Tag Archives: vince’s big speech

Some thoughts on Vince’s party reforms

I have kept reasonably quiet about Vince’s reforms since his announcement on 7th September because I wanted to let others have their say.

My sense at Conference is that people were interested in what he had to say. Everyone had things they liked and things they didn’t. They were all going to respond to the consultation with varying degrees of pleasure and pain. This is how it is supposed to be.

I do want to slightly disagree with my fellow Federal Board members who have been talking to Politics Home about the process, though. They complained about being “bounced.”

Now, I don’t think that’s fair. Certainly, back in June, there was an attempt to slip in something about a Supporters’ Scheme into the motion of the Federal Levy and Subscriptions to be discussed at Conference. The Federal Board then said “Hang on a wee minute, here.” The Federal People Development Committee was given the job of looking at this in more detail. The Committee’s amazing chair, Miranda Roberts, one of the most competent and patient people I know, has written about that process here and here. The process of holding the leadership back had thus worked.

In between times, after articles had started to appear in the press over the Summer, Vince spoke to a special meeting of the Federal Board in July about what he was thinking about. At the end of August, Federal Board members were asked to contribute their views about his ideas. He hadn’t told us fully what they were, but given that his 7th September speech reflected most of the press coverage, well, you didn’t need to be a rocket scientist.

So, on the last day of my holiday, I had to drag myself out of bed at the crack of bloody dawn to write down my views for Vince. I actually forgive him, because I was able to take this amazingly atmospheric photo of the bay outside the holiday cottage as the sun rose.

By this point the only bit he hadn’t told us was what he was going to say about the future of his leadership. But then that didn’t take a rocket scientist to work out either.

I wrote him an essay of epic proportions which I might actually post on here one day.

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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.

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Tim Farron MP writes…Vision before vanity

Former leaders probably shouldn’t write articles in the run up to a party conference, but here goes…

Let’s start by turning the clock back eleven years.  In September 2007 we arrived at our conference in Brighton with Ming Campbell as leader, expecting an early election.

Gordon Brown had just succeeded Tony Blair as Prime Minister without a fight.

Actually, there had been quite a fight as the Blair / Brown psycho drama had played out over the course of a fractious decade in Downing Street.  But there had been no electoral contest as Gordon took the top job.  David Miliband had bottled it, and John McDonnell had tried and failed to get enough signatures to get on the ballot paper.

Perhaps this one horse race struck many in Labour as not being terribly healthy and whilst they might not have sympathised with McDonnell’s hard-left views, they felt – on reflection – that it would have been better if he had got enough signatures to ensure that Brown had to experience some democracy before stepping into Tony’s shoes.

I suspect that McDonnell’s experience led to many Labour moderates choosing to sign the nomination forms of Diane Abbott in 2010, and of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015… A word to the wise: never back someone if you don’t want them to win.

Whatever we Liberal Democrats might have said at the time about his lack of democratic legitimacy, there really wasn’t an enormous clamour for Brown to seek his own mandate having taken on the role a few months earlier.  After all in 2005 Blair and Brown had very much been presented as a joint ticket.

Nevertheless, Labour looked good in the polls.  They were ten points ahead of a fairly wobbly looking Cameron and Osborne (who looked like a kind of very wealthy, poor-man’s Blair and Brown, if you see what I mean…).  Brown fancied his chances of crushing the Tories and so the weather was set fair for an October 2007 election.  Westmorland and Lonsdale Liberal Democrats had 40,000 flying start leaflets printed, 25,000 target letters stuffed and a thousand poster boards pasted up ready…

But – two weeks after our conference – on the same day that the England Rugby Union team surprisingly defeated Australia in the 2007 World Cup semi-final, Gordon Brown delivered his own surprise.  He backed down, there would be no early election.  A decision that trashed his reputation and ultimately led to his defeat in 2010… and to the formation of the coalition.

