Sal Brinton’s Federal Executive report

Sal Brinton Sal @ Crohns & Colitis Rec _2 CROPPED Nov 13Just before Christmas the Federal Executive (FE) met for an awayday to receive and consider your responses to the governance review consultation.

Two of the concerns that you told us about were the lack of diversity of our MPs, and how you felt that all the party committees and structures were hard to understand, and often out of touch.

We will be bringing back the next stage of the governance consultation to you in February, and will run a consultation session at the York Federal Conference in March, with some draft proposals and seeking your views on some of the key issues. Following your comments over the summer we will develop proposals, a new constitution and structures, which will then come back to the Autumn Conference in Brighton for your debate and voting. This would mean that the next round of Federal Elections (which will take place after Conference, ready to start at the beginning of 2017) would be run under the new arrangements.

In the meantime, FE wants to report back regularly to members: in addition to the report on the members’ part of the party website, we will let you know as soon as we can after a meeting what is discussed at our meetings. We will ensure that there is a report on Lib Dem Voice and in addition we want to encourage the cascading down through representatives on FE of important information. Clearly, some matters are (and must be) confidential, and others are seriously uninteresting, but we will do our best to let you know what is happening.

The most recent meeting of FE was last Monday. We started with a presentation from Mike German, our new party Treasurer, on the current fundraising strategy. This was followed by Tim Farron setting out his priorities and his plans on visiting various local parties and plans for the May elections.

We had discussed at our awayday how FE can work more efficiently and co-ordinate more effectively with the three state parties and the other Federal Committees. We have therefore set up an Operations sub-committee, which can meet, if needed, between FE meetings to discuss urgent matters, and if necessary, to take any urgent decisions. The Operations Committee must report back to the FE on any decisions it has made as well as any matters discussed, and the membership is the Chairs of the Federal Committees and the Chairs or Leaders of the three state parties, the Chief Executive, the Leader and the President (who will chair the meeting). We will trial this committee over the next few months to see if it helps co-ordination between committees as well discussing urgent items, and, as important, reporting back to FE. FE will check on the progress of key decisions to ensure that they are being implemented swiftly. We will report on the progress of this trial in the FE Report to Autumn Conference.

Jeanne Tarrant, the Pastoral Care Officer, gave us a presentation on her work. She shared drafts of a guide for members on getting the best out of social media, and also a partnership charter that sets out how we should behave with each other and with staff. This follows on from the Helena Morrissey Report recommendations which said that the party needed to have clear boundaries for the working relationships between people, and these two documents will be published to all members and staff.

We discussed and passed a motion to submit to Federal Conference Committee on the Diversity of our MPs. There will be separate blogs on this as soon as the motion is published but the short information is that there is pressure from a number of our top seats to select Westminster parliament candidates, and the party needs to debate what, if any, special arrangements it wants to make to ensure that our candidates and MPs are more diverse than they have been.

The FE also proposed members to join the Federal Appeals Panel, which will come to York Conference in March.

Following the election of a new Leader, the FE is required to review and amend the regulations. We have set up a small working group to look at these and also the regulations for the election of President, and we will receive their report next month.

As part of our improved ways of working, we are now using dial-up and Skype for most of our meetings, with Messenger and Texting to help smooth the flow of debate. It has been working well, although it definitely makes chairing the meeting more exciting! I also want to thank those members who provide regular written reports for the committee in advance which has freed up our time to discuss other matters in more detail.

The FE will meet again at the beginning of February at a special meeting to finalise the next consultation paper on Governance.

* Baroness Sal Brinton is President of the Liberal Democrats. She is a working Lib Dem peer, and was the candidate for Watford at the 2010 and 2005 General Elections.

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9 Comments

  • James Moore 26th Jan '16 - 2:04pm

    Thanks for sharing this – please do continue to share useful things like this. Even if it isn’t all interesting to everyone I’m sure some members will find at least something useful from this sort of reporting.

  • I’m concerned as to what might be slid into “seriously uninteresting” but otherwise I am very glad to see this report. Thank you.

  • Laurence Cox 27th Jan '16 - 2:14pm

    Good to see the FE accepting the need for more communication, but the users of LDV and the Lib Dem conferences on Cix only partially overlap. Anything that is posted here should be posted there as well; IIRC the Party should still have Cix accounts.

  • Thanks to Sal Brinton and others for starting the long overdue reform of governance.

    The Lib Dems have always been run via a byzantine group of committees. And they are large – IIRC each of the Federal Committees has well over 20 members.

    The easy assumption is that having more members equals better debates, more views represented etc. but that is wrong. Smaller committees are better; each additional member beyond about five adds only fuzziness by making it more difficult for all concerned to share goals and assumptions. Above about 12 members the added fuzziness goes exponential. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

    Also, the more committee members and the more committees there are the more internal politics is spontaneously created leading to an HQ agenda that detaches itself and spins off from the membership.

