Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!

So, we had the big debate about a supporters’ scheme on Saturday. I personally found it rather sad that the biggest attendance for a debate on the eve of the biggest round of local elections in England should be for an internal matter with no resonance with the public.

So why am I sad that the vote went, with one tiny exception of the minor vote on membership of policy groups, my way? Because I believe it showed just how badly our Leader is supported and the bungling incompetence of the Federal Board and HQ.

So, for the benefit of those that were not there we agreed to have a supporter’s scheme. This vote went through with a huge majority and was never in doubt. But it only went through in a totally emasculated form. Out went:

  1. That supporters could be members of other Parties; How could we trust people with information of any sort when they had split loyalties. When would they be ours and when would they be theirs?
  2. That supporters could vote for the Leader. This could have led to entryism. At least you had to pay £3 to wreck the Labour by signing up as a supporter of Corbyn. We were proposing to let you vote for nothing!
  3. That the Leader did not need to be an MP. This would really have been silly. I posed the question to conference, “who is the Leader of the Green Party?” I actually neither know who or whether they have split the job again. But I know who everyone thinks is the Leader, Caroline Lucas, although we politicos all know that she isn’t. You must have someone who is available for the media within that Westminster bubble.

I never for a moment doubted that these deletions would be made. So, I have to ask who allowed Vince to canter off to almost certain defeat. How does he pick up the mood of the Party before he makes significant declarations on issues like this? Crucially, now what steps will the new Leader make, whoever she or he is, to avoid such errors.

Appallingly those who ‘lead’ us seemed incapable of understanding the differences between a political Party and a movement. I believe that we can and should be at the heart of a liberal movement in the UK. But liberals are found in other political parties and none. They come from different traditions as we know from the backgrounds of the Tiggers. The idea that we could marshal all liberals behind a Party and its Leader was frankly never going to work. We need to work out effective partnerships on an issue by issue basis and gradually draw them, as a further step, into our Party.

We have ended up with a proposal which did not need to come to Conference and which should have been implemented properly and efficiently last September by the Federal Board. So, why wasn’t it implemented properly because next to nothing which has been ultimately approved needed to come to conference?

Since September we have has as the first thing you see on the national Lib Dem website a join the supporters pop up. You have to negotiate around it to become a member. It should have been the other way around. How many people did not become members as a result of this? How much revenue has been lost for the Party at a time when we made 20% of our hard-working staff redundant?
Accessing information about who they are has been difficult and advice what to do with them has been none existent. Has a message already gone to them all or will it be sent out following yesterday’s vote?

Will advice and guidance be given to membership secretaries of what to do with these supporters and how we might seek to get our army of deliverers registered as supporters even though we have tried to get many of them to be members for years?

I suspect that this whole idea was dreamt up by people with very little real understand of how political parties, never mind our own Party, actually work. An assumption that what worked for Trudeau and Macron would work in our system was always naïve.

But our job now is very simple. Let’s use what has been passed to swell the ranks of those we talk to about politics and seek to involve them in our work. We have 28 pre-registered supporters in Liverpool and I will be contacting all of them this week to ask them if and how they want to be involved.

It could have been worse. At least we did not follow the original idea of having a special conference eon this subject where there would have been bad publicity about the Leader losing key proposals as we are half way through our English local election campaign.

* Cllr Richard Kemp CBE, Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats

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25 Comments

  • I am really disturbed that this is the first report on the Supporter proposals to appear on LDV, its a polemical piece & is rather misleading about what happened. It makes no distinction between things that were defeated & those that were passed but failed to get a two-thirds majority.
    Theres nothing wrong with polemical articles like this but it should have been delayed till after a balance report on the facts.

  • Mark Blackburn 18th Mar '19 - 10:42am

    This isn’t a ‘report’ Paul Barker, it’s an opinion piece from Richard Kemp which IMHO makes some very good points, echoing what many of use were saying for weeks on LDV – by all means have a registered supporters’ scheme but there’s no need to weaken membership privileges and rights. You or anyone else could have had your say on LDV but Richard got in there first.
    Besides, after just a few hours’ sleep and a long journey, Caron DID get in there with more of a ‘report’ yesterday evening, when she did discuss some of the specific votes you mention.

