» Liberal Democrats ¦ What You Can Get Away With

Lib-Dems-voting-at-conferenceMark Pack asks Liberal Democrats what needs to be done to make One Member One Vote work. I left a brief comment there, but decided I needed to expand on that thought a little more.

I’m on the record as being sceptical about OMOV, and neither the debate at conference, nor the discussions that have been had about it since have shifted me from that scepticism. However, I have continued to think about the subject and I’m coming to the position that OMOV as constituted is attempting to solve the wrong problem.

The problem we’re being presented is that the methods of accessing the party’s current power structures prevent many members from influencing those power structures. Thus, OMOV is proposed as a way to change the way the power structures are accessed: no longer will elections to federal committees and votes at conference be limited to conference representatives, now every member will have those opportunities. It seems reasonable until you notice there’s one big assumption in there: that the existing power structures are fine, and it’s just the inputs to them that need tweaking.

My problem is that I’m not convinced that is the case. One important thing to consider here is that the structures of the party have changed very little since it was founded in 1988. This actually makes the party’s structures effectively the oldest of the main parties – Labour’s structures were changed after 1994 and the Tories after 1997 – and any changes that have taken place since then have effectively been changes of procedure, not changes of any of the fundamental structures. (It’s endless tweaking and not fundamental reform that leads to organisational charts like this where things keep getting added on to what’s already there instead of replacing them)

My problem with OMOV proposals – even as Conference amended them – is that they’re yet another set of tweaks to the existing system, and not an examination of whether that system is capable of doing the job we want it to do, regardless of what inputs its getting. It’s a bit like trying to fix a car by bolting new parts onto it and changing the fuel while insisting that the engine is fine and needs nothing more than an occasional tune up.

What I think we need to do – though not till after the election, obviously – isn’t another set of tweaks that we’ll then look at in another couple of years to see if they need more tweaks, but to start again with a blank sheet of paper and work out just how a political party for the twenty-first century should work. Is it best run by a set of committees and a conference that rely on everyone being in the same place at the same time before decisions can be made? I’m much better at asking questions than designing new structures, but surely there are other ways of doing things with a much more distributed and networked power structure. The current party structure was set up at a time when hardly anyone involved had a computer at home, let alone mobiles, email, the web or social media, before 24 hour news, devolution and countless other things were part of the political landscape.

I think we do need to create a party where the members have a lot more say in how it runs and what it campaigns for, but I’m still not convinced that adding OMOV to the current system is the way to achieve that. When the election is done, we’re going to need to have a proper debate about the future of the party, and I think that debate doesn’t just need to be about where we’re going but how the party is organised and run. Rushing to introduce OMOV before the election is saying that the existing structures are mostly fine and taking that debate off the table when we most need to have it.

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mphbasicFirst of all, let me just say thanks to everyone for their response to my post yesterday about basic income. There clearly are a lot of people out there interested in the idea, so I’ve been spending a bit more time thinking about how we can take it forward.

I think there’s two main areas that we need to work on, though within those areas there are lots of other issues to be dealt with: policy and promotion.

Policy is the discussion of just what type of basic income we want to see, from the question of do we want a universal basic income, guaranteed minimum income, negative income tax or any of the other variants that have been proposed through what sort of level it should be set out to how does it get paid for and implemented? From what I’ve seen in the last day, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the basic idea, but perhaps a lot of differences about the detail, and that’s something we need to discuss.

Promotion is the question of how do we get from where we are to getting a basic income policy adopted by the party. There are educational issues of how we get information out there to people about what basic income is and issues of how do we want to go out and take the discussion to people to win the argument for basic income. It’s also about getting supporters on side who’ll take up the idea in Parliament and out in the press, as there’s a bigger argument to be won than just the one in the party.

Both of those issues are linked, and we have to be careful not to get into a chicken-and-egg situation where we discuss ourselves into permanent inaction: ‘we can’t go out and publicise basic income to people until we have our policy right, but we can’t get our policy right until we talk to people and find out what version they want’

So, to move on the discussion from the ‘that’s a good idea’ stage we’ve reached, I’ve created a couple of groups to discuss the issues some more and hopefully get us moving on.

There’s an email list on the Lib Dem list server which you can find out more about by clicking here. If you’re registered with the list server you can subscribe there, otherwise you can do it by emailing sympa@lists.libdems.org.uk with ‘subscribe basicincome’ in the main body of the email and no subject line.

There’s also a Facebook group called Liberal Democrats For Basic Income, which you can join by following that links and clicking ‘join group’.

