Opinion: Restructuring is important but the General Election is the priority

Liberal Democrat Conference 2011There has been a lot of talk recently about the way the Party nationally is not accountable to the members enough and also that there should be early warning systems in place to pick up on anything that could be going wrong .The Federal Executive whose members are directly elected by the Conference representatives every two years is the body that is in effect responsible for the internal administration of the Party and is chaired by the President.

As one of the candidates for the post of President I thought I would set out some initial thoughts. I believe the Federal Executive should be restructured to make it more accountable. The fifteen elected members should be given specific portfolios which cover the HQ directorates. In this way there would be a great deal more liaison between the elected executive and the Party staff. The Federal Executive member would be responsible for reporting back to the Federal Executive on key areas of concern that they have. It would be a way of not only alerting the Party quickly if there seems to be a problem but would also give support to the staff themselves.

I would also like to see the setting up of regional Parliamentary Groups so that PPCs especially can benefit from the expertise of MPs, AMs, MSPs and Peers in their region. It would be important to set this up as soon as possible. Another thing I would like to see is a Presidents’ campaigning team of perhaps five people either Peers or former MEPs to visit constituencies before the election and if 50 Peers did the same we could cover a great deal of ground. We must also try and bring members back in who have left the Party. With some of those it will be because of a change in personal circumstances but it is important whatever the reason, we try to reengage with them. One way to do this would be to send them personalised letters signed by prominent local Liberal Democrats.

We of course need to make sure that there is better communication between the grassroots and the leadership and that there is more transparency.

Much of the discussion on more detailed restructuring, however, should be left until after next May.

Our key aim from now until the General and local elections is to get out there and knock on as many doors as we can.

To ensure this Presidential election – crucial to the future of the Party as it is – doesn’t become a distraction, I am taking the opportunity of visiting local parties all over the country working alongside activists, sharing their commitment and sometimes offering advice gleaned from my experience as a campaigner at all levels. If we don’t get the vote out and return a substantial number of MPs and Councillors, we might have to look at an even greater restructuring of the Party in the future.


* Liz Lynne is former MEP for the West Midlands and is a board member of EEF - the Manufacturers’ Organisation.

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  • Contrary to the first respondent, I find the tone of positive pragmatism most encouraging. Some may imagine or fondly hope that people will support Lib Dems because we have devoted so much attention to creating an elegantly designed party structure, but somehow I think we are likely to have more success in the coming election by convincing voters of the pragmatic virtues of lending us their support.

  • Trevor Stables 24th Aug '14 - 11:18am

    Liz Lynne makes some powerful points about strengthening the connection between Parliamentary representatives and PPCs, this should include as much parliamentary research information as possible… The idea of linking FE members to Head office departments is worthy as long as it doesn’t cut across responsibility of the Chief Exec.
    Feedback from the May Elections hopefully has been taken to heart and acted upon. We have to speak outwards, on this Liz is most definitely right.

  • Daniel Jones 24th Aug '14 - 11:25am

    There is a point that without reform to our internal structures, especially when on the current reform agenda are ways to allow us to deal with serious allegations

    Regional Parliamentary groups are an interesting idea but how would you deal with the east mids which presently has zero MPs, zero MEPs, and I believe zero Lords?

    As others above have said, there shouldn’t be a choice in reform or elections. That argument was trotted out by those opposed to lords reform and gay marriage, that we had other pressing concerns. Our response then was the right one – these reforms are important and we can do more than one thing at once.

  • Simon McGrath 24th Aug '14 - 11:43am

    Sara – but nothing in this piece says we should not be changing our rules and procedures though.

  • Simon Oliver 24th Aug '14 - 11:48am

    I’d like to have MPs etc help with recruiting on the ground – an in-person conversation with a known supporter from a ‘celebrity’ may tip the balance in signing them up, where the normal approaches have failed.

  • This is an excellent article; however I think there is a particular problem with this Election that we have never faced before. The vast majority of us think we know roughly whats going to happen but theres lots of evidence to suggest that we & the Media/Blogosphere have it all wrong. Todays Comres/Indy Poll for example compares approval ratings for Parties & Party Leaders. Clegg & cameron get much the same as their Parties, Milliband gets 10% less than Labour.
    I believe theres a real possibility that Labour will get a result in the high 20s, worse than last time & that we will get at least 18%. So whats the problem with that ? The problem is that we will have a lot of our meagre resources in the wrong places, wasting opportunities. I dont suggest we should change priorities now, only that we are prepared to move very quickly if the Polls move & that we dont give up before the battle has started.

  • Passing through 24th Aug '14 - 12:19pm

    @paul barker

    “Todays Comres/Indy Poll for example compares approval ratings for Parties & Party Leaders. Clegg & cameron get much the same as their Parties, Milliband gets 10% less than Labour.
    I believe theres a real possibility that Labour will get a result in the high 20s, worse than last time & that we will get at least 18%.”

