Tag Archives: party reforms

1 Supporters’ Scheme 2. ?? 3. Profit!

Conference this weekend is due to vote on Vince Cable’s proposed expansion of both the electorate and potential pool of candidates for Lib Dem leadership contests (in case anyone hadn’t noticed already from the parade of leadership-supportive articles on LDV so far this week). I call it that, rather than a supporter’s scheme, because I think that is the real heart of what is controversial about what is proposed.

Thus far, criticism of Vince’s proposal has centred around entryism, and I have to say I share those concerns, despite the assurances that these concerns have been addressed. We must assume that bad faith actors will target our weakest defences, not our strongest, so for HQ to say that our new electorate for leaders would be screened by bank card checks, and then mutter under its breath “unless they claim not to have a bank card, in which case they just need to prove that they have a postal address” seems naïve to me.

Of course, we are told, if people are found to be acting in bad faith, they can be chucked out. All we need is for our bad faith entryists to a) publicly announce that they are dodgy and b) be noticed by (*checks notes*) our army of HQ staff with free time to comb Twitter for Labour and Tory trolls.

But I’d like to look at this from a different angle. Nakedly self-interested it may be, but my question is: what is the benefit of this supporter’s scheme supposed to be for the party?

Proponents tell us that, even if these supporters aren’t obliged to give the party money to join, we may still benefit from them as new recruits to our army of deliverers, tellers, door-knockers etc. They might even donate to the party in the fullness of time. Sounds great, but any local party worth its salt is already running a mailing list and offering opportunities to get stuck in helping the party. They are, to all intents and purposes, running supporters schemes. Centralising these schemes so that HQ can run them instead achieves what, exactly?

“Ah yes”, proponents say, “but not everyone has a local party worth its salt”. Quite so, but people in black-hole areas who want to deliver or canvass will find themselves distinctly underwhelmed by the incapacity of their local party to take them up on the offer. If they don’t even want to call themselves a party member, the chance that they are going to want to jump straight into a leadership role in campaigning seems, to me, a stretch.

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Trust our voters to choose our leader

I chair the Federal Committee that designed the structures for the Supporter Scheme. My committee members worked incredibly hard on these discussions, reading long reports and complex spreadsheets and interpreting data to come to the best decisions for this new project. On almost everything we reached consensus views. The one area where there was no consensus was the most controversial question – whether these new supporters should be allowed to vote in Party Leadership elections.

I absolutely understand why this is a difficult issue. There are good, sensible reasons to pause and worry. I was very against the idea at first but, after a lot of thought, I changed my mind. I now, personally, think we should feel the fear and do it anyway.

At a General Election, many voters are temporarily hypnotised by the media into thinking they are voting for the next Prime Minister. They forget that they are a voter of Anytown, and are voting for Anytown’s MP. Instead, they get caught up in ‘who do I prefer as Prime Minister’? They vote for the Party they want to see in Government. 

This narrative often causes a big squeeze on our Party’s vote. That’s why we need all our leaflets, to remind people that their vote decides who represents their area in Parliament. But it’s impossible to stop people from looking at Party Leaders as the people they are voting for. 

This is the heart of why I think supporters voting for Leader is sensible. We need a Leader who inspires our members, who understands our Party and has good internal leadership. But we also need our Leader to appeal to our voters. To be someone who they are inspired by and with whom they feel a sense of connection. It’s not enough to be a Lib Dem Leader who inspires internally. They must inspire our voters too.

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Christine Jardine MP writes….Let’s invite people in who want to help us build a movement

It was when Charles Kennedy was standing to be leader that I found it most frustrating not to be a member.

I had supported the Liberal Democrats since I was old enough to vote.

Here was a man whose political ideals epitomised what I believed in and I desperately wanted him to leader.

But I couldn’t do anything to help him, or support the party.

I was a journalist. I worked for the BBC, often covered politics and, throughout my career, my impartiality had to be transparent.

When I was eventually able to join the party it was at a point in my career where I had moved away from reporting.

It still took some time to persuade my husband that there would be a professional life after joining and, significantly, that it would not damage his career or reflect on him.

If only there had been a supporters scheme then I could have been involved, voted for the leader and done my bit to help without jeopardising my livelihood.

And I was not alone in that.

I remember losing an active, and effective campaigner, in the highlands because he was promoted and his new role was politically restricted.

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An open letter to the Lib Dem Federal Board ahead of tomorrow night’s meeting

Dear Board Members,

In a very friendly way I am writing to suggest that you should not at this stage agree to have a special Party Conference in early January to discuss amendments to the Party Constitution.

I am saying this not only after many discussions with Lib Dems in the North West and my own City of Liverpool but also in places as far apart as Taunton and Cambridge and with fellow Leaders from Local Government.

I have some key questions for you before you make the decision. I am expecting the answers to these questions to be publicised:

Firstly, do you not think that this will interfere in our work for the biggest round of local elections in England? The idea that early January is handy because it is before we start is risible. We started our campaign for next May, last May. We have been out every weekend and a lot during the week since August. This will take activists out of the front line at just the time we need them to be fighting for us and pushing our way into more power and more influence via more votes.

Secondly, do you not think that it sends all the wrong messages. Some people may think that the UK is going to hell in a hand cart and all we can do is talk about ourselves at this crucial time. That is how it will be portrayed.