Hopefully, those two should cover most people’s preferred options for discussing, sharing and planning, but if you have any other suggestions or proposals then please speak up and let us know as I don’t want to exclude people from discussions, but hopefully we can now start to move forward and get some things done!

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basicincome

We will work towards the eventual creation of a new ‘Citizen’s Income’, payable to all irrespective of sex or status… Unpaid work will at last be recognised as valuable. Women caring in the home, for example, will receive an independent income from the state for the first time. The Citizen’s Income will be buttressed by a single benefit for those in need, unifying income support and family credit, with supplements for people with disabilities and for child-care support. These reforms will ensure that every citizen is guaranteed a decent minimum income, whether or not they are in employment.

So what bunch of crazed radicals came up with that policy? Well, it’s from the 1992 Liberal Democrat manifesto.

Yes, Citizen’s Income (also known as Basic Income and many other names) was Liberal Democrat policy for a while, until it got dropped in 1994. Despite some people wondering if it might make a return under a previous leader, it’s remained in the Home for Former Policies ever since.

(If you what to know more, the Basic Income Earth Network and Citizen’s Income Trust are good places to start)

Recently, though, I’ve noticed lots more people talking about the idea, especially in terms of thinking of new ways to run and organise the economy, and the more I read and think about it, the more I think it’s not only a good idea, it’s a great liberal one. What better way to free people from poverty, ignorance and conformity than guaranteeing a basic income for everyone? If you want opportunity for all, why not free them from worrying about how they’re going to meet their basic needs? A fairer society where people have the chance to use their opportunities to develop new ideas can lead to a stronger economy because people had the chance to get on in life rather than being ground down as they sought to simply support themselves.

And I’ve run out of party slogans to use here, but I think you get the point. What we need, though, isn’t just to sit around and agree that it would be a good idea, but work to actually make it happen. I think it needs to be more than something that just floats around in the ‘that would be a good idea’ cloud, but to get it into party policy, let alone getting popular support for it and making it happen, is going to require work to do so.

So, to try and push it forward, I think we need to find a way to get supporters of Basic Income within the Liberal Democrats together and talking about it so we can set out a path to achieving it. I’m open to suggestions on how we go about doing that – email lists, Facebook groups, blogs, forums, Twitter hashtags, posted newsletters, conference meetings and whatever else are all possibilities, depending on interests – but I think the important thing is getting organised and doing it, not waiting around for something to happen.

So, if you’re interested, say so in the comments here, or let me know some other way – there’s links to my varied social media contacts at the side – and we’ll come up with some way of getting us all talking and planning. If there’s enough of us, who knows what we might achieve?

deweySo, Lib Dem Voice took the route of the Literary Digest as their survey got the result of the presidential election completely wrong. They predicted that the first round results would be 52% for Daisy Cooper, 30% for Sal Brinton and 18% for Liz Lynne, with the actual result being 47% for Brinton, 27% for Cooper and 26% for Lynne. That’s one candidate given almost double the votes she actually got, while the other two are underestimated by about 50% each. Basically, as a prediction of the result, it’s not much better than a random number generator would have been.

So, we’ll have a quick pause for a ‘told you so‘ because that prediction felt wrong to me for the reasons I set out there – the LDV surveys come from a skewed sample that isn’t a balanced representation of Liberal Democrat members. Yes, I know they like to put various disclaimers on them, but those disclaimers always come after a headline that says ‘Lib Dem members think‘ (or something similar) which means the first impression is that this poll represents all members. Indeed, if you just look at the headline – and that’s all you get on the LDV Twitter feed and on other social media – you don’t get any disclaimers, and just get told ‘what Lib Dem members think’.

Now, we often get the claim that these surveys have shown similar results to other surveys of Lib Dem members undertaken by polling companies, so I went looking for the evidence on that. As far as I can see, this is based on a few questions from a few years ago (and Mark Pack’s FAQ on it that people point to is over two years old too), so hasn’t been done on a significant scale or recently. Pointing out that something was vaguely accurate a few years ago does not magically make it accurate now – especially when there’s a very big piece of evidence (the Presidential survey) that says it’s not.

This matters because the LDV surveys and their results are taken seriously by many people, and they could well be giving a wrong impression about what party members think. As it stands, people are being told that Lib Dem members overwhelmingly continue to support the coalition and think the party is on the right track, but what if they don’t? If the people being surveyed aren’t representative of the wider party membership, why are their views being presented as if they are? The most recent piece of comparable data suggests that using the LDV poll as a guideline to what members think isn’t accurate, and it’ll take a lot more than pointing at something from a few years ago to change my mind.

