Review of Federal committee elections

‘Review of federal committee elections’ is probably not a title guaranteed to quicken readers’ pulses – but it’s important to the functioning of our party’s democracy, so please read on!

Last year’s elections to the federal party’s committees – the Federal Board, Policy Committee, Conference Committee, International Relations Committee and ALDE council – broke new ground, especially in the efforts to engage as many party members as possible, and also through the management of the process online. It was also a substantial achievement to run it during what turned out to be a general election period, in October and November.

There were, however, also some serious difficulties, including the publishing of some candidates’ manifestos and not others, requiring the election to be paused and some voters to re-cast their votes, and other information required not being provided at all.

The Federal Board has therefore decided to establish a small review group, chaired by myself and including four others, representing staff, voters and candidates. (I have a background as a candidate for both Policy and Conference Committees, as a member of various formal and informal party constitution review groups, and – a long time ago – as the party’s first Policy Director, with partial responsibility for administering the committee elections.) The review group’s tasks are to:

  • Seek views on the conduct of the autumn 2019 committee elections.
  • Consider whether the election regulations and party HQ’s operating procedures require any updates in the light of evolving party practices or greater use of electronic technology.
  • Look at how similar internal elections are run in other comparable organisations such as trades unions, charities or NGOs, and whether there any aspects we should learn from.

The review group will report to the Federal Board by June with any proposals for changes to the election regulations and/or processes for management of the committee elections in future. Our remit is only the federal committee elections, not the Presidential or leadership elections.

So, I’m looking for volunteers to join the group, either in their capacity as a candidate (successful or unsuccessful) in last year’s elections, or as a voter. The group will do most of its work online, though we might meet in person once or twice. Members of the group will have work to do, including consulting within the party and researching other organisations’ processes, so please only volunteer if you’re prepared to put some time into the exercise.

If you’re interested in volunteering, please email me at [email protected] , explaining your background, why you want to be involved, and how you propose to help me fulfil the tasks listed above. Please get back to me by midnight on Saturday 8 February.



* Duncan Brack is a member of the Federal Policy Committee and chaired the FPC’s working group that wrote Rebuilding Trade and Cooperation with Europe.

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  • David Warren 5th Feb '20 - 3:29pm

    This is an interesting and much needed initiative.

    I hope all members will be able to have input into what i hope will be an exercise that enhances our party’s democracy.

    Having been a trade union activist for over 30 years i would be keen to give examples of my experiences of union elections.

  • Adrian Mark Sanders 5th Feb '20 - 3:35pm

    I am sure under Duncan’s steer a comprehensive review will be undertaken with valuable conclusions. I wonder though if there isn’t another issue surrounding our internal elections and that’s the geographic spread of those who stand for election and those who are elected. Are midweek meetings in London a barrier for members to even consider standing for election? Is there an increasingly metropolitan leaning membership, and how does this impact on the diversity, in this instance people from localities that feel excluded, that we claim to value. Or is it simply a perception that the Party has become increasingly London and South East centric, and how that could impact policy choices and our broader electoral appeal into the future? I am just a voice from outer Britain and my perception may well be wrong, but I’d like some evidence, and if it isn’t some proposals to rectify something that will hold us back from reaching our electoral potential.

  • To have taken the trouble, and time, to work through all the lengthy ballot papers, cast all my votes – and then receive an email from someone at HQ telling me my votes had been “cancelled” was outrageous. Not cancelling the whole election and starting again, but picking out certain voters and deleting their already cast votes.

    I asked HQ from where they derived the power to make such a dramatic and drastic intervention into an election already underway, and after one attempt to duck the question they didn’t bother to reply to further correspondence.

    This should never be allowed to happen again.

    Further, and probably beyond the scope of Duncan’s review, but the way that we ask candidates to declare their gender, sexuality, disability and ethnicity and then override the wishes of party members to impose quotas on the outcome of these elections is so far away from my vision of what a liberal society should be like that it undermines my desire to remain a member.

