Times: Clegg to overhaul Lib Dem structure

It looks like ‘well-placed sources’ have given The Times a sneak preview of reforms Nick Clegg wants to adopt streamline/centralise* decision-making within the Lib Dems:

He is determined to overhaul an internal structure that allies say severely curtails the powers of the leader and splits internal controls between a series of committees.
Mr Clegg, who became leader in December, plans to turn the party’s traditional structure on its head, centralising all decision-making under a new “chief officers group” and diluting the roles of its committees. Sources said that the move risks causing a serious rift between Mr Clegg and Lord Rennard, the party’s chief executive and the man in overall charge of the Liberal Democrats’ election campaigns. Under the shake-up Lord Rennard will become a non-voting member of the group and will report to the party leader.

Mr Clegg is understood to believe that the existing mesh of committees is too unwieldy and needs to be streamlined if the party is to have any chance of meeting its goals, chief among them doubling the number of Liberal Democrat MPs in the next two elections. “There is a multiplicity of committees in the name of transparency, but ultimately what happens is you don’t get any decisions being made at all,” one senior party insider said yesterday. “There are no clear lines of responsibility and accountability,” the source added. …

Sources said that the aim was to introduce the new structure on a “suck it and see” basis, as an interim solution between now and the next general election. That way it can be introduced quickly as opposed to implementing the change via an amendment of the party’s underlying constitution. “The new group will decide everything. In one sense, it may be overkill, but the basic thrust of it is right,” the source said.

The full report is here.

* delete according to taste.

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  • Rennard already is a non-voting member of the FE. Staff are generally non-voting within the party’s democratic structures.

  • I too get perplexed at the number of committees and what they do. Working and policy groups i can understand.

    Yes we need a more dynamic flexible structure – and yes we need more mentors and policy advisers at hand helping those with particular issues.

    For instance, I want to research something about head leases on terraced properties and get a considered policy and political response. You’d think it easy for the party to find a property lawyer to help me with this and allow me to own the process. I think it would be a votewinner but I wouldn’t know where to turn to.

  • wit and wisdom:
    “Can anyone who wishes to posit a philosophical objection to the mooted proposals clarify why we should not be aiming to be a bit ‘tighter’ in our organisation and seeking more electoral success.”

    Talk about loaded questions! Would you like a clarification of why those objecting are against motherhood and apple pie at the same time?

    If the report is accurate, it’s a move in the direction of centralising power, and in particular concentrating it in the hands of one man. It seems a bit rich, when we are supposedly all in favour of decentralisation and localism.

    And can anyone explain the bit about the plans to do this without amending the constitution?

  • Electoral success is the means to the end of extending the implementation of our values and principles. Doesn’t this proposed move fly in the face of some of our cherrished shibboleths?
    It does from my view. If we want centralist, top-down dictates, there are other places to go.

  • And perhaps he will get just as fed-up as his predecessor at the inability of Party structures to deliver electoral success for just the shibboleths it treasures…..

  • …long overdue in my mind…its always been one our party’s weaknesses..we put in hours and days into endless committee meetings at all levels of the party structure whilst our political competitors are busy getting their message out…they question is could we be using our ‘time’ resource more effectively?

    the problem with all these committees is that they’re a great excuse to have a continuing dialogue with ourselves rather than the electorate..

  • Doesn’t this review just create another committee though and leave the FE as even more of talking shop. Shouldn’t setting examples of delivering open and accountable decissions be something a liberal party aspires to and at the moment we are failing.

  • David Morton 16th Jul '08 - 2:20pm

    Odd article and so lacking in detail of the Changes it dificult to comment on them. I always ask “Cui Bono ?” when I read unattributed comments like this. Superficially it looks like a leadership trying to get a preemptive strike in in support of its policy. Nothing Wrong with that. However this is conflated with a fairly concrete allegatio that Rennard is opposing this move so it becomes a “Splits” story. Elements of it also seem to tap into the “strong leader” mythos. Picking a fight with your own party is a leadership archetype.

    Then it says that FE has signed off the plan and its going out to consultation. n which case why are we discusing a garbled press report? and how does this link to the Bone Comission ?

    All in All its garbled proces story whic will “Bono” no one.

  • “… someone has to drive the organisation and take important decisions – and be given the power to do so when necessary”

    Does it really not occur to you that precisely the same argument could be made against all our policies on decentralisation and localism in government?

  • Simon

    “but it would be wrong”

    So why isn’t it wrong when applied to the governance of a national political party?

  • good to see that the leadership’s chosen avenue for announcing THEIR plans for OUR party is through the Murdoch press.

  • David Morton; surely this is a leak of the Bone commission?

  • I bloody well hate this assumption which is taken as gospel that the constitution of the old Liberal Party was a pile of poo. (The Times’ insinuation/out-and-out statement is that the bits of the current Lib Dem constitution in need of ‘reform’ are those left hanging over from the old Liberal Party). Actually there were lots of open, democratic not to mention commonsensical elements of the Liberal Party constitution which, lest we forget, served that party well for decades, accommodating reforms along the way. Drives me nuts that this idea has become accepted as gospel.
    *seethes quietly at keyboard*

  • Hywel Morgan 16th Jul '08 - 3:45pm

    “And can anyone explain the bit about the plans to do this without amending the constitution?”

    The constitution only requires 3 Federal committees (Executive, Policy & Conference) with a fourth established by the FE (FFAC). Many of the other committees can therefore be changed with altering the constitution.