    None of this is a criticism of those involved; it’s the inevitable result of organising things this way interacting with human nature.

    So, it’s entirely unsurprising to me that members reported that “party committees and structures were hard to understand and often out of touch”.

    The proposed solution, an “operations sub-committee”, is a fudge. It may perhaps (depending on the individuals concerned) work a little better by virtue of being smaller but it will lack a degree of legitimacy and will add to complexity by being a committee of committee representatives. That’s precisely the approach that so badly failed the Co-op. Is there a good reason to expect a different outcome here?

    The number of people involved and the essentially byzantine committee structure are the problems and should be tackled head on. That means a radically different approach – think John Lewis Partnership rather than Co-op.

    As a guideline a former boss, who had worked at high level in some of Britain’s biggest companies, used to say that even the largest were actually run by no more than five people.

    Complexity is a cost the party simply can’t afford. It is a bill paid not just in money but, more critically, in muddle and confused leadership.

  • David Allen 28th Jan '16 - 6:33pm

    Gordon’s comments remind me that the classic system based on a hierarchical series of committees each electing the tier above it was the Soviet system. It was designed on the theoretical principle that this would ensure that the ordinary workers at the base of the pyramid exerted strong democratic control over the entire structure, and thus dictated policy upwards to the leadership. It achieved the precise opposite. We now know enough about hierarchical systems to realise that this was totally predictable.

  • The very first sentence of the introduction to the governance consultation paper (linked in the article above) runs as follows:

    “Over the last two years members have made it clear that they feel that the party is out of touch, often unaccountable, and our complex structures unintelligible to all but those heavily involved in them.” [Added emphasis]

    The thing that most distinguishes dictatorship such as North Korea or Syria from democracies is that the people can’t fire the leaders or otherwise hold them to account for their actions. In short they are unaccountable.

    So, the considered admission that the Liberal, umm, DEMOCRAT Party is “often unaccountable” is pretty shocking even though it won’t surprise anyone who has seen how it’s carried on over the last few years. Faced with the reality of an unaccountable party many quietly lapsed their membership while many more became inactive. The voters decamped in droves.

    I don’t for a minute think the party’s democratic deficit was ever the intention. I suggest rather that it was the unintended result of decisions made during the merger of the SDP and Liberal Party. So, how to put it right?

    Groupthink leadership is essentially unaccountable, doesn’t work well for making strategic decisions and can easily go very badly wrong. And when it does go wrong there’s no ‘Plan B’ waiting in the wings to take over. Effective and responsive leadership needs a tighter, probably very small, group but giving a small group too much power is obviously dangerous.

    The solution is to adopt a constitution that makes anyone’s hold on power precarious, subject to withdrawal if they don’t please their constituents which, if you think about it, is exactly how Parliament works. In other words the quid pro quo for a perch at the top of the greasy pole of politics is that it’s very easy to be challenged and dislodged.

    That is basically how the John Lewis Partnership works; the chief executive is (upwards) delegated a lot of power by the membership but they can also fire him if he proves to be out of his depth or forgets for whose benefit he works. Now that’s democracy! It’s also a very different approach from the failed Co-op committee-heavy model.

  • Sal Brinton 31st Jan '16 - 3:39pm

    Thanks for all your comments, and for Joe and Gordon, FE meets tomorrow to finalise the next consultation paper which will be published shortly thereafter, and debated at York Federal Conference. Gordon, thanks for your contribution to that: you have identified the issues that we have been battling with, and it’s worth saying that since we started this process, the English Party have also started to review their own governance, recognising that many members have found it even more arcane than parts of the Federal Party. That is very welcome.
    Thanks, also David for your comment about Soviet structures. Lib Dems have been very good at creating complex structures that seem to get in the way of good working. What we need to do is ensure a democratic structure that works.
    Laurence, I don’t know how many Lib Dem Cixen there are still are, but I have to say I don’t use the Forum there myself, as I find Facebook/Twitter/LDV/Members Website enough to cope with!

  • Stephen Rutherford 16th Feb '16 - 9:56pm

    Dear All,
    I am a longstanding and fairly active member, having been a local party chair, council candidate and parliamentary candidate. I also couldn’t agree more with the view that it has “complex structures unintelligible to all but those heavily involved in them.”

    Can I propose something simpler: Just three tiers – local, regional and UK/Federal.
    I feel ‘British’, not English, and the regional parties must surely cover enough voters and members to be the sensible middle layer.

    I’m not that familiar with the Federal Committees, but can we just have one governing committee, one campaigns committee, just one policy committee, working groups as required and a small committee to run federal conferences.

    Giving every group of people within the party who have something in common (I’m exaggerating) an official status doesn’t help either.

    However, good luck Sal and lets get something that’s democratic, simple and works.

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