  • Mark Blackburn 18th Mar '19 - 10:44am

    ‘us’ not ‘use’, obv!

  • David Becket 18th Mar '19 - 11:23am

    It is not just in the management of the supporters scheme that Federal Committees and HQ have let the party down. Why do we have pictures of Vince in the press today surrounded by ” Winning Here” Posters when to the person on the Clapham Omnibus we are not winning anywhere. I agree “Demand Better” would not have looked good, so why use a poster with a strap line. Vince stabilised the party, but we now need somebody younger and not connected with the coalition, and we also need a clean out of other old faces.

  • Phil Wainewright 18th Mar '19 - 12:14pm

    Having attended the debate, I had the distinct impression that people at the top of the party were not really committed to the proposals that failed. I certainly didn’t hear any impassioned case being made for why we should embrace these wider changes.

    We are now left with a settled field of candidates to replace Vince as leader unless either:
    a) a potential contender wins a parliamentary by-election before close of nominations – somewhat fanciful – or
    b) an MP who is currently a member of another party (or none) signs up as a Lib Dem in time to throw their hat into the ring – perhaps this was the true intended outcome and we should await with bated breath the damascene conversion of Chuka Umunna to Liberalism.

  • Neil Fawcett 18th Mar '19 - 12:15pm

    Richard, it isn’t the Federal Board’s fault, or ‘HQ’ s’ if the Party Leader refuses to listen to the advice he is given.

    Vince is a grown man and ultimately responsible for his own decisions.

  • An INTERESTING pitch for party president, here, putting the backs up of several people the president will have to work with.

    Even though I think there is much that could be learned from what happened with the supporters scheme (including, I might suggest, don’t have a coronation of a leader who hasn’t had to tell us what their ideas are in a contest lest their ideas turn out to be sub optimal), I fear that casting aspersions on people who may not even have been involved will only impede the party in general learning by making everyone defensive.

  • “Passed but failed to get two thirds in favour” – is that the line now on the deeply unpopular “supporters vote for leader” proposal? If so, it’s revisionism and I’m not standing for it.

    I was in the hall. It not only failed to get 2/3rds, it easily got 2/3rds AGAINST. The suggestion that it was in any way popular but simply failed to get a supermajority is really dishonest.

  • Mick Taylor 18th Mar '19 - 1:04pm

    I agree with Sarah Brown. Members saw the supporters for leader proposal as being a swipe at members’ rights. I too was in the hall and the proposal didn’t even get a simple majority, never mind 2/3.
    I know one MP who supported the proposal who said after the vote ‘we’d lost before we started and didn’t realise it’.
    Now the decision has been made. We’re Liberal and Democrats. We accept the result of a vote at conference. Now, let’s get on and win some council seats.

  • Is there a link that allows those of us not present at York to know the results of all the votes taken at conference ?

  • Richard Kemp 18th Mar '19 - 3:45pm

    Firstly, I did know how this idea originated. I spoke to both Vince and his office about it when he first proposed it and helped to head off of special conference.
    Secondly, The Federal Board could have minimised the effects of this move. For example for 7 months the pop up on the front of the website was about a potential supporters scheme and one had to get around it to get to the section for joining.
    3. It was always obvious that this would never get the required two thirds majority. In fact I doubt that the main propositions even got a simple majority. They weren’t even counted.
    4. The point about me wanting to be President is that I want to make changes in the attitudes and cultures of the Party. That will, inevitably, lead to differences of opinion with people who currently run things.
    5. This is my opinion. It is not my job to present details of votes or a detailed chronology.

  • Romer Hoseason 18th Mar '19 - 3:48pm

    Currently there is only the conference daily for Sunday that has the results for Saturdays’ votes.
    https://www.libdems.org.uk/sconf19-sunday-conference-daily

    I’ve been assured that there will be a report back of the votes in due course on Sunday but from memory.
    F12 https://www.libdems.org.uk/sconf19-sunday-conference-daily Carried as amended (omiting lines 10 & 11 from “or alternatively,”

    F13 Federal Board Report with Addendum Accepted. I’m told that the answers to the various questions will be published in due course.

