Ros Scott writes… Party President’s report to members, May ’09

It has, to say the least, been one heck of month.

At the start of May, I was in Vancouver, attending the Executive meeting of Liberal International where I gave a speech on the topic of The challenges facing Liberalism over the next decade. We also met up with the Canadian Liberal Party Convention where they celebrated the election of Michael Ignatieff as their Leader. The international theme continued later in the month with the launch of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Poland.

Back home, the Telegraph expenses story broke and, with events moving along with amazing rapidity, led to the resignation of the Speaker, whilst a number of Labour and Tory MPs announced their intention not to fight the next General Election. With Federal Executive due to meet on 18th May, I took the decision to clear some items from the agenda in order to make room for a full discussion.

It had become clear that our members, like the public generally, were extremely angry and were expecting action. The fact is, however, that neither the Federal Executive nor the President have a strong constitutional role in all this. Removal of the Whip is a matter for the Parliamentary Party concerned, whilst suspension or revocation of membership is a local, regional and state party matter. De-selection of a sitting MP lies with the local party, whilst matters relating to staff are the remit of FFAC.

Where Federal Executive comes into its own though is that it contains people directly elected by Conference, as well as people from the various parts of the Party. Thus, collectively, we were able to agree a course of action relating to expenses which we were able to send out to the members. It has always been my aim to communicate as quickly as possible, but to distil a long discussion amongst the 30 members of FE and to be sure that there was a common understanding took 3 days. I have received literally hundreds of responses, and have tried to answer them all.

The resignation of Chris Rennard as our Chief Executive has been difficult for staff and members alike. We owe Chris a great debt of gratitude for what he has achieved for the Party, and wish both him and Ann all the best for the future.

Recent events have caused me to reflect on the best way to communicate with the Party. Blogging is a great medium for recording instantaneous reaction to events, but there are times when the constraints of the Party Constitution, the legal framework and political sensibilities mean that instantaneous comment on my part is inappropriate and potentially dangerous. However, the existence of my blog seems to have led some people into thinking that it is possible to keep up a running commentary on what is going on. I wish to avoid a recurrence of that and so, with some regret, have closed down my blog. In future, minutes of FE will be published here on LDV, within the one month required by the Standing Orders, and I’ll post this monthly report as close to the end of the month as possible. Liberal Democrat News and all member e-mails will form alternative means of communication.

In amongst all this, we are of course fighting an election campaign! At this point, my visits to local parties are campaign based rather than fund raisers, social and fact finding. During the course of May I have visited Chesterfield, Derby, High Peak, North Cornwall, Newquay & St Austell, Redruth & Camborne, Truro & Falmouth, St Ives, Somerton & Frome, Bristol, Bury St Edmunds, South Cambridgeshire, Colchester, North Norfolk and South Suffolk.

I know that it hasn’t been an easy time for our campaigners. People are angry and want to have their say. However, I think we have a good story to tell. Just as we were right on Iraq and the economy, we are being proved right on the need for reform of our constitutional settlement.

The very best of luck to all of you on Thursday.

* Baroness (Ros) Scott is president of the Liberal Democrats.

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26 Comments

  • I thought we wished for him to pay back the money he took in expenses that in no way related to his work in the Lords?

  • Herbert Brown 2nd Jun '09 - 9:19pm

    Considering it was a manifesto commitment to “Keep in touch with the membership through regular e mail bulletins, my blog, Liberal Democrat News and the Party Mailings” – albeit the manifesto has now been taken offline and is accessible only through the Google cache – it seems pretty shoddy treatment of the membership not only to terminate the blog, but also to remove all the existing posts and comments.

    The latter smacks of having something to hide, and is particularly unfortunate given the syrupy eulogy that was posted after Rennard’s resignation. No doubt bloggers of other parties will have a field day commenting on this.

  • Herbert Brown 2nd Jun '09 - 9:58pm

    “However, given that it took anyone in the Lib Dem blogosphere a week to notice that the blog had been deleted, I am surprised at all the fuss. Especially given the readership figures…”

    I’m not sure that’s surprising, given the moderation policy.

    A while ago I left a perfectly polite comment, simply asking when news about the FE meeting could be expected. I checked back a few times over the next few days to see if my comment had appeared. Eventually I gave up.

    But anyway, if Ros Scott’s critics are going to be accused of being “idiots”, wouldn’t it be better if she did it herself, rather than through others?

  • Herbert Brown 2nd Jun '09 - 10:35pm

    “Sorry about your comment, I’m presuming that it was lodged at the point when the blog was suspended pending a decision on its future. However, a report was lodged with the LDV team as soon as it could possibly happen. Providing you with a holding answer probably wouldn’t have helped much.”

    But this was ages ago. I’m sorry, I can’t tell you exactly when, because the comment never appeared and the whole blog is gone anyway.

    If the blog was suspended, it would have been a good idea to stop people submitting comments.

  • But Mark, the simple fact is that Ros promised to do these things and recieved a positive response for doing so. When she then withdraws from doing so criticism is entirely valid. Either the manifesto was disingenuous or ill thought out. In either case its hardly a good thing, and people who thought it was important have a right to feel poorly done by.

    However, this is really a side issue. Agents excellent post outlines the real issues here. There is no clear statement around the issues around Rennard, and the attempt to duck the issue makes no sense whatsoever. His six questions are the ones that really need answering here, and thus far there has been little but evasion from the top of the party. If we cannot manange ourselves properly and openly it rather dims my confidence when I walk the streets telling other people we should govern them.

  • “I have found myself wondering whether or not it was right that a small, if influential, audience should have priviliged, priority access to information of interest to the entire Party.”

    This was pretty much exactly the argument used when the revolutionary idea of posting the FE minutes on Cix wa originally proposed.

    In fact it was used in general to rubbish Cix by “them at the top” leading to the consequential decline of that forum.

    The party does (desperately) need a fairly secure forum for discussions. This history of Cix shows that discussions can take place in a such a forum without leaking like a seive.

    It is difficult for you to comment on such things given your relationship to Ros – and I don’t think that issue is resolvable. However you have in this instance taken it upon yourself to explain her position so you are to some extent making the rod for your back.

  • I too was disappointed to see Ros’ blog disappear (I noticed). It seems a shame that some sort of blog could not be continued.

    And I think it a shame that we have not said what sort of behaviour is acceptable by our Lords. We need some leadership and clarity here.

  • Herbert Brown 3rd Jun '09 - 8:21am

    Actually, I have another question.

    The Federal Executive statement nearly two weeks ago said that an independent external assessor was to be appointed “immediately” to examine Lib Dem expenses and allowances in the House of Lords.

    Has this assessor been appointed yet. If so, are we allowed to know his or her identity?

  • Martin Land 3rd Jun '09 - 11:23am

    I’m just trying to think of a non-preachy way of saying ‘I told you so…’

  • Mark Valladares wrote: “I do wonder why I have, until now, strived to be reasonable.”

    The past participle of “to strive” is “striven”.

    Whether or not Ros Scott maintains a blog is entirely a matter for her, and her alone. Personally, I cannot see that there is a problem. What does bother me, just a little, is that Ros Scott has wheeled out her husband to defend her from criticism. I don’t think that can be right.

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