Vince is right: we must revisit our rules

Vince is most definitely right: our party’s 12-month rule is arbitrary and should be removed. The randomness of such a timescale before a member can stand as a candidate for MP, mayor or the GLA is exposed by the fact that Scotland’s rule is only nine months. It also makes new members feel unwelcome, their commitment automatically doubted.

I hope no-one would doubt my loyalty or my passion for our party, which is my natural home. Since joining the Lib Dems in December I have campaigned and spoken at innumerable associations across the length and breadth of London, helped out in St Albans and have been asked to speak and assist in Cheltenham, Leeds and Stratford-upon-Avon. I have probably met more Lib Dems than many lifelong members.

Someone like myself, who has campaigned at grassroot level for months for the London local elections, who stood for council within six months of joining the party, should also have the opportunity to stand as an MP, London mayor or the GLA.

Yet the 12-month rule says, in effect, that I do not know the party well enough to do so. If that is the case, why has the party appointed me as Vice-President of the Liberal Democrats Campaign for Racial Equality or elected me Vice-Chairman of Lib Dems in Business? Or Mike German sought me out to be the Treasurer’s envoy?

The 12-month rule also implies I lack political nous and experience. Yet I was a senior member of another political party – the Conservatives – and served them in high internal office while also standing for Parliament, the GLA and council.

People like myself who have such enthusiasm and passion for politics could find this rule extremely demotivating. Should the rule change be agreed to by the membership it will come too late for me, but I want to make sure it is removed as a barrier to entry for others.

The fear must be that this initial hostility is putting off other people from different political backgrounds from joining – just at the time we need to be creating a mass movement to fight Brexit and the extreme rightward lurches of the Tories and lurch to the left by Labour respectively.

As individuals, the members of our party have been extremely welcoming and have been second to none. But the party’s rules must be similarly open if we are to grow and re-establish ourselves as a major force in British politics. It is vital we become the option everyone turns to regardless of former political affiliations as we are the only one’s that can be a unifying force and bring rational, common-sense politics back to the table in a dangerously polarised political environment.

We as Lib Dems can be that home for all, we just need to make sure we do not have any internal barriers that could hinder us from doing so.

* Kishan Devani joined the Liberal Democrats in 2017.

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20 Comments

  • The 12 month rule is there to allow the party sufficient time to vet potential candidates. I agree that in this day and age an arbitrary time limit is probably a bit silly, given the speed of google and such.

    I would propose instead a mandatory vetting procedure of some kind, which could be done quickly, but would need to be thorough. I’d want to see concrete evidence that this had been done for every candidate. Otherwise we do, I’m afraid, leave ourselves open to the risk of someone whose values do not align with our own publicly embarrassing the party.

  • I am shocked that there is yet another article in favour of these proposals on LibDemVoice.

    And I am thankful that there is. Because had I missed the first 10, I’ve now got another one to help me come to a balanced, informed opinion.

  • Zoe O'connell 13th Sep '18 - 3:48pm

    And before the pixels are even dry on the previous pro-Vince post, another “we must change the candidate rules!” post.

    I can’t be the only one thinking there must a big name that wants to defect to us who will only do so if they can stand in a snap general? Would this change not have been quicker and easier if the rules had been updated quietly via the state parties who actually control candidate approval – unless there’s some reason the state parties would object, of course?

  • Peter Watson 13th Sep '18 - 5:11pm

    Do the proposed changes have any relevance to somebody who is already an MP but wants to defect and be able to stand for the party if a General Election were called within the “cooling off” period, or is it only about somebody who is not currently an MP being allowed to be a Lib Dem PPC?

  • Mick Taylor 13th Sep '18 - 5:15pm

    I agree with Zoe! There has never been a problem with defecting MPs and councillors being allowed to stand, but quite often they don’t want to. Jennie of course hits the nail on the head. We have to be certain that new members are really Liberal Democrats. Some prominent people have joined, become candidates or even MPs or peers and then left us when our Liberalism conflicted with their beliefs (or he said cynically with their ambition). I really do want to harness the enthusiasm of new converts to our cause, so an expedited process must be available just to make sure. And let’s be honest, the 12 month rule has been honoured in the breach, when it suited the party.

