or their webpage or blog. Or reports about them in the newspapers. Or their comments on LDV. Or ask them questions directly (without an expensive phone call or letter). Or let someone else (like Jennie) ask them questions. And the whole process of voting and counting can also be semi- or partly done via the internet.
    Is that enough to give the level of deliberation that Tony or John might want to see? Possibly not. But, as a minimum, it means we have a topic worth discussing.”

    You make some very good points. This is indeed a topic worth discussing. I have made the point in another comment, in another thread, that I do not oppose the idea in principle. As someone who for health reasons cannot get to any conference anywhere I have a vested interest, perhaps.

    I probably need to explain why I am not head over heels in favour of what is described as OMOV. It would ONLY be OMOV in reality if everybody could be arsed to vote.

    My guess is that for places on party committees the turnout will not be high. So you will have election by One Member (So Long As They Can Be Arsed) One Vote or OMSLATCBAOV.

    OMSLATCBAOV is a less than appealling acronym, if not the name of a nuclear power station in the East of Ukraine.

    OMSLATCBAOV does not have the same superficial attraction as OMOV . Louise Shaw and other enthusiasts could not bracket it with Votes for Women or enfranchising the working class. As we saw in Wythenshawe — votes for the working class is a grand idea if those of us from the working class are not totally turned off by both The Coaition and the alternatives and refuse to vote.

    Louise Shaw — I do not think it is helpful to the discussion for you to bracket voting for internal committees of this party (which has a membership about half the size of the electorate of just one parliamentary constituency scattered around the UK) with the nineteeth and twentieth century extensions of the franchise in parliamentary elections in more than six hundred single member constituencies. I hope you will acknowledge that there are all sorts of differences?
    I also do not think that you have attempted to answer my points about the dangers of giving more power to the rich, the famous and the influential. For the sake of discussion I suggest we call this the “Tall Factor”. I know a bit about Stehen Tall. For example, he used to be a keen supporter of Tony Blair. He used to be a member of the Labour Party. He now regularly writes for a Conservative Party publication. He used to becalled Fairweather Tall but he seems to have dropped the “Fairweather” when he changed political parties (any irony is I guess not deliberate). He has a Blog and lots of Tweets and his name frequently appears in LDV and he gets invited onto the BBC as an “expert” on the Liberal Democrats. I know all of this by googling and doing those things that Martin Tod mentioned. I have never met Stephen Tall, I do not know how good a committee member he might be but he would clearly have an advantage in an OMSLATCBAOV election .

    Leaving aside the Tall Factor, any rich and powerful lobby group could fund a slate and campaign on behalf of a faction (say for example a group who wished to promote smoking cigarettes because they were funded by a vested interest). Do you think they would have an advantage in an OMSLATCBAOV election ?

    Would such an influence on an internal party election be good for the party? This is not an entirely invented scenario. Not so very long ago there was just such a lobby funded group within this party . They have now taken their tobacco money elsewhere thank goodness but for a short time they had influence within the Liberal Democrats which would have been greater if they had been able to use an OMSLATCBAOV election to their advantage.

  • Exactly @Paul Kennedy, exactly.

    Some fascinating points for the ongoing debate and yes, the campaign to get Jennie on the party website starts here 🙂

  • I agree with “Tim Oliver 7th Mar ’14 – 9:37am
    I think Mr Tilley’s argument strange. All elections in this country are “OMSLATCBAOV”, surely, because we don’t have 100% turn out? That is not a strong argument to make against giving everyone the right to vote; it is an argument that we need to look at better engaging with members. OMOV would be one part of such a process, which would include greater transparency in the internal workings of the party.”

    I should perhaps repeat that I am not against the idea in principle.

    What I am against is the head over heels, moonstruck assumption that all you need is OMSLATCBAOV and a perfect democracy will fall into your hands and the world wil be saved, Kiev will be forever free and Farage will never stalk the earth again. To be fair to Tim Oliver he does not say that. He summarises my position as “an argument that we need to look at better engaging with members. OMOV would be one part of such a process, which would include greater transparency in the internal workings of the party.”. That is not a bad summary.

