Opinion: Transparency and Openness from the FCC

On Saturday afternoon conference voted overwhelmingly for more engagement by members through OMOV, and for transparency and accountability from the party and its committees, in order to nourish this engagement. The amendment, put forward by Mark Pack, Duncan Brack, and others was purposeful and helpful, and made clear that we need to make sure that the party is more accountable to members. The party needs to show its firm intent to follow up on this motion as soon as it can, preferably for endorsement by spring conference next year, so that our next autumn conference operates as members wish.

However, there is one committee who could now open up their workings and decisions for spring conference. The FCC works silently as far as members are concerned, and those of us on the outside have no indication of the motions and amendments our fellow members and parties have submitted. We do not know what has been rejected for discussion at conference. This is simply remedied, by putting all submissions on the website, perhaps in a section open to members-only, and noting which were selected, and for what reasons. There are no confidentiality issues; all submissions were intended for the public domain. But such a move is not just about living up to our principles of transparency in governance. It would also let us see how each other are thinking and how our elected committee members think too. Publishing the decisions of the FCC would enable us all to draft future motions better, and enable members to discuss our priorities as a party.

This request has taken on a new urgency following the pre-manifesto debate at conference on Tuesday morning. The fourth amendment selected for debate re-opened discussion of the party’s policy on the building of new runways – despite the party policy on this topic only being set recently. The members deserve to know why FCC chose this amendment above others submitted.

When the Cambridge local party wrote to Nick Clegg about the party in July, we raised the transparency of party committees. Nick agreed with the principle that “we should always seek to be as transparent as possible”, but recommended that we write to the relevant committees directly as they have “their own working practices”, and that as Nick is not an officer of the federal committees it would be inappropriate for him to dictate these practices to them. We are therefore writing to the chair of FCC today and, in the spirit of openness, publishing this request here now.

Let’s start applying the same principles to our party as we would to our councils – that people know who is making what decisions when, and on what information.

A modified version of this article was sent to Andrew Wiseman, Chair of FCC.

* William Barter is an activist and member in Cambridge. Sian Reid is a Lib Dem councillor in Cambridge and former council leader.

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17 Comments

  • All worthy and democratic stuff. But there is something rather important happening in early May next year.
    Is everyone just resigned to an electoral suicide strategy for the General Election ?
    If as some calculate there are a dozen seats where concentrated effort might make the difference between a Liberal Democrat MP and not — should work on that be a priority?

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 10th Oct '14 - 7:28pm

    All good stuff. I appreciate that the FCC have an enormous number of submissions, particularly of amendments, but it does seem to take some odd decisions. It may well be that there are good reasons for those decisions, but of course we simply don’t know.

    By way of example, I know of at least two amendments (one of which I submitted) welcoming Andrew George’s reforms to the ‘bedroom tax’; something supported by all our Parliamentarians and an important thing, I would have thought, for the party to be very clear about.

    Yet neither amendment was taken. However, one calling for the abolition of the ‘bedroom tax’, which never had good chances of passing, was selected. Odd indeed.

  • I thoroughly approve of the ideas set forth in this article

  • geoffrey payne 11th Oct '14 - 7:02am

    This looks a good idea to me. It was totally bazarre we spent so much time debating airports when policy on this was agreed a couple of years ago. It hijacked the debate which annoyed me and the amendment was rejected anyway so it eas a complete waste of time.

  • Tony Dawson 11th Oct '14 - 8:27am

    To carry on John Tilly’s theme, I support these aims. But given the Pary’s present situation, FCC and FE might well consider producing some alternative and potentially more useful activity for hundreds of activists to involve themselves in together to combine with (say) a day conference in the Spring.

    Cynics might suggest that is it seems obvious that the Agenda included the Airports amendment because Nick Clegg wanted to change Party policy – and the bedroom tax amendment was included to allow the parliamentary Party to have a bit of a ‘win’ over what is left of the ‘left’ in the Party. It would be good to have the info to prove them wrong.

  • I do not see the point of OMOV when the leadership is quite willing to ignore the party. The party voted against secret courts. Why should the party bother to vote if they know that the leader is dead set against something

  • Ian Sanderson and Geoffrey Payne — runways

    Watching from afar on TV and therefore having an eye on other media as well it was all too clear what was going on. If you read the thread in LDV under the article by Brian Paddick it will give you a flavour.

    In brief Clegg’s people invested a lot of time and effort with the media to promote this. Ostensibly it was about any runway expansion in the UK and the more gullible fell for that. On closer inspection it was about Gatwick. And look a little closer still it was about Heathrow. A carefully orchestrated campaign was under way to change party policy by stealth.

    Brian Paddick is probaby still claiming his piece was entirely his own, nothing to do with the aviation industry and solely motivated by his London to Norway weekly commute to see his husband. But if anyone beieves that …..

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 12th Oct '14 - 10:47am

    I might suggest that another problem we have is that committee members, once elected, have no means of reaching out to the wider party. Having been elected to a position, two years pass, and then you write another manifesto. Members have very little opportunity, and certainly none provided formally, to ask you what you’ve done in office, and get an A5 manifesto in which you can’t say very much and have to catch the eye of voters amongst dozens of similar pieces.

    I’ve used Liberal Democrat Voice as an outlet for reporting, but could imagine that if all eight ALDE Council delegates did so, LDV might get a bit dull. Having more people take part in the process is possibly a good thing, but democracy is only partial if uninformed and unaccountable between polls.

  • Hi Mark
    Some years ago, I remember, FCC devised a system whereby they had their members allocated as “links” to individual Regions. While it lasted, it was, I thought, quite effective as a communication mechanism.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 12th Oct '14 - 11:58am

    @ Tim,

    But for who was it effective – the Regional Executive or, say, a Federal conference representative from East Devon or Mid Suffolk?

    And, I suppose, that’s my question. As a councillor, or even an MP, you would be reporting back to your electorate. As a member of a federal committee, how can you do that?

  • @JohnTilley I don’t see why we cannot try and improve our internal democracy at the same time as fighting the next election. Why does the publication of submitted motions and amendments, and the reasons why the selected ones were selected, make us less effective at campaigning? We are rightly proud of our internal democracy but we must act to improve it.

    @Mark I could not agree more. I do not claim this post has all the answers. But I think it is part of the answer.

    @Joe thanks for your support. I’m not a voting rep, so I do not know how much attention candidates will pay to me. But I hope the other candidates, like you, will back making the FCC more transparent and accountable.

  • Mark
    Really, you can only report to those who will listen to you or read you (online or whatever). It’s often a similar experience if, as a Councillor or elected public representative, you hold a surgery. In the end, if the listener / reader / other participant in the dialogue hasn’t got time / isn’t very interested, you don’t get much across. Bearing in mind that anyone who needs / wishes to communicate anything should try to make it interesting and succinct! Even an invitation to a meeting / surgery / consultation etc.

    The concept of the Regional link gives you a comparison with a rep elected for a ward or constituency, ie you have divided up your audience and it gives you an initial “in” and a responsibility to do that communicating.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 12th Oct '14 - 3:01pm

    @Tim13,

    We both have plenty of experience of Regional Parties, and know that they can be good, poor or indifferent in terms of communication. But, and I evidently haven’t made myself clear hare, if you’re a councillor, you can deliver a Focus leaflet to your voters. Yes, they may not read it, but they have a chance to. What opportunity exists for me to report back to my electorate, Federal Conference delegates?

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