Gordon’s decision to march his troops back down the hill was to make a difference to the Liberal Democrats in 2010, but it also affected us there and then in 2007.

Ming Campbell had taken on the mantle of leading the party in the sad turmoil after Charles Kennedy’s resignation in early 2006. Ming chose to step down following Gordon Brown’s announcement that there was no longer the prospect of an early election. Ming gave immense service to the party by putting his own ambition to one side in the party’s interest.

In the Autumn of 2007, the party needed an Acting Leader to take the helm.  Up danced our Deputy Leader Vince Cable. Having been PPS to Ming, I became Acting PPS to the Acting Leader – I was the lowest of the low!  But I got to see first hand the cross-party respect that Vince built, not only for his deft handling of PMQs (who could forget his observation that Gordon Brown had transformed from Stalin to Mr Bean?) but also for his integrity.

Fast forward eleven years, and as we gather again in Brighton this September, Vince is back at the helm of the party, and has shown the same selfless strength that Ming showed in 2007.    

As we approach the third decade of the 21st century, the structures of all political parties are still locked into the Victorian model.  Reform is greatly needed. Not everyone will agree with the proposals that Vince has put forward for reform, but the fact that he has put the cat among the pigeons and opened up the debate should be seen as visionary and vital.

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Vince: Lib Dems are about openness, equality, civil liberties and protecting democracy and environment

Much has been written about Vince’s proposed reforms to our party. However, we thought it might be worth fishing out that bit of his speech where he talked about our values and where he set out what he wants to achieve as leader:

I used the break to give some thought as to the role my party should be playing in the British political system.

The country is bitterly divided over Brexit and the politics of the main parties leaves millions of voters, broadly those in the ‘centre ground’, feeling ignored while they get on with their internal civil wars.

And little attention is being paid to some of the big long-term challenges around climate change, an ageing population, new technologies and stagnant productivity.

To be sure, the sense of political malaise is not unique to the UK.  Ever since the global financial crisis, frustration over the failure of market economies to deliver rising living standards, and a sense of unfair rewards, has fed the politics of extremism.  Parties in the liberal and social democratic traditions have struggled.

Liberal democracy itself is under threat notably in the USA, in Eastern Europe and perhaps here.  Authoritarians and extremists of both right and left are on the march and are coordinating their tactics and propaganda: an Illiberal International.

The problem is obviously not the same everywhere and in some countries – France, Canada, Ireland – there are encouraging counter-currents and we need to learn from them.
But in Britain there is the additional problem of a first-past-the-post voting system which entrenches the position of the two established major parties.

This system has worked after a fashion when politicians aimed for common ground.  But when, as now, the main parties are driven by their party fringes, politics become dangerously polarised.

And when democracy also seems unable to deliver, the frustration opens up a space for various forms of ugly populism.  The summer of 2018 offered us verbal attacks on Muslims and Jews as the staple of political debate.  And, of course, wall to wall Brexit.

It is a worrying picture.  So, as Leader of the Liberal Democrats, I have naturally asked myself how I, and my party, can help protect, and develop liberal democracy in Britain, at a time when it is in grave danger.  Perhaps the gravest since the 1930s.

I see two big steps we need to take:

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A supporters’ scheme: an alternative plan

Liberal parties have a long history of enabling people. We invented Parish Councils, we are Britain’s only independent mutualist co-operative party, and we champion devolution of power.  Vince Cable proposes change that is very liberal, very enabling and poses little change to the way that our party works. Indeed, most of what he proposes already exists and all he asks is that we give it structure.

This party has supporters’ clubs promoting policy, we call them Associated Organisations (AO’s).  They range from the association of Liberal Democrat Trades Unionists. and the Green Liberal Democrats through to the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel and the Liberal Democrats Friends of Palestine.  You don’t have to be a party member to join them, and yet they create policy and take it to the conference floor where fully subscribed party members vote to make them party policy.