    It’s also probably open to the FE to discharge it’s responsibilities by setting up a separate committee and the FE is usually compliant enough to go along with the leader’s wishes.

    Whether it is a good idea to do this is a different matter.

  • Simon

    Exactly. We don’t know the details.

    But as our policy is generally in favour of decentralisation and localism, surely any proposal to centralise power and to place much more of it in the hands of the leader is going to require very strong justification. Certainly stronger justification than “Nick Clegg’s view is that …”

    And stronger than “someone has to drive the organisation and take important decisions”. My point is that anyone who wants to centralise power further can say that. Without justification it’s meaningless.

  • Jo Christie-Smith

    “The Liberal Democrats is a single organisation, not a system of government. You are conflating the two.”

    I wrote _governance_, not _government_!

    If you haven’t met the word before, you should be able to find it in most dictionaries.

  • Hywel Morgan

    Thanks, but what I really didn’t understand was the apparent implication that if it was done as a trial interim measure it wouldn’t need an amendment of the constitution. Presumably implying the converse.

  • Richard Whelan 16th Jul '08 - 5:40pm

    I agree with all those who say we must wait for the details. However, my experience as a Local Executive Member and one time Vice-Chair of Leeds North West Liberal Democrats is that the party is too decentralised to the point where its parts (i.e. branch parties, local parties) are involved in intense rivalry with each other. This is unhealthy because it prevents the party as a whole coming together and speaking with one voice at a time when its most needed (i.e. in the run-up to and during election campaigns when work is required through the whole constituency or ward and not just parts of it). The result, that we fail to win in these instances by a few tens or hundreds of votes because activists cannot or will not work together.

    Streamlining the democratic process should end this rivalry because decisions will be made quicker and in a more efficient way allowing more time for campaigning, as opposed to just talking about campaigning, thus giving a greater purpose to the Liberal Democrats as a whole.

  • Jo

    “Still, originally I did put governance instead of government but I changed my mind.”


    An odd thing to do.

    You must understand that if you _deliberately_ misrepresent what people say, they are likely to be even less well pleased than if you do it inadvertently…

  • I think it’s a bit hard to make any outright comments about any proposed reforms based on What The Times Says.

    However, I can see that the internal structure needs tweaking according to the changing demands of the environment and the tasks we set ourselves, and so long as none of the changes are inconsistent with our principles while offering a more appropriate and defined structure which allows for better decisions to be made, and made more easily at that, then few of us will have any complaints whatsoever.

    Its a fine line balancing the requirements of any reforms with their consequences and it is right that we should fully scrutinise what is being put on the table in order to contribute to the debate and exert democratic accountability.

    If Clegg is able to show that he can manage the dual task of leading while listening it will strengthen his position and enhance his stature both internally and externally.

  • I agree that we ought to wait and see what is being proposed before leaping to judgement.

    I’d also doubt the veracity of the Clegg/Rennard ‘spat’ – the Times is no friend of the party and it’s likely to be pure conjecture – malicious or otherwise.

  • Hywel Morgan 16th Jul '08 - 8:59pm

    Joe – other committees could vary from the Campaigns & Communications Committee to ad-hoc things like the IT working party of a few years back.

    The point is that these are established by one of the constitutional committees to better discharge their function. Their effectiveness and necessity varies to both ends of the spectrum.

  • “The Times knows that if it uses the word “Centralising” it will wind up a lot of Lib Dem activists.”

    Especially if those activists are being kept in the dark about what the proposals are, after they’ve been approved, and while they are being implemented.

  • Geoffrey, I think the Times’ spin on this fails to understand that we LibDems recognise the difference between a process and an outcome, so the most it achieves is concentrating its readership on a pro-LibDem, anti-LibDem axis.

    This is an interesting development which shows The Times is more interested in providing more coverage for our party as a response to a deeper recognition of our relevance and potential influence.

    By growing their insight into the way work we gain the opportunity to show that we can be successful, and thereby in providing this outlet for us they provide us with a means to communicate to a wider audience.

    We should give Mr Murdoch the benefit of doubt in this instance because bad journalism is no reason to reject good publicity.

  • Hywel Morgan 16th Jul '08 - 11:35pm

    I think we should also recognise that the current set up (FE etc) is hardly a stunning example of effectiveness of strategy making and holding the leadership to account.

  • David Evans 17th Jul '08 - 5:41pm

    I’m always interested when ‘sources’ try to announce something before it has happened. It often seems to be aimed at instigating debate on lots of hypotheticals either to vent a lot of the pressure before a controversial announcement, in the hope it which will go through with a lot less adverse comment later; or an attempt to soften things up by going for overkill so that when a slightly less controversial option is actually announced, it will be greeted with relief that it wasn’t quite so bad as expected. Also by naming an individual and portaying them as having a particular position (especailly someone who can’t comment early like Chris Rennard) it can be an attempt to prevent their involvement by hold the entire debate before they can contribute.

    I will await events and discuss real proposals and views given by people who are prepared to put their name to things. Until then “Keep your poweer dry!”

  • freespeaker 17th Jul '08 - 5:57pm

    The lack of detail in the blog does make it hard to comment objectively on this entry…

    However, I think the party should welcome any moves that allow us greater scope to publicise our ideals and policies. I strongly believe that there are literally hundreds and thousands of people who would vote liberal if they were only given the opportunity – which in reality means hearing and believing in what we have to say. By streamlining our centre surely we make it easier to make decisions and be heard. Surely the best thing for the party?

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