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litdigThe Literary Digest holds an interesting place in the history of politics, thanks to its role in the 1936 US Presidential election. For several elections before it had been conducting a mass poll that had allowed it to successfully predict the result of the election, which obviously helped to gain it a lot of attention and sales. In 1936, it did the same thing, sending out over 10 million surveys to voters, and receiving more than 2 million back, which gave it the confidence to predict the election result. The result of their poll was clear: Governor Alf Landon of Kansas was going to defeat incumbent President Franklin Roosevelt.

As we know, that wasn’t just wrong, it was badly wrong. Roosevelt won the election in one of the biggest landslides the US has ever seen, and the Literary Digest, which was already doing poorly in the face of the Depression, went out of business two years later. Meanwhile, George Gallup had used a poll of just 5,000 people and predicted the result of the election much more accurately (though not completely accurately – he missed the size of the Roosevelt landslide).

Gallup’s success came from something we take as routine now – rather than aiming to cover as many people as possible, his poll had taken a sample from the population. In trying to cover as many people as possible and sending their samples to names they had from their subscriber records, phone directories and car registrations, the Literary Digest had failed to sample across the whole of the population, as the poor were unlikely to fall into any of those three categories and were much more likely to vote for Roosevelt than Landon.

What’s important to note here is that the Literary Digest’s methods had worked before and successfully predicted the result of previous Presidential elections, hence their confidence in calling the 1936 result from their data. What they’d missed was the effect of the Depression on both their sample and voting patterns. A large group of people were excluded from their sample because of their poverty, and because of that poverty that group had a very different voting behaviour.

Which brings us to Liberal Democrat Voice. They’ve been conducting regular surveys of members of their forum (which you have to be a Liberal Democrat member to join) and publishing the results on the site for a while. Now, while this is a sample of Lib Dem members, it’s not a randomly chosen sample but a self-selecting one, especially skewed towards those who like to talk and read about politics on the internet. Now, they regularly claim that when tested against other surveys of Lib Dem members their poll is generally accurate, and thus they refer to the poll as a survey of ‘Lib Dem members’ not ‘our forum members’ in headlines, but we’ve now got a strongly testable prediction to see just how accurate a representation it is.

As many of you will likely have noticed, voting in the Liberal Democrat Presidential election finished yesterday, and Lib Dem Voice published the results of their latest survey, asking how people would vote in that. That gave a result of 52% of first preference votes for Daisy Cooper, 30% for Sal Brinton and 18% for Liz Lynne. Unfortunately, there’s no George Gallup in this scenario, who’s done a survey using a different methodology, so it may turn out that they’ve got the result right. However, to me, it looks like a very big hostage to fortune that might well have oversampled a particular type of party member whilst missing out a large chunk who will vote in the election.

We shall see when the result comes out, but there might be a few nerves at LDV Towers while they await it…

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(Linda Jack was the final candidate to respond to the questions I posed in my earlier Presidential post, and here are her answers in full after the cut. You can, of course, ask any questions about her answers in the comments.)

Read the rest of this entry

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A lot of Lib Dems will have received an email from Tim Gordon, the Chief Executive this afternoon. In it, he asks for those of us who are conference representatives to use our power to nominate one of the four candidates for the party presidency. Each of them needs 200 nominations from representatives to stand, and I believe not all of them have currently reached flat figure.

I think it would be a shame if any of them were denied the chance to stand because of insufficient nominations, so I would appeal to anyone who hasn’t yet nominated anyone to do so. It doesn’t lock you into voting for that person in the election itself, but helps ensure that everyone gets a choice.

I would also ask the four candidates to make it clear if they need more nominations or if they already have enough. It would be a bit silly if there were a flood of nominations for people who already had the numbers required, while others remained short of the target,  so that would allow for some co-ordination.

In the same vein, it would be good if party HQ – who receive the nominations – could also inform us if and when candidates make it to 200. After all, if people are sending in nominations independent of the candidates then it’s possible for them to make it without being aware, while HQ are.

This isn’t about favouring any particular candidate, but ensuring people get the chance to choose between a wide range of them. The nomination hurdle for the party presidency is ridiculously high, and the party would be weaker with a reduced field of candidates in the election.

UPDATE: I’m informed that Liz Lynne has sufficient nominations.

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