  • Peter Watson 13th Sep '18 - 5:16pm

    @Zoe O’connell “I can’t be the only one thinking there must a big name that wants to defect to us who will only do so if they can stand in a snap general?”
    Apparently you’re not the only one: https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/sir-vince-cable-sneaking-several-tory-mps-into-his-office-to-discuss-potential-defections-to-libdems-a3934951.html

  • Scott Berry 13th Sep '18 - 5:46pm

    I may be wrong, but I as I understand it there is a fairly rigorous approval process before you can forward for selection as a PPC. Involving interviews and tests on party policy and even inbox exercises? I would have thought that have answered Jennie’s point about a “mandatory vetting procedure” but if there is something I’m missing (which is fairly likely, I only know a little about processes for MPs approval and selection) then can someone tell me what?

  • Scott: one of my many, many Lib Dem Hats is candidate assessor. We are explicitly not allowed to use any prior knowledge of the person before us, we are not allowed to google them or anything, we must only assess them on their performance on the day.

    They are supposed to be vetted by the State party before they ever get sent on an approval day. I have reason to suspect that this does not happen in all cases.

  • The 12 month rule has good intentions (‘we want to know someone is really committed to the party’) but is a flawed application of those intentions. For example, it snags someone who has been a Lib Dem member and activist for 20 years, then gets a political restricted job and so ceases their party membership before then changing jobs or retiring and rejoining the party.

    I’m not always praising the English Party (!), but to its credit it has waived the 12 month rule at various times in the last couple of years so that the waves of new members could participate in various selections. That’s worked well, and so it makes sense to make permanent what we have already piloted.

    As Jennie says, we need a good vetting process – and I’d add, we need that for people who have been members for 13 months or even 13 years too. That will, I hope, be part of how the state parties follow up the debates on party reform.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Sep '18 - 8:26pm

    Is it not better, as Liberals, Democrats, that a process of vetting is the standing for election.

    In the US a registered party supporter can stand as a candidate in a primary, to become selected for status as official candidate.

    It means recent elections have included an ex Nazi , that party is legal in America, in the Republican primary of a state, to find a candidate for national office, he disowned by all the local officials, yet free to stand.

    If, as we must, we limit the ability to stand to those who have been members say, three months, or less, then allow any member to put their hat in the ring of a constituency, why make the putting together of a short list, limited to those on a list already decided, surely any member should be able to submit.

    My view is we should have the US system, limit it to members though, allow anybody to run their own campaign , with several party hustings, in a constituency. And all registered supporters, of say, three months, and members allowed to vote, but only members can stand.

    We need to avoid the pushing away of good people.

    If Chukka Umuna and Luciana Bergerjoined us, I want the rules to allow then and in any snap election, a local party to accept them.

  • David Allen 13th Sep '18 - 8:28pm

    Is all this a concerted effort to make sure that if the big centrist defection movement ever happens, then the defectors will be encouraged / cajoled to join the Lib Dems, and discouraged from setting up SDP Mark 2?

    David Steel didn’t act like that. Steel saw that there was a lot to be gained in terms of political momentum and publicity if a brand new party, in alliance with the Liberals, could be created. He was right, and the fact that it “only” raised our vote to 26% does not show otherwise. Nor did the subsequent problems with Owen (which would hardly have been lessened had he been dragooned into staying with Labour or joining the Liberals).

    A “British Macron” might be a force for good – and for heaven’s sake, who else in politics is doing much good right now? Let’s not suppress the British Macron by forcing him / her to join the Lib Dems and line up meekly in hope of a minor role!

