(Sal Brinton was the third to respond to the questions I posed in my earlier Presidential post, and here are her answers in full after the cut, which were originally left as a comment on the earlier post. You can, of course, ask any questions about her answers in the comments.)
I am seeking election as party president because I believe in our liberal values, however I also recognise that there are things that need changing in the party. I have four decades experience of liberalism, and a track record of delivering change, working at all levels within the party.
I joined the Liberals forty years ago because they were – and the Liberal Democrats remain – the only truly liberal party, where we believe in the power of the individual to make their own choices, whilst ensuring that there is a safety net to help those who cannot manage without support. Core to that is the party’s stance on education, training, freedom and tolerance, alongside a principle of not allowing the State or others to dictate to people what they may or may not do. I don’t just want to talk about policy, I want to deliver change, both for the party and for the UK. We are the most internally democratic party in the UK, but it doesn’t always feel like it. Despite delivering our core promises in Government (including personal tax allowance increase, pension triple lock, pupil premium, and ending child detention) some members are feeling isolated from policy making.
Some of the things that have gone wrong since 2010 are to do with Coalition, some are not. All point towards a centralisation of decision making, without reference back to members and the party bodies until it is too late to respond. Three examples:
First, we knew in the 2010 special conference to vote on the Coalition Agreement that things would be difficult with two very different parties working together in Government. However, as things went badly wrong, there was no real debate with members about the compromises the party had to make. We failed to influence the press to identify Lib Dem wins – making it even harder for local campaigners on the ground across the country.
Secondly, on internal complaints and appeals our structures have been found wanting and made us a laughing stock. They need reform. The President has to be very careful in a judicial process but it is vital that the next President simplifies the internal complaints procedure, making it more transparent to ordinary members and the public.
Thirdly, the way that party HQ works has become more bureaucratic and distant from local parties, with an insistence on standard formats and key performance indicators. For example, much has been promised with Connect, however activists concerns about glitches don’t seem to be taken seriously causing problems with using it. Federal Executive and the other Federal Committees seem to be unable to make things change (Connect is just one example), and concerns are growing.
Nick B is right to say that the presidential candidates share worries about the issues. The question is how each of us will deal with them may be different.
These are my four key areas that need tackling:
1 A Party fit to fight and win:
I will bring together all parts & organisations in the party to help revitalise our grass roots campaigning techniques, and winning council seats – it’s how we’ve done it when we’ve hit rock bottom in the past, and it works. ALDC have been handed more and more to do, whilst coping with cuts and smaller resources. They need proper support from the party centrally.
I want to get groups of local seats working together – as with the county co-ordinating committees that have worked well over nearly two decades in the East of England. With colleagues, I’ve helped grow neighbouring seats through this structure, getting new councillors, training candidates and activists.
We must develop advice and support for members to find and nurture new talent locally.
2 A Party fit for purpose
We need to reform complex party structures & processes to be fair and transparent, starting with taking the views of members and local parties, before writing consultation documents that set the agenda.
The Federal Executive (FE) is the overarching strategic committee for the party – in reality it has few teeth. I’d like to see it strengthened so it can force through change and hold the party to account. FE really matters, but the only significant power it has at the moment is through the Triple Lock when the party is considering future coalitions. It is in danger of becoming a talking shop that cannot change things. I think it should have the same powers as a non-executive board in business, and hold the party organisation to account.
We must implement and monitor the Morrisey Report on diversity and harassment in full, with the President leading the way. We have to debate the issue of all women shortlists and quotas for BAME and disabled candidates if we don’t make progress in the 2015 election.
3 A Party fit to talk and listen openly
I want to have regular roadshows across the party in regions and states to consult members on reform and policy.
I want to build on Tim Farron and Ros Scott’s reporting back to members (Presidential newsletters, blogs, tweets) with regular presidential surgeries for members, in person, by Skype and phone, bookable in advance.
4 A Party fit to call itself Liberal and Democrat
I will make sure that our Federal bodies, parliamentary parties and councillors test everything they do against our liberal principles and philosophy: fair, free, empowering.
I will protect the right of members to develop policy and to vote for candidates.
I will make sure that decisions are made transparently, and communicated to members and the public.
Finally, why me? My forty years of delivering leaflets, canvassing (all year round!), standing as a candidate for local council and parliament, serving as a councillor on Cambridgeshire for 11 years, being elected on to Federal Policy and Conference Committees and now being a member of the Lib Dem team in the Lords means I know and understand how the party works.
I have real experience of driving change in the party: I’ve created and led the Leadership Programme, training, mentoring and supporting 40 candidates from groups under-represented in parliament. So far 5 out of 7 of our retiring MP seats have selected women/BAME candidates for the General Election next year giving us a real chance to have excellent and more diverse MPs.
I’m also a seasoned media speaker, as a member of the House of Lords on health, education and stalking law reform; as a past target seat PPC, as the education portfolio holder & leader of the opposition on Cambridgeshire County Council. I’ve been on Newsnight, Daily Politics, the World at One and other Radio 4, LBC, FiveLive and local radio current affairs programmes, as well as interviews with most of the national newspapers. I also understand what media are looking for because I worked for the BBC in the 70s and 80s, including on Newsnight’s pre-cursor, and its Scottish equivalent.
But perhaps as relevant for the role of President, I’ve also been a businesswoman, bursar of two Cambridge Colleges, a founding Chair of a Learning and Skills Council, and I am a trustee of UNICEF UK. I have considerable experience of holding leaders and organisations to account, including giving them difficult messages about the need to change, and then making sure that change happens.
We need to find ourselves again, and I believe that my vision for the presidency and the party gives us a clear route back, so we can rise like a phoenix from the ashes.