  • Duncan Brack 5th Feb '20 - 9:43pm

    Thanks for the comments. David, can you email me directly?

    Adrian and Ian’s comments do fall rather outside my remit, though my report to Federal Board will include a summary of how the various quota requirements were implemented. In fact for the first time (I think) the gender quota was applied to ensure a minimum number of men on one of the committees.

  • Duncan. Are you aware that there is a still outstanding appeal to the Federal Appeals Panel concerning these elections?

  • Duncan Brack 6th Feb '20 - 11:06am

    Hywel, I’m contacting the Chair of the Appeals Panel, but could you email me directly? Email address in the article.

  • The appeal would AIUI be against the decision the chair of the FAP (as returning officer). Not sure he is the appropriate person to contact.

  • Nonconformistradical 7th Feb '20 - 9:16am

    @Duncan Brack
    “Adrian and Ian’s comments do fall rather outside my remit”

    Then Duncan – your remit as defined is not wide enough. It needs to include proper examination of aspects of these elections which actually went wrong.

    And you really do need to ensure that you give all members the opportunity to tell you, freely, exactly what they think – do not confine yourself to those issues which the federal board wishes you to consider.

  • I’ve emailed Duncan but posting a summary of what I sent him here. I don’t have any confidence that this will be dealt with adequately as it hasn’t been up to now so shining some sunlight onto things would be a good disinfectant:

    I appealed Nick’s decision to disqualify my votes when I got the message in early Nov – asking it be considered by the FAP as it was a decision of the RO.

    That was not apparently considered until 14th Dec (the day the Presidential results were announced) when I was told:
    “The RO met this morning to discuss this. Pragmatically it was the only option that could have been taken and the RO feels that no prejudices has resulted. If you wish to pursue this, you do have the right to take this to the Federal Appeals Panel for a hearing.”

    That in itself is problematic as it didn’t allow for any appeal to the FAP before the results were declared. The GE might have meant that process weren’t followed as well as might be desireable – but that could have been made clearer as a matter of courtesy.

    It doesn’t make any sense for a RO to consider an appeal against their own decision (and the rules don’t allow for this). I then asked for this to be passed to the FAP – which doesn’t seem to have happened.

    This is not a minor point – disqualifying votes is a huge step that needs clear rules about when this can happen and accountability when it does.

    To who is the Chair of the Federal Appeals Panel accountable? What if any is the process for censuring or removing them?

  • Duncan Brack 7th Feb '20 - 10:54am

    Hywel, thanks. Para 13 of the committee election regulations states that: ‘Appeals against decisions of the Returning Officer must be referred to the Federal Appeals Panel within 14 days of the decision. For the purposes of appeals under these regulations the Chair of the Federal Appeals Panel shall not act as a member of the Federal Appeals Panel, and other Panel members shall appoint one of their number as Acting Chair.’ So there is a route for the Panel to consider appeals against its chair’s rulings. I’ll look into this further.

    Nonconformistradical, I don’t quite understand your point. My group’s remit is exactly to look into what went wrong in the elections. Adrian’s and Ian’s points, while entirely valid, were not about problems with the 2019 election process itself, but about the geographical spread of candidates (Adrian) and the quotas the party has decided to use (Ian). But I certainly intend to give party members a chance to raise any points they want, and even if they don’t fall strictly within the remit I’ll report them to Federal Board.

  • Tony Greaves 7th Feb '20 - 7:59pm

    What was the turnout in these elections?

  • Duncan Brack 8th Feb '20 - 10:26am

    About 9 per cent for the Federal Board, about 6-7 per cent for the others. A little bit lower than three years ago, if I remember correctly, but membership is significantly higher now.

  • Turnout for the Presidential election was 23.1%, Down from 38.9% and 41.9% in 2014 and 2010 respectively. And actually fewer votes cast than in 2010 and 2008 – even with a massively higher membership. This is not a good trend,

    Leadership election turnout was 72% though – quite a bit higher than in 2015.

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