Will North West Region choose to become a state party?

The Liberal Democrats are a growing party and week on week new colleagues join us in the battle to create a democratic and liberal nation in which success is founded on merit, policy is founded on evidence and citizens are treated equally.

This party has always championed the concept of subsidiarity, decisions being taken as close as possible to the people they affect. We were the party that pressed hardest for a North West Regional Parliament, and we are the party that in government delivered Devo-Manc and real prospect of Devo-Merseyside. It is not our preferred option of devolution and it does not devolve enough powers, but it is a beginning in the quest to achieve the Liberal Democrat ambition of a Federal United Kingdom within a Federal European Union.

The North West Region finds more General Election candidates than the Party in Scotland, the Party in Wales or the Party in any other region in England. We not only fill our own seats but we also export candidates to other regions and train candidates for other regions.

Now, more than ever, we need policy making devolved to the NW Region. Right now the entire Health and Social Care budget, Education Budget, Transport Budget, Policing Budget, Housing Budget Civil Defence Budget and the power to set the Business Rates are being devolved to Greater Manchester, and yet the Liberal Democrat Policy for those formerly UK determined budgets is determined by our Federal conference.

Next May we will be fighting to elect the most powerful mayor in England, more powerful even than the Mayor of London who does not control the health and social care budget, and we must be able to make local policies for local people here in our region.

Establishing a regional state party in the North West is about real decisions affecting the lives of real people, and it is not something we can put off until next year. It is something we must do now.

At today’s Regional Conference the party will vote on whether to establish a North West State Party. If the resolution succeeds then we will need a two thirds majority at the Federal Conference this autumn in order to establish a NW Regional State Party on a par with the Parties in Scotland and Wales and the remainder of the English Party.

For 28 years I have been told that now is not the time, the classic last line of defence of the civil service.

Well, colleagues for the reasons I have set out and for many more good reasons besides now is the time. Now is the right time, now is the best time and now is our time, it is time for this change. This motion today paves the way for this party, the Liberal Democrats, to lead the debate on establishing real subsidarity for a North West Region within a Federal Britain and a Federal Europe, wrestling power out of London and Brussels and bringing power to the people.

* Chair of Manchester Gorton Liberal Democrats, a member of the NW Regional Executive and the English Council and Vice President of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats

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  • Can anyone explain the difference between a regional and a state party? Is it just a name or is it about setting local policy distinct from the national?

    Depending on the answer, Wouldn’t it make more sense for all regions to take this approach, rather than just the largest?

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 2nd Apr '16 - 9:15am

    Both states and regions can make their own policy.

    The differences include the level of funding held, representation on federal committees and making your own rules on things like candidate approval, selection, discipline, etc.

  • Peter Davies 2nd Apr '16 - 9:20am

    The difference is that regional parties are subsidiary to the “Party in England”. Yes. It would be better if we all took this route and abolished the unnecessary layer.

  • Mick Taylor 2nd Apr '16 - 9:30am

    I want Yorkshire and the Humber to take this step too. Perhaps a constitutional amendment is called for this autumn!

  • This possibility was specifically set out in the Federal and English Party Constitutions agreed in 1988, partly to assuage people who didn’t like the multi-layered Regional / English Party structure. At the time, I thought we’d move on to abolish the English Party in a few years – 28 years later that structure is still there. Time to move on, as Iain says.
    One major objection to becoming a State Party (raised during debate on a similar motion at the East of England Conference, which was not passed) has been the cost of staff to run various State Party functions such as membership. Regions already employ staff and so would the new State Parties, but where a Region had tasks too small for full-time staff but too specialised for a rota of volunteers, they could presumably be sub-contracted to the appropriate group at HQ – though eventually HQ might become smaller as the new States took on more themselves.

  • I would be more impressed if Liberal Democrats spent more energy on formulating universal policies to tackle poverty and inequality.

    Devolution is all very well but there are dangers of a post code lottery if we go for a Balkanisation of welfare benefits and social care. Universality has its place.

    Take a look at what Bernie Sanders is saying in the U.S.

  • Are we going to end up with AWS in Lancashire but not in Yorkshire, or vive-versa ?

  • Peter Davies 2nd Apr '16 - 11:12am

    That would certainly allow a valid analysis of their effectiveness.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Apr '16 - 1:55pm

    As a voter, I support England and an English parliament – not a north west one.

    An English parliament based in the Midlands would be fine.

  • Stephen Hesketh 2nd Apr '16 - 2:29pm

    @Iain Donaldson “Will North West Region choose to become a state party?”

    Indeed we will, indeed we have. Well done Iain, Richard and other North West Region members who proposed and spoke (and voted) in favour of this motion this morning.

  • I summated the motion that Iain proposed, and it carried without the need for a count.

    North West is considerably larger than either Scotland or Wales, both of which have been state parties for 28 years.

    Membership has been administered centrally for more than 20 years, with the state parties each contracting the federal party to do it on their behalf.

    Each state has its own membership rules, for admitting new members, expulsions, etc, but the same database works for all.

    For candidates, the other main responsibility of the states that English regions don’t already conduct, Scotland does have a separate candidates list, so approval doesn’t simply carry across the border. I would hope that English regions, even if they varied the selection rules, would mutually recognise each others’ approved candidates. Administratively, the much shorter lists in a regional state party could well be managed by volunteers, with a central database. Regional candidates’ chairs already do much of the work. Or the admin could be contracted to a central candidates’ office.

