Are you a member of Unlock Democracy? Please help improve it

In the spring and summer I blogged about how underwhelmed I was by the exceptionally tight campaigning restrictions for Unlock Democracy’s internal elections which blocked contact between candidates and voters (the irony given the organisation’s name!), leaving just a fairly uninformative booklet to guide my votes:

Now having the ballot mailing for the council and for the related limited company in front of me, things are even worse. Why? Because I’m left with almost no decent information on which to decide how to cast my vote. Sure, I’ve got a vote – and it’s by STV – but it’s a hollow process if you have the trappings of democracy and no real information with which to inform it.

What’s wrong? First, almost none of the candidates have offered up any contact information for themselves. It means I cannot ask them questions and immediately makes the election feel like one where the voters are an inconvenient necessity rather than the people around who it should revolve…

Second, overall the candidate statements are pretty light on content … I know quite a lot about the ages of the candidates. I know that many of the candidates say they are passionately committed to Unlock Democracy, and I’m willing to hazard a guess that those who have not written that would say just the same if asked…

But choosing who to vote for? There are precious few clues of substance …

Yes it’s democracy; yes it’s better than no ballot papers; but it’s a pretty poor form of unengaging, uninforming democracy that hardly does Unlock Democracy credit.

At the time, several people involved with Unlock Democracy pointed out – not unreasonably – that in the end it is up to its members to make the rules and if I was interested in what the rules said I should get them changed. Fair enough – as ever, complaining from the sidelines is a poor substitute for taking direct action. So I’ve put my name to a motion going to the forthcoming Unlock Democracy AGM, which proposes major reforms to the rules.

(You’ll also note from the motion – full text below – that the governing council decided not to follow their Returning Officer’s recommendation that a review of the elections process should be carried out.)

If you are a member of Unlock Democracy (and if not, why not join now? It does many good things and needs improving, not neglecting), then please do support the motion in person at the AGM on 10 November, or get a proxy vote.

The AGM papers and the paperwork to cast a vote by proxy if you can’t make it to the AGM are not automatically sent to all members. You will only receive them if you specifically ask for them, which you can do here.

Here’s the full text of the motion:

Proposer: Chris Carrigan. Seconder: Mark Pack

Unlock Democracy notes that

The existing rules for elections to Unlock Democracy’s council constrain candidate’s communication with the electorate to 300 words of text and have been interpreted to explicitly prohibit all other communication from candidates about the election including blogging, the use of twitter and even restricting the way they inform their friends about the fact they are standing.

The decision of the preceding council not to change these rules prior to the election was described by an outgoing member as “the hypocrisy of a ruling elite that are comfortable with the notion that whilst the rest of society are desperately in need of its guidance as to how their democratic rights should be promoted, whilst they themselves should be protected from the implications of an informed electorate.”

In that election the limited information about candidates and lack of debate generated frustration for members who did not feel they had enough information to make a judgement and for candidates who felt that they where unable to make a case for why people should vote for them [here and here].

Following the election the report of the Returning Officer Dr Stuart Wilks-Heeg stated “I would strongly recommend that Unlock Democracy reviews the current rules and reaches a view as to whether it wishes to propose revisions to them in light of the growth of social media in recent years.” [Report and recommendations from the Returning Officer, Dr Stuart Wilks-Heeg, University of Liverpool. 21 August 2012]

However the council at its meeting on 1 Sept 2012 (by a majority vote) chose not to undertake this review.

Unlock Democracy believes that

We need to update our election rules for the modern era. These rules, which were originally designed to prevent well-funded candidates gaining an unfair advantage during the era of the postage stamp, are now operating to the detriment of our internal democracy and its external image.

Given the lack of guidance from council we should adopt as best practice the election communication rules agreed by the Electoral Reform Society in July 2012 for their internal elections.

Unlock Democracy therefore resolves to

Revise Appendix B of the constitution (Elections) as follows

In 2.2 delete “and election address”

Replace 2.3 with

2.3 The rules for Candidates’ election addresses and election-related materials shall be as follows:

a)      In all statements and election-related materials, candidates must conform to a spirit of reasonable, albeit robust, assertion and debate.

b)      Candidates will each be allocated one A4-size page for their election addresses (a margin of at least 1 cm is recommended to avoid text being lost at a binding edge).

c)      Election addresses can be submitted in hard copy or digitally, by email or by post, in MS Word, PDF, or any other format that the organisations office can process.

d)      All Election addresses must be typed and may include images and photographs. The Organisations staff will assist with typing where necessary but will not provide assistance with imagery or layout.

e)      Election Addressees will be reproduced in black and white for hard copy circulation or may be made available in such electronic format and via such electronic means as the Returning Officer shall determine.

f)       Statements and election-related materials circulated or published by the Organisation and by candidates or on behalf of candidates, either by post or electronically, shall not contain direct or indirect personal criticisms of members of Unlock Democracy or its staff. Nor shall they make libellous assertions about any person. The Returning Officer shall have the final say on the content of all election addresses.

g)      The Returning Officer shall not provide access to memberships lists or other resources for election campaigning purposes.

Add at the end of 2.5 “Candidates’ election addresses will be listed in the reverse of the order on the ballot paper. However, an alphabetic index will be provided.”


Agree with this motion? Then please do support the motion in person at the AGM on 10 November, or get a proxy vote.

The AGM papers and the paperwork to cast a vote by proxy if you can’t make it to the AGM are not automatically sent to all members. You will only receive them if you specifically ask for them, which you can do here.

* Mark Pack is Party President and is the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • paul barker 12th Oct '12 - 5:58pm

    I resigned from UD when I discovered the real nature of that “limited company.” Essentially its money saved by the old communist party from the money sent it by the authorities in russia, “moscow gold”. The income from this fund provides a big chunk of UDs running cost.
    I know it was all a long time ago but this was money raised from the subjects of the soviet empire, from slave labour & organised theft. However much the gold is washed it still has blood on it & we shouldnt touch it.

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