    I have to say that’s a fairly unique way of interpreting approval ratings of Clegg and the Party at -43% and -40% respectively, especially on a poll rating of 8%.

  • suzanne fletcher 24th Aug '14 - 12:42pm

    just a comment on portfolios for the FE. An interesting idea, but I’d like to hear more. what worries is me (as it did when “elected executives” were being proposed for councils), is what happens if of those elected. say have pledged they will sort out resturcturing, 6 pledge they will sort out disciplinary processes, and 3 rewrite the constitution. they will not want to be not given those portfolios, and who is going to have portfolios for other important issues such as finace, campaigning etc ?

  • In response to Sara in particular, I am sorry I gave you the impression that I didn’t want to see any reforms at the moment . Of course the Morrisey report has to be acted upon and we have to make sure reforms that have already been brought in are properly implemented. I agree with you that a certain amount of reform can be done in parallel with fighting the election, the idea of having Federal Executive members liaising with HQ directorates is one. I also take your point Trevor that this shouldn’t in any way undermine the role of the Cief Executive. Daniel, I have been trying to think of ways to address regions like the East Midlands where we have no MPs or Peers but maybe it could be done by forming a group with prominent Lib Dem Councillors who are not up for election themselves or people who have been PPCs themselves. It is really to make sure that support and help is there. Do you have any ideas Daniel?

  • I am glad you think it is an interesting idea Suzanne. I understand the points you are making and we would have to sit down and iron out any problems that could arise, similar to the ones that you mention.

  • Chris Keating 24th Aug '14 - 2:21pm

    Liz – I don’t believe “worry about problems later, knocking on doors is all that matters” is the right view for Party governance. Indeed I think it’s exactly that view that resulted in the Rennard allegations being variously ignored, dismissed and swept under the carpet for the five years after 2008.

    And how will it be any easier for anyone to change anything post-General Election? The Party membership’s attention will be too focused on electing a new leader, while HQ will be undergoing the usual post-GE shakeout.

  • @Paul Barker:
    “I believe theres a real possibility that Labour will get a result in the high 20s, worse than last time & that we will get at least 18%”
    Possibilities are by definition not real. But there is close to 0% possibility that *right now* 18% of voters are willing to vote Liberal Democrat. Of course much could change over the next nine months, but such “unreal possibilities” are very much prone to wishful thinking.
    As for Labour, Mr Miliband has been unpopular for some time now, but Labour’s actual polling figures have budged very little for months, and are (if anything) on a very slight upward trend. Miliband’s lack of personal charm (if that’s what the polling figures reflect) seems to have already been factored into people’s opinions, and many of them are clearly disposed to vote Labour despite Miliband.

  • Joshua Dixon 24th Aug '14 - 6:41pm

    If these are our priorities then we deserve everything we have coming for us. Have the words of the victims meant nothing to Liz?

  • I agree with Sara and Seth. Let’s take this seriously, please.

  • @Caractatus :

    ” but fundamentally knocking on doors with the wrong message and the wrong leader isn’t going to help anyone.”

    The faster you re-arrange the Titanic deckchairs, the better the pumps will work? No. It would appear that Boudicea is not impressing Caractacus and one can see why.

  • peter tyzack 25th Aug '14 - 12:12pm

    apart from the last two, some interesting comments above, but Liz we need to restore the ‘radical’ into the Liberal Democrats and do so now. The recent regular releases of policy proposals is a good step in the right direction, showing that we are not cowed by the negative press attitude to us (or the polls commissioned by our opponents).
    As for the Federal Executive, I am amazed that something such as you suggest is not already being done, but that can easily be instituted at the first meeting of the newly elected President and Exec..

  • John Penson 25th Aug '14 - 3:49pm

    Definately worrying about shifting the deckchairs about whilst the ship is sinking. The Current National Opinion Poll results clearly illustrate the challenge ahead. Time to get real!

  • “Our key aim from now until the General and local elections is to get out there and knock on as many doors as we can.”

    Really. Nothing about why we are doing that, how we want to change society, politics or the way the country is run. Just mindless activism for the sake of it judged by a metric which because it can be measured must be important?

    Terrible article Lynne – if you want to persuade me to vote for you write something of substance. Though something persuading me it is worth rejoining the party in the first place is probably the first step!

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Aug '14 - 6:35pm

    I think this is a really good article and cements the idea in my mind that it is important that Liz wins the party’s presidency.

    I like the options on restructuring and also the emphasis on winning. Winning isn’t just a side thing that should come second to principles, if the Lib Dems don’t win we have Labour or Conservative government’s shaping the lives of everyone in the country.

  • Mick Taylor 25th Aug '14 - 8:59pm

    Surely we are going to decide the message at conference in October?