We also have informal local supporters’ clubs that help deliver leaflets and participate with our local parties and Liberal Clubs, where you do not have to be a party member to join but which contribute to the life and politics and funding of the party to a substantial degree.  We are grateful to them all for their help and support all year round and involving them in a formal AO for supporters is not so radical an idea; we should have done it years ago and It doesn’t even require a constitutional change, just a new constitution for the AO.

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We must shake this party up

I am tired of being told my ‘natural home’ is the Labour Party just because I’m brown. I am tired of being pointed to the Conservative Party, and told it boasts a diverse set of MPs. I am tired of being told the Liberal Democrats are fine just as we are because the truth is we aren’t. 

We must demand better of ourselves. Despite the scepticism that the new slogan ‘Demand Better’ makes us prone to criticism, it’s this attitude of self-improvement that has kept me in the Party, even when my faith has wavered.

We demand better at every …

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Vince Cable MP writes…Changing the Liberal Democrats

Politics is changing in the UK and around the world. Conventional wisdom and assumptions are being blown away by people powered movements from Trump to Trudeau, from Macron to Brexit. Old style political parties face a simple choice – change or be swept away.

The Liberal Democrats have a long and proud history of approaching these transformational moments head on — by localising power, fostering diversity and nurturing creativity. We fight for our fundamental values of liberty, equality and community. In short, we live by the very principles that successful movements are built upon.

Earlier this year, we set a new direction for our party, by passing a motion at conference to “Create a political and social movement which encourages people to take and use power in their own lives and communities at every level of society.”

It is time to make good on this directive — to transform our party into a wider liberal movement that will bring positive change to Britain.

The proposals I am putting forward today for consultation with all our members involve building up our supporter base, opening it up – at no charge – to people who subscribe to our values. Some already help with leaflet delivery and in other ways.  I would like to see the party offer them the right to vote in future leadership elections, as a way of making them a part of our movement. Of course, we will need robust measures against entryism, and I am confident we can find the right mechanisms.

I am also suggesting that we make it easier for new members to stand for election on a Liberal Democrat ticket by removing the delay before they can be selected.

Another idea is to stop excluding good leadership candidates who share our values just because they have not yet pursued a career in Parliament. Of course they would need to meet appropriate standards, and command sufficient support in the party to be nominated.  This would widen the pool of leadership talent open to us, and signal our intention to be an open and inclusive force.

None of this detracts from the central importance of our issues-based campaigning against Brexit and for the People’s Vote.  It is about building up our strength to fight these battles, and those which lie beyond.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 38 Comments

Vince: Creating a movement for moderates – supporters could get right to vote in leadership elections

So now we know the crux of the ideas Vince will be proposing today and it’s not really that much of a surprise. This has been out in the open all Summer. In his speech this morning, he’ll say:

We should widen membership with a new class of ‘supporters’ who pay nothing to sign up to the party’s values. They should enjoy a range of entitlements, including the right to vote for the leadership and to shape the party’s campaigning online.

The Liberal Democrats already have an army of voluntary helpers and deliverers, as well as 200,000 online supporters, who loosely identify with us and campaign with us, but currently have no say in the direction of the party.

Whatever rights our new supporters gain, we as a party aim to be in constant conversation with them, engaging them in campaigns and urging them to begin campaigns of their own. I want these not to be just about stopping things but about growing support for the things that matter to Liberal Democrat voters, and to the vast swathe of voters in the centre ground whom we are yet to persuade.

Groups like More United, 38 Degrees, Avaaz and Change.org have shown us how these regular conversations can happen, how we can engage hundreds of thousands of people online.

I want our party to do that and to offer our movement a political arm within Parliament. So it is not just a protest group banging at the door, but a movement with a voice on the inside – our parliamentary party.

The Liberal Democrats are not a socialist party concerned with extreme-left entryism or a right-wing party trying to keep out extreme right-wingers. We are a centre-ground, pro-European, liberal and social democratic party, welcoming like-minded supporters.

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