    F14 Emergency motion: Knife Crime and Youth Services passed
    F15 Town Centres Fit for the Future Amendment and motion as amended both passed.
    F16 No to Unpaid Internships, Yes to Real Opportunities passed

  • Nonconformistradical 18th Mar '19 - 5:05pm

    I would expect that an end of conference document would be issued. If you log in to the federal website and look at the conference information for the last Autumn conference – at the bottom of the list of downloadable documents is one called “Conference Final”

  • Richard Underhill 18th Mar '19 - 6:57pm

    Phil Wainewright 18th Mar ’19 – 12:14pm
    “b) an MP who is currently a member of another party (or none) signs up as a Lib Dem in time to throw their hat into the ring.”
    I turned on the tv and Charles Kennedy was goading a Labour MP: “You are a former Liberal. You could cross the floor and stand for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats”.
    No reply. Digging up cricket grounds is an unusual method of protesting, but it has to be said that some South Africans made excellent and distinguished Liberals.

  • If you want more members reduce the membership fee. Also start talking about other things and bang about Brexit all the time. This strategy is not working. It makes the Lib Dems look like a single issue party. Not a good look.

  • I was at the discussion on registered supporters.
    It was rather like an end of course test for aspiring actors. The candidates are asked to give a short talk what title should be given to people who receive emails.
    As has been commented elsewhere the Chair was brilliant.
    Many of the speakers were excellent, my only reservation being that they resolutely ignored the topic. Then there was the vote. Very efficiently managed.
    I hope that now whoever is responsible for these things considers how members are treated. When emails are sent out please start to think that these are fellow members, not just a source of income. Their money may be needed – their ideas and enthusiasm are needed even more. But the answer to needed by whom needs always to be answered. The members are the party. There is nothing else.

  • There should be a conference final at some point, yes.

  • Malcolm Todd 19th Mar '19 - 3:52pm

    Richard Underhill 18th Mar ’19 – 6:57pm
    “I turned on the tv and Charles Kennedy was goading a Labour MP”

    Good lord! What programme were you watching? The Ghost Channel?

  • Mick Taylor 19th Mar '19 - 6:22pm

    Chris Cory
    There were two counted votes during the debate on supporters. One was on supporters being members of policy panels, which was carried by around 550 to 375 and the other was on allowing members to become parliamentary candidates which was agreed by 68% to 32%. All the other votes were called by the chair and agreed to by conference.
    From my observations in the hall the vote on allowing members of other parties to join as supporters was overwhelmingly defeated, the vote to allow supporters to vote for the leader came nowhere near the required 2/3 majority needed and probably didn’t even have a simple majority. Similarly the vote to allow non-MPs to stand as leader was lost.
    All that the conference information will show is the resolution that was ultimately agreed. It may show the results of the two counted votes.
    Hope that helps

  • Mick Taylor 19th Mar '19 - 6:23pm

    members can now apply to be parliamentary candidates without waiting 12 months, subject to state party rules.

  • Teresa Wilson 19th Mar '19 - 9:06pm

    LibDemer, the membership fee currently stands at £12 a year with a concession of £6 a year for the unwaged. That’s 50p – £1 a month. Short of paying people to join it’s difficult to see how we could reduce it any further.

  • Tony Greaves 21st Mar '19 - 2:38pm

    Just to be clear there was nothing that was “passed” but failed to get a 2/3 majority. I was sitting up near the back and could see the whole hall. The most controversial proposals probably had a 2/3 majority AGAINST them.

    By the way the amendments were in the name of the FB not the Leader.

    If people at the top of the party are incompetent we do no favours to anyone by not recognising that.

  • Richard Underhill 21st Mar '19 - 4:36pm

    Malcolm Todd 19th Mar ’19 – 3:52pm
    The Daily Politics, sorry about the brevity.
    I do not remember the date. The Labour MP is now a peer.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Hain

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