The Reform of The English Council

It is only occasionally that articles about the English Council appear in Lib Dem Voice. I am not a member of the English Council but an ordinary member of the party in Bromley.

Liz Leffman who was the Chair of the English Council wrote about proposals for reform of the English Party organisation in December 2017. There was also an article by Rob Davidson in May 2020 and Simon McGrath wrote an article in December 2020.

As mentioned, efforts have been made to make the English Council more democratic and accountable to members of the party in England.  The final proposals of the English Review Group under the Chairmanship of Sally Symington in 2017 were rejected by the English Council.

Federal Conference decided in 2014 that Federal Conference Reps should no longer be elected by local parties, so that every member is now entitled to attend the Federal Conference.  Since that time we have had reason to believe that a similar reform of the English Party might be imminent.

Some efforts are being made by some members of the English Council to communicate with ordinary party members, through social media, but not in a structured manner.

From this I learn that the English Council on 18 December will consider proposals including

  • The reduction of the regional rebate (the proportion of membership fees remitted to Regional Parties) from 15% to 12%
  • The reduction of the Local Party Service Fee (the proportion of membership fees remitted to Local Parties) from 7% to 6%.

For a party that believes in the dispersal of power to the lowest level, these are strange and controversial changes to impose on local parties. Ordinary members should have a say in this.

Now I am aware that the English Council and Executive do important work which cannot be done in one afternoon Conference once a year.

The idea of an English Party Conference is a good one, and it is really necessary that party members in England have the same right as those in Scotland and Wales, the right to scrutinise decision-making which affects them.

The English Party Conference can be conducted by Zoom, so that every member with access to the internet will be able to attend remotely, avoiding the expense of travel and hotel accommodation.

All that the English Council needs to do is to make a simple change to the English Party Constitution to establish the English Conference as the sovereign body of the party in England with power to change the Constitution.  I would not expect the English Council to vote to abolish itself. At the very least there needs to be a handover period during which the English Council and the English Conference operate together. Then when the English Conference is fully established and working effectively, we can all decide whether the English Council is still needed or not.  In the meantime, the English Conference can make constitutional changes, so that the English Council operates in a much more transparent and accountable manner.

The English Conference will need to be supported wholeheartedly by the English Council Executive in order to function effectively. I know that Conferences do not just happen without a good deal of work behind the scenes, and there will need to be a properly resourced Conference Committee. Possibly the English members of the Federal Conference Committee and the paid staff at Party HQ could be persuaded to help, if the English Party agreed to make a suitable contribution to the costs incurred, as what I envisage is an English Conference as  part of the Federal Autumn Conference.

* Michael Hall is a retired solicitor who specialised in property law and is now the Treasurer of Orpington Liberal Club (www.orpingtonliberalclub.co.uk).

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4 Comments

  • Peter Hirst 10th Dec '21 - 3:04pm

    English Council should be accountable to its members. At the very least it should hold its AGM at a Federal Conference so members can attend. The more transparent it becomes the more likely that its survival is ensured.

  • Personally, I have no idea what the English Council does. But local, regional, English and Federal Parties must be at least one layer of bureaucracy too many?

  • Michael Hall 12th Dec '21 - 7:49am

    Thank you to Peter and Nick for your replies. I agree with you Peter that would be a step in the right direction.
    In reply to Nick, if you would like to know what the English Council does, you can search for documents on the website of http://www.englishlibdems.org, or use this link
    https://englishlibdems.org/en/search?query=documents
    This has the agendas and reports etc, but there is no tab to indicate this, so I only found this out recently. Regarding layers of bureaucracy, there are the same number as in Scotland and Wales, so perhaps this can be considered as a Federal issue. There used to be more, I think, in many places as there were ward committees or branches of constituency parties, which seem to have faded away as local parties have become larger and more centralised, so there is not so much local member involvement in decision making. At the same time, the party has become less successful, which may be partly the cause of the loss of local member involvement but it is also an effect of it. Empowerment is surely a good thing that we believe in, and not just “bureaucracy”.

  • Michael Hall 12th Dec '21 - 8:29am

    Correction – I don’t know that there are regional parties in Scotland and Wales. There are local parties and state parties, but I have not been able to find details of any regional parties.

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