Thirdly, do you really think that there is a great thirst in the Party for all the changes? 

I personally believe that there is much support for a Supporters organisation. It builds well on what we do locally. I’d love to involve more people in our policy discussions both locally and nationally; I’d love to have a larger pool of people advocating on our behalf; I think it great to have people giving us information about local and national issues. There are some things that need sorting out but these are details. The Federal Board can make these decisions and we can get on with them. In fact, we already are!

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Malcom Bruce writes….Vince’s reforms help us to become insurgent challengers

I fully understand why the party leadership is consulting on ideas to broaden our support.

I am a lifelong Liberal and want our party to be founded on Liberal values. But I never want it to be a purist sect.

I also understand the concerns that offering free association to registered supporters might devalue party membership.

However membership confers the knowledge that we are offering core funding to the party and we can help shape policy and stand for and participate in internal elections and become an election candidate.

I believe we have to be realistic. Our support has fallen to single figures in spite of standing united for what at least 40 per cent of voters want on Brexit.

We all know that the high levels of support for the two larger parties is mostly based on the negative reality of our outdated voting system.

While both have core support around half of their voters are motivated by fear and hatred of “the other lot”.

So Conservative voters are in fear or hatred of the prospect of a Communist-led Labour Government or, in large parts of Scotland, sick fed up with the indy-obsessive incompetent SNP.

Many Labour voters are sick of the self-serving, arrogant, selfish xenophobia of the current Government and want rid of them.

For these voters the Liberal Democrats are a weak irrelevance and an indulgence they cannot afford even if they recognise we more closely identify with their own views.

Yes, where we can connect in local by elections and the few constituencies where we retain credibility we can cut through, but to take us back to where we were, let alone  break through to Government, requires us to become insurgent challengers ready to take on all comers and unite the voices of reason.

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It’s not enough to open up the party

Millions of people know that Britain is heading down the wrong path. Very few know what they can do about it. The Lib Dems have to become home for the despairing liberal millions. It’s now or never.

What’s so wrong with Britain today? Well, we can’t find room for even 3,000 child refugees for starters. We let freeloading multinationals take us for a ride. We’re not doing enough to stop climate change. Millions of families struggle to afford to eat. The young have to earn twice as much as their parents did to afford a house. Women and minorities earn less than white men for the same work.

Focus on this one for a second: the UK is so transphobic that last year a British trans woman was granted asylum in New Zealand. Seriously.

The list goes on and on – and that’s not even to mention Brexit.

Millions of people in the UK today are horrified about exactly these causes. We all know them: our family, our friends, our colleagues.

Take a second to count them – how many do you know? Ten, twenty, more?

Now ask yourself this: how many of them do you think would do something – as small as to sign a petition perhaps – to help tackle any one of those problems listed above?

Fewer, right? But still a good number. Let’s think of these people as liberal activists in the making.

Final question: how many would want to think of themselves as a card carrying Lib Dem? I’m guessing very few

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Will party reforms really lead to more democracy?

As anyone glancing down the Lib Dem Voice homepage will become rapidly aware, Vince has recently laid out his plans for the future of the Liberal Democrats, and party grandees and official social media accounts are pumping out a slickly coordinated and prepared promotional run of articles and ads. Whether this is remotely appropriate during a consultation on a draft paper, I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader – but I wanted in any case to discuss the detail, so let’s cut the rhetoric and talk about the fine print that’s been conspicuously missing from recent articles. Do these proposals actually present a blueprint that will turn the Lib Dems into a much larger “movement for moderates”? And is that what we want to become?

It’s unclear either how the party will validate supporters effectively and efficiently, or how conflicts between member and supporter votes will be balanced if they arise in this two-speed system. The issue of tensions between Federal Policy Committee’s priorities motions and the proposed priority ballots for supporters has likewise been unaddressed, especially if HQ rather than FPC intend to write those ballot papers. A non-MP leader also raises the constitutional problem of how the parliamentary leader is then selected – if members are entirely cut out of selecting our parliamentary leader then we risk a worrying gulf opening between our policy-making members and our policy-delivering MPs. The right to choose our parliamentary leader is not one I think that Lib Dem members will be happy to give up lightly.

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Let’s have a proper debate about Vince’s party reforms

The last several days have seen these pages full of unalloyed cheerleading for Vince’s Moderate Movement scheme from the great and the good, and even people who have set up rival parties to our own. We have also been assured repeatedly that these changes will not be imposed on us, that we will have chance to debate them, that we are a democratic party, but here is what I, as a member of Federal Conference Committee, have seen:

– a total lack of communication with the federal committees about this
– all the MPs being brought out to bang the drum for how marvellous these ideas are
– an exponentially larger number of emails to members and supporters alike about this than there were about conference
– a survey which amounted to “do you agree with us that the leader’s ideas are marvellous, or do you want to doom the party forever?”
– insinuations that anyone who so much as raises a question about the proposed reforms is a saboteur, or not behind the leader

Here is what I have not seen:
– any meaningful attempt to engage with the existing party structures
– any meaningful attempt to consult with members
– any meaningful attempt to listen to anything existing members have to say.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 47 Comments
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