    Take the greater transparency point. My old friend Donnachadh McCarthy spent a lot of time and effort on party committees before he left the party in disgust about the lack of transparency and the lack of genuine member involvement. ( BTW – if you go to York, then take the chance to go to the fringe meeting where he isthe guest speaker).
    He met a brick wall of resistance from those in the party who are content for everything to be run by the pale and the male products of the English public school club and their lobbyist chums. Things have got worse since then as we saw last month when a party sub-committee which is not mentioned in the constitution, was not mentioned on the party website, but was able to meet (without revealing who was present and voting) to suspend the membership of a member of the party in circumstances which one can only say brought the party into disrepute.

    So I agree that there is plenty of room for reform. Plenty of need to change things for the better. But as Tony Greaves warns — BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.

    And take into account Matthew Huntbach’s point about “……… all those shadowy people who emerge as “advisers” or “directors of strategy” to The Leader, …. …… although they have not gone through any democratic mechanism at all.”

  • David White 7th Mar '14 - 1:29pm

    Thank you to those who posted so many interesting and challenging comments. In particular, I thank Louise Shaw for raising the issue.

    Because I am, unashamedly, on the anarcho-syndicalist wing of our party, I favour a one member, one vote, system – and I do so without reservation, no matter what outcomes might result. Let’s take over the asylum, comrades!

  • The charge of “you’re all the same really” holds a lot of water at conference and policy making level. Whilst the mechanisms may seem different to the other major parties, when you get down to it they all have the same internal elite that are making all the decisions.

    Empower people to make a choice and include them in these processes and you’ll have a strong, diverse party fit for government. The current arrangement suits nobody but a small number of people that have had far too much power for far too long. Making the party a truly democratic and representative system will give us a distinctive edge over the others – it’s important that normal people feel like they can make a meaningful change or they simply won’t engage.

  • I am astonished that a very basic point has been missed in nearly all the discussion on this both on this site and at York.

    The vast majority of members will NOT be able to attend conference because of the cost and the time. So the main question should not be how to enable a few people who’d like to attend but were prevented by the rules (or by not knowing they needed to do it through their local parties), but how to involve more those who can’t attend.

    At present the model constitution says clearly that voting representatives should report to all members at their AGM. They’re elected by all members (who care to attend a local meeting) and are responsible for reporting to them. OMOV breaks this link and abolishes this line of accountability. No doubt people will say the responsibility to report is not implemented, or that a few words at an AGM are not enough. No problem. The requirement can be monitored by requiring a written report (however short) with a copy to the regional party. The requirement can be reworded to mean that local parties should send a report from the representatives to all local member e-mail addresses they have – a very easy thing to do. That’s what I did to report back on Glasgow , to 60 or so addresses, and I got one response, “It was interesting”. We could require the e-mail list to be used to send a message to all those members say two weeks before the conference telling them who their voting reps were and how to contact them, as well as maybe a summary of the issues coming up. Too much work for the voting reps? Then why take the trouble of attending conference?

    On the other hand, with OMOV, the reps have no responsibility to other members and certainly none that could be enforced.

    The problems that prevent some keen people from attending and voting at present all seem to me soluble within the present system. We’ve already increased the numbers allocated to each local party so that few will manage to send people to fill all their places. It’s already possible to send a voting substitute if an elected rep can’t attend: it just needs publicising more. A constituency could be created for people in local party areas whose membership has fallen below thirty, or they could be allocated to adjoining local parties. Some people feel disenfranchised because they’ve moved since the AGM, but they could still have been elected from their former area and could still be substitutes, as could people who’d joined the party since the AGM. Local parties can be urged to publicise vacancies for substitutes – not difficult with e-mail.

    Apart from the fundamental issue of breaking the line of responsibility to the whole membership, the proposal also worries me because it tends to undermine the status of local parties. Yes, three quarters of new members now join for national reasons. But our traditions are Liberal. New members should be encouraged when they join to get involved in their local party. The failure to do that can lead to people drifting out again. People making decisions on behalf of our whole membership, on internal party issues as well as policies, should get involved in their local parties – and should have a responsibility to involve the winder membership.

  • wider membership!!

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