The Saturday debate: Should federal committees be elected by all party members?

Here’s your starter for ten in our Saturday slot where we throw up an idea or thought for debate…

Key party committees such as the Federal Executive and the Federal Policy Committee have a large block of members elected in a postal ballot every two years by the party’s federal conference representatives.* These directly elected members sit alongside committee members such as MPs elected by the Parliamentary Party in the Commons.

The arguments in favour of having federal conference representatives rather than party members as the electorate have tended to focus on practicality (the cost would be much higher to have all member ballots), accountability (if you go to conference you have the chance to hear the committee reports being debated, meet many of the committee members and so on) and fairness (all member elections often benefit well known names).

However, the party’s committees are arguably now far more important than they were in the past and, in addition, the rise of the internet has provided many alternatives routes to finding out about the work of committees and the attributes of individuals even if you never go to conference.

So is it time to change the electorate?

* As an aside: because of this voting right, it is well worth each local party making sure it has its full set of federal conference representatives, even if not all of them think they can make it to conference.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters.


  • I thing there is room for change based on what each committee does

    Conference Committee (FCC) should be restricted to conference voting reps as the electorate have a strong link to what that committee does

    Executive (FE) has a much wider remit and should be all members

    Policy (FPC) and Peers list I am open minded about

  • I was surprised as a new supporter that these committees weren’t elected by OMOV
    given the partys’ proud boast at how democratic it is.

    I certainly think that the policy committee should be elected by all members.

    Open minded about the conference committee because there is a case for
    the people that go to conferences voting for this.

  • Yes (except FCC – which could even be done at conference to save money). The ballot papers can go out with the all members’ edition of Lib Dem News, and members can be required to provide their own envelope and stamp to return them. Then the cost is only printing the manifestos and ballot papers, and counting some more ballots. The manifestos could be printed as a tabloid, at 4 A5 to a A3 page – you could get 16 per sheet then, and tabloid printing is much cheaper than booklet printing. It might even be cheaper! In any case, done like this, the cost cannot be large, surely? As a non-rep, I hugely dislike being disenfranchised, and then hearing people elected with under 100 votes claiming to speak for the party at large.

  • The answer is yes.

  • I used to smirk at the Campaign for Tory Democracy, but wonder whether we need something of that ilk now. The party belongs to the membership, even if it doesn’t quite feel that way …

    On a related note, conference is very well suited to those who have sufficient time and freedom to travel and stay somewhere, or to those who have motivation to do so, or of course those that are paid to do so (the elected representatives, and their entourages) or simoly know how to get elected to attend.

    Conference is not well suited to those who have caring responsibilities, partners/families who do not want to spend yet more leave time on LD activities, those like me who have ‘politically sensitive’ jobs, those who can’t afford the travel/accommodation or who aren’t passionately committed to a particular cause that’s up for discussion.

    Surely we can do better, and look at technological solutions to engaging within the party to ensure that it is properly democratic.

    ps: Mark, if cost is an argument against democratic process than we might as well given up now and hand the country over to the oligarchs.

  • I completely agree that it should be opened up.

    As for Geoffrey’s “I think a lot of members will see a list of names most of whom they have not heard of before and they won’t bother voting” – now, when did we last hear that argument?!

  • Liberal Neil 11th Dec '10 - 3:33pm

    Dave P – there are a number of reasons why we have the Conference reps system, one being practicality about the size of conference and the other being exactly the issue you are worried about. By restricting the number of reps per local party we boost the representation of smaller and less well off local parties at the expense of larger and wealthier ones. If any member could go the conferences the bias towards the better off would almost certainly increase.

    This same point is one of the arguments for conference reps electing the committees – it means there is an inbuilt balance towards smaller local parties, i.e. the midlands, north, wales and scotland than OMOV elections.

    Personally I think there are good arguments both ways.

  • Simon McGrath 11th Dec '10 - 3:43pm

    Goof idea. Agree that con cttee should be elected by con reps rest by all members,

  • We have layed of most of our press and policy staff and want to spend money on sending short novels – sorry manifesto books – to even more people. Given we didn’t have anything like a 100% turnout of conference reps this time where is the evidence that their are a significant number of people who want to have voted in the Federal Committee elections who didn’t have the chance?

  • Definitely all members should be allowed to vote, and we should have a clear view of the candidates’ priorities. I feel uncomfortable that a few of the recently elected members seem to have set themselves up in opposition to Clegg, which can’t ultimately be good for the party.

  • richardclein 12th Dec '10 - 11:42am

    We need a system that encourages more people from the grassroots to get involved at a federal level. In order for that to happen we need to encouarge debate and allow campaigning about the issues on which people put themselves forward. There are a lot of very talented people in the party who have been marginalised because they are not in the right clique. Let’s be honest, apart from a couple of changes – most of the committees have had near enough the same people on them for years. But then again does it really matter?

  • In a way, the technicalities are a side issue. I’d be happy to pay £5 more to receive information on candidates and be able to vote or influence federal policy.

  • Terry Gilbert 12th Dec '10 - 8:44pm

    Online campaigning should be allowed.

  • As a recently elected member of Federal Executive I support all party members having a vote for FE, FPC and probably FCC too. We should facilitate this through online voting to save expense. The amount of paperwork for the recent federal elections was huge because of the number of people standing, and would have been prohibitively expensive to produce and post I think, even if the party were to take up the suggestion above of the ballots and manifestos being sent out with the all member edition of Lib Dem News.

    As a first time candidate it was really surprising to me that we were not allowed to campaign at all. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

    I’m delighted of course to have been elected and I have to disagree with Richard that the same faces have been elected again. I’m pretty sure that there is a big change in the committees this year. Whether this will be a good, bad or indifferent thing only time will tell.

  • I think conference reps are the correct electorate as they are far more likely to understand the role of each elected body and the possible candidates (even if just from seeing them at conference and hearing them make speeches etc).

    I have never even been to conference and even given a short manifesto from each candidate to be honest I would be voting almost blind and would most likely just end up voting for people I had heard of (especially people that use LDV) unless I really disagreed with their position on something. Which is hardly a good way of deciding an election IMHO

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