Democracy in a liquidiser

A couple of weeks ago, Spineless Liberal had a post about the LiquidFeedback system, asking whether it’s something the Liberal Democrats should be adopting for internal policy debates. (If you don’t know what LiquidFeedback is or are unsure about the concept of liquid democracy, take a look at the various links in that post)

My main question would be to ask why the party’s not doing something like this already. We like to make big noises about how we’re a party run by our members, how they determine everything and all that pabulum, but then make it quite hard for them to do much else other than deliver leaflets. And there are always more leaflets to be delivered.

Yes, compared to the other parties, we do have a relatively open policy process – the power to make policy is still in the hands of Conference (even if MPs seem to regard that as merely advisory) and there’s an elected Federal Policy Committee generating policy ideas between Conferences, but beyond getting into arguments in blog comment sections, how does the average party member have their say in policy discussions?

Couple of quick questions: how many members of the Federal Policy Committee can you name, and what subjects are they discussing at the moment?

Public faith in politicians and political parties is at a low right now, and that malaise is spread throughout a lot of the party membership. One of the key messages of the Liberal Democrats has always been that we’ve done things differently from the other parties, and this is an opportunity to show that difference clearly, by opening up the party to all members. Making party policy shouldn’t be limited to just those who can afford the money and time to be a member of FPC or go to Conference, not least because we shouldn’t be limiting the pool of experience we’re drawing from.

The point about liquid democracy is that it doesn’t require people to be all-purpose experts with an opinion on everything to take part in the process. (And how much better might our political system be if we recognised that there’s no such thing as an all-purpose expert?) People can contribute and vote on areas they feel comfortable in or knowledgeable about and can delegate their vote in other areas to people they trust. People can take as much or as little part in the system as they like, but still know that their voice is being heard within discussions and debates.

I’m not proposing that we immediately abolish conference, FPC and everything else and bring in LiquidFeedback straight away to replace them all. However, what’s to stop the party bringing it in as a parallel system to trial it and see if it works, and if it gets more people involved, generating more policy ideas? Yes, there’s work that needs to be done on the system to make it more user-friendly and understandable to people without long experience of using web forums and the like, but we’ve still got some very clever technical people in the party who can do that sort of thing. In fact, they’d likely come forward and volunteer to do it for free if the party gave trialling this system the go ahead.

One of the key values of the party is democracy and involvement. When the party’s structures were set up initially, they were the best they could be at the time for representing people’s views. Since then, technology has moved on dramatically, and we’ve got the opportunity to update the way we work as a party to reflect that. Labour and the Tories aren’t going to open up their processes to their members like this, so this is a way to remind ourselves that we’re about doing things differently. Why don’t we try it?

3 thoughts on “Democracy in a liquidiser”

  1. Firstly, thank you for the linking and the comment Nick. It is very appreciate – apologies for not replying sooner, and not RTing, I’m a student who’s in the middle of exam season, so have been too busy recently. I’m very sorry, I should have done better.

    I entirely agree with your post. The LibDems can be proud that we have the most open conference and policy making procedure, but there is still the issue of distance between members and HQ, FPC/FCC and the MPs, which is natural given that we only officially feedback every six months, and even that is only a select group of members who can afford and spare time to go to Conference. Many can’t, and I think moving at least certain functions online could help with this. We could immediately feed back our views on issues, form new policy to emerging situations, and generally engage with members better – for example, on Hunt, Syria or Spain’s banks. Can we wait until Brighton before the party hears our views?

    As you say, our current structure was top-notch in the past, but with technology moving on, so must the party. I’d love to see this trialled on some level – perhaps Liberal Youth, or Green LibDems or something similar could try it on behalf of the party. But that’s for people higher up the food chain to agree on…

    Again, thank you for the linking, I greatly appreciate it.

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