  • Ruth Coleman-Taylor 13th Sep '18 - 8:37pm

    What Zoe says makes a lot of sense! If there is a high-profile would-be defector out there, this would certainly explain the suspiciously coordinated alignment of opinion and the panicky urgency to keep us all loyal to the Leader. But presumably this hypothetical defector wants to join the Liberal Democrats? So why are party members being pushed into fast and untested decisions and why are we being urged to agree with our Leader’s ideas before we have had a change to discuss them ? That isn’t, surely, what Liberal Democrats do?
    Or is the hypothetical defector so high-profile that we all have to change in order to create a party that he/she feels comfortable to join?

    I’ve been a member of the Liberal Democrats and before that of the Liberal Party since I was a teenager and in that time quite a number of people have joined us from other parties. To be honest, many of them brought useful skills and ideas and helped to make us a better campaigning party. When I was the Leader of Lib Dem North Wiltshire District Council, I and my colleagues negotiated with several Councillors in other parties who wanted to join us. This seemed to involve a lot of assignations in distant anonymous venues to give the time for building confidence and trust on both sides. Timing was crucial, to be in control of the story when the defection finally happened and yet time was always difficult to manage and the more people who knew what was going on, the more likely it was that someone would pre-empt the event with premature publicity.
    So I am not totally against defectors, even those with a high profile, but this should not involve any sellout of our principles. Trying to bounce the party into decisions is the best way of ensuring that this will only end in tears.

  • OnceALibDem 14th Sep '18 - 2:12am

    “I hope no-one would doubt my loyalty or my passion for our party, which is my natural home.”

    I don’t know you or what you have done since joining the LIb Dems. But given things like this I would, certainly when you first joined, have had some reservations about how committed you were to the party.
    https://asianlite.com/news/uk-news/kishan-devani-why-i-support-zac/
    https://www.conservativehome.com/localgovernment/2016/03/kishan-devani-the-government-is-right-to-stop-council-bans-on-israeli-goods.html
    https://www.conwayfor.org/kishan_devani_the_importance_of_free_schools_as_an_exponent_of_british_values

    In the time I was involved in politics in the LIb Dems I saw a lot of people join from other parties and a substantial proportion, if not a majority, were doing it to improve their politiclal career prospects. I would also say that virtually none of them would have switched had their previous party taken different action to deal with them. That list has included Paul Marsden who defected on the issue of the Afghanistan war (slightly oddly as the LIb Dems had supported that!) He defected back to Labour at the start of the 2005 election campaign.

    You are certainly entitled to change your mind and win new colleagues over with your commitment. But initial suspicions seem a fair response.

  • Toby Keynes 14th Sep '18 - 8:43am

    I’m wary of scrapping the 12-month rule, because 12 months is time for the member to get to know the party and for the party to get to know the member.
    There will be exceptions – for example, people with a high public profile whose long-standing views are easy to establish – and they can be treated as exceptions.
    And Mark Pack makes the very good point that members sometimes leave for a period (as I did) because of a politically restricted job.
    There should certainly be explicit override for this situation in the 12-month rule.
    And there will be people who lapsed their membership for a period while they were living outside the UK.
    Again, the rule can have an override.
    There will no doubt be other similar scenarios that can be catered for.
    But I believe the rule is a good one, if it can be sensibly qualified, and it should stay.

  • Sue Sutherland 14th Sep '18 - 12:08pm

    Kishan is right, we should change our rules. We should change them so members have proper involvement in the decision making process. This is consistent with our aims of ensuring that power is devolved and should be the first step before trying to create a Lib Dem movement.

  • Neil Sandison 17th Sep '18 - 12:51pm

    The real problem comes when you have a snap general election .Local parties have to hope region has done its job and properly vetted PPCs before they are parachuted into constituencies .We have enough to do particularly in multi seat constituencies raising the deposits and covering the costs of free post .We know we have failed adequately to vet before it was embarrassing that the former UKIP leader had stood for us as a candidate in a general election .Labour was hurt by its members who got elected on the Corbyn tide only to be found out to have extreamist views . Some form of vetting must take place if we are to protect the party unwanted entryism or unsavory candidates.

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