    As for changing the leader, it ain’t going to happen. Lots of local parties have had debates and votes on calling for a leadership election and have rejected the option.

    So we must campaign with the leader we have and on the manifesto we will agree at conference. This may not be what many in the blogosphere want, but that’s the hand we’ve been dealt.

    So Liz is right. If we don’t get out there and campaign on a new manifesto and tell people the real Liberal things we have achieved in 5 years in government, then the doom merchants will get their wish.

    We have adopted new procedures aimed at ensuring that women are treated with respect in our party, measures that were sadly not in place when L’affaire Rennard broke. It is extremely sad that the women some of us have always supported have chosen to leave before the new procedures have begun to bite. It was never an option to apply the new procedures retrospectively.

    And yest, further reform may be necessary, but if we no longer have a parliamentary party in the commons or it’s reduced to a shadow of its present self, then it won’t matter a toss what kind of organisation we have anyway.

  • Winning is good. But what are we winning FOR?

    The whole strategy of the party is no subsumed by the idea that the only way to obtain and use political power is to be in government. Well actually in a government which is likely to water down any sort of radical change so we need a bland, featureless manifesto so as not to scare off a potential coalition partner.

    We used to say that the Lib Dems wanted to change the system – Labour and Conservatives wanted to inheirit it. That is no longer true.

  • “So Liz is right. If we don’t get out there and campaign on a new manifesto and tell people the real Liberal things we have achieved in 5 years in government, then the doom merchants will get their wish.”

    Mick – what is this massive list?

    There was more political reform – and it came about because of Lib Dem influence – in the 97-01 Blair government. This might be the only government in my lifetime with LIb Dems in it and on the front that matters most to me (reform of the political system – and really that has been the major USP of the liberal party for at least the last generation) it has pretty much done naff all.

    And what will there be in the 2015 manifesto? There has to be a point to having a liberal parliamentary party beyond just for the sake of it.

  • If the Party is concerned that it isn’t sufficiently accountable to members, it seems odd that it’s currently proposing to disenfranchise the vast majority of members who can’t afford the money or time to attend Conference. At present they at least have the right to select who represents the local party at Conference (in the very unlikely event of a contested election, but they can attend an AGM and ask questions or make points) and to receive and discuss a report from them afterwards. Cutting the link between local parties and conference representation means Conference reps will owe nothing to the rest of the membership and will be under no obligation to report back or liaise with members in any way.

    The main argument for the change seems to be that people who’ve moved since the local party AGM can’t be voting reps, but since very few local parties will be able to fill the large allocation of places, increased last year, this isn’t so except in a tiny number of cases: they can approach their new local party which can add them to the list.

  • Completely agree with Hywel & Sara, there’s no point to the party if it doesn’t develop and grow. It needs to reform more now than ever, and the party would be much better served going into an election with deep internal reforms happening than looking like the broken set of dreams it currently portrays. You won’t get votes if nobody believes in the party or its capability to change, regardless of how many doors you knock; without that there’s nothing to fight for.

    Like Sara said, surely the party can do two things at once?

  • Hywel
    I refer you to http://www.whatthehellhavethelibdemsdone.com

    Lots there to boast about. and it is quite a big list and I heard DickNewby on Sunday telling us about other things too like same sex marriage, stopping preferential contracting with private sector companies for NHS operations, (set up by Labour), new laws to make cooperative/ self management enterprise easier [overwhelmingly welcomed and supported by the trade body]

    The problem with doom sayers like you is that they only focus on the negative. Anyway, you’re not a party member.

  • Well I feel really loved and enthused to rejoin now Mick!

  • And for a doom sayer I don’t think I’ve done bad at winning elections in Calderdale

  • David Evans 27th Aug '14 - 7:13am

    @ Paul Barker – Are you still troting out the same old argument that because you can twist Nick’s disastrous public ratings into something that makes a positive soundbite, we don’t need to change anything. The argument has be debunked many times, but you have never answered the points made.

    Sadly, the dream of 18% in the polls is a comfort blanket for people who dare not do anything to rationalise their mistakes. We will be lucky to get 10% and it could well go down to 6%. We are now losing council seats in places we actually won as recently as last March 2014. Just look at the Wroxham result and you will see the facts.

    What is the main thing that has changed since then? Nick’s awful performance in the Euro debates. The man is a liability. He has to go before May or it will be absolute carnage for our MPs. If Nick stays to May we will be down to 15-20 MPs at best. Is that what you really want?

    We have to fight back now or it will be too late – libdemfightback.yolasite.com

  • David Evans 27th Aug '14 - 8:16am

    @ Mick Taylor – “the doom merchants will get their wish.” I presume they are in contrast to you who want us to ignore the problem of a lame duck leader and pretend things are OK. If Nick remains leader, you will get your wish. However, don’t try to blame those of us who are trying to avoid the catastrophe, by blaming us for your unwillingness to face facts.

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