  • If you asked the people of the North West what are the important issues of the day, how many would put a “North West Regional Parliament” in the top 20? My guess is – unless you happened to bump into Iain Donaldson – you could walk round Manchester all day and not find one. You have a very good MP in the North West who recently proposed some good ideas on education. He’s a proper politician, the guys messing around with this – an idea that will neither help or hinder the party – are just playing at it.

  • by all means do your thing, but the ‘we’re bigger than x or y’ argument is purile.

  • George Potter 2nd Apr '16 - 7:42pm

    While I absolutely support this push to become a state party, surely state parties corresponding to the areas which actually have devolution (such as Greater Manchester itself) make more sense from a policy development point of view?

  • George Potter 2nd Apr '16 - 7:46pm

    And we really do need to come up with a proper policy on English devolution – Osborne’s enforced elected mayors to act as chairs of committees of council leaders to make decisions collectively is no substitute for real political accountability – such as that provided by the Welsh Assembly model.

  • I gather the Chairman of the 1922 Committe has come out against Osborne’s compulsory Academy plan.

    Would it be better to focus on real issues that effect people instead of diddling about with the deck chairs?

  • Peter Watson 2nd Apr '16 - 7:59pm

    @David Raw “Would it be better to focus on real issues that effect people instead of diddling about with the deck chairs?”
    Grown-up politics is so last year …

  • Stephen Hesketh 2nd Apr '16 - 9:06pm

    George Potter 2nd Apr ’16 – 7:42pm

    Hi George, I took it to be a reflection of our own internal but pretty logical geo-community regions rather than using Osborne’s contrived and much smaller and mainly Labour-controlled ‘city-states’.

    Surely it is right that proposals reflect our own internal structures and our vision of devolved regional government rather than Osborne’s highly political smoke and mirrors offerings?

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Apr '16 - 9:30pm

    After a bit more thought – I can support regional parliaments as long as it isn’t done via devolution on demand.

    Devolution on demand plus carving out countries into equal areas is impractical. The Liberal Democrat vision might be for a federal Europe and a federal world, but when did it come to be about equally sized countries?

    If we have a North West Parliament then the North West will have MPs that can vote on English laws that no longer affect them. It’s not fair unless all of England is carved up at the same time. Thinking otherwise gave us the recent situation of the SNP voting on laws that don’t affect Scotland. The same with other Scottish MPs.

  • Matt (Bristol) 2nd Apr '16 - 10:09pm

    I doubt anyone actually involved in policy development in this party agrees with me, but (whilst I am completely OK with the possible demise of the English Party, and indeed with the political entity hitherto known as ‘England’ within the UK), there is only one way to set the boundaries of new devolved region within a state which has not had a historically consistent set of regional/provincial boundaries: ask the people who live there by a form of plebiscite what they want them to be.

    Liberals and democrats since a certain Victorian Prime Minister with great sideburns have accepted that the state and its structures of necessity evolve and change to reflect the will and culture of its peoples; where is the mechanism that allows the internal structures and regional boundaries we are proposing now for the future to evolve in the future?

    (I guess this could apply to the LibDems as much as the nation, but its more important that it apply to the nation).

    What I am suggesting is different to ‘devolution on demand’ – in dod, the state sets the boundaries and expects the people living there to group together and request new powers to be devolved to them – it should be the other way round, with the state guaranteeing the devolution of powers, and the people of the nation engaging in some process to create the boundaries of the bodies that shall exercise those powers.

  • Tony Greaves 3rd Apr '16 - 12:00am

    Will there be more resources to tackle problems such as the fact that half the constituencies in the NW are effectively derelict?

    Tony Greaves

  • I support this bold move taken yesterday by my former region and hope that it comes to fruition at the next conference. Well done to all concerned.

  • Tony Greaves 3rd Apr '16 - 2:19pm

    The idea that the NW should be a “state” within a British federal structure is of course nonsense. Now, talk about the North of England and you might make more sense…

    Tony Greaves

  • William Dyer 3rd Apr '16 - 5:15pm

    Does anyone has a copy of the motion that was put forward to conference?

  • Sue Sutherland 3rd Apr '16 - 6:49pm

    I have just moved to Manchester from the West Country and am unable to be active in the party due to illness and disability but I don’t understand why the North West has a regional conference and various fundraising events in the run up to the local elections. This must occupy the time and energy of active members when local candidates need all the campaigning support they can get.

  • Given George Osborne’s intent to create a Mayor of East Anglia (which I can’t envisage without laughing, being a Cambridgeshire boy myself), will there be a similar push in for an East Anglian state party? And why not the same for London, which is effectively already a functioning devolved state?

    As has been said above, one cannot devolve with parity when one of the devolved units is 85% of the whole. Splitting England up into regions (bring back the Heptarchy!) makes a lot of sense in this regard – those regions will, coincidentally, be broadly comparable with the size of Scotland and Wales. Much easier to devolve fairly then. (And to those worried about doing England down, England will still have a 7-2 margin over Scotland and Wales).

    Ultimately, the question should be this: is this a measure that will increase the ability of Lib Dems in the North West to win elections? I gather from the comments from those concerned that they feel that it will.

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