(Those of you who aren’t interested in the internal politics of the Liberal Democrats may want to look away now.)

As I’m a Conference representative for Colchester Liberal Democrats, the ballot pack for this year’s round of internal party elections has landed on my mat with a resounding thud recently. Unsurprisingly, now we’re in power, there’s a lot more interest in serving on the federal committees that run various aspects of the party and so the ballot papers are long and the manifesto booklets and getting to be the same thickness as your average Harry Potter book.

So, there are over 100 candidates for the various positions, and it’s my job to differentiate between them and rank them in order of preference. Of course, this job is made all the more harder by the party’s rather silly rules that effectively ban campaigning by anyone outside of the manifesto booklet. As Jennie points out, changing those rules to reflect modern times might make more people interested in these elections – it was interesting to see Labour bloggers discussing their NEC elections and the merits of various candidates over the summer, something which sadly won’t be happening for these elections.

This leaves me in the same situation as many others, I suspect – there are some names I recognise on the ballot paper, and from those there are some I would really like to see elected and others I really don’t but the great mass of names in there are people I don’t know and can only find out about from their manifesto page. The problems start when there’s very little difference between those manifesto pages, which has prompted this post. A bit late for this set of elections, of course, but it might prompt some thought for next time. Here are some of the things that help me decide who to vote for:

  • Telling me what you’re going to do is very important You would think this would be a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many people seem to think that just being a nice person and all-round good Party egg should be enough to secure their vote. If you’re standing for the Federal Policy Committee, why not tell me what you actually think of different areas of policy, or what areas you think FPC should be working on rather than giving me a detailed CV of your life in the Liberal Democrats. Which leads us to…
  • These aren’t elections for a long service award Congratulations on your 40-year career as a West Loamshire Councillor and not missing a Conference since that time you fell out with Archibald Sinclair at a Liberal Assembly, but what does that actually contribute to your ability to do the job you’re standing for? If you’re telling me that you’ve served on the Federal Executive for twenty years and want to be re-elected again, why not tell me what you’ve achieved in that time sitting round the table? Lots of people have put in lots of time in lots of areas of the Party, but if you want my vote for taking it forward, you need to show me where you want us to go, not where you’ve already been.
  • Don’t give me a list of your favourite buzzwords Great, you’re a hard working and experienced team player with a passion for social justice! That’ll certainly get you a preference above the candidate who describes themselves as an inexperienced lazy loner who despises everything except injustice. Oh wait, that person’s not standing, but another twenty people who describe themselves in the exact same way as you are. It’s good to describe yourself and what you care about in your manifesto, but please stay away from the sort of descriptions that only make me think of the Forer effect.

Of course, there are other things that influence my vote, but these tend to be things like ‘have I seen this person advocating a policy I’m opposed to at Conference?’ which will tend to ensure you get very low preference or ‘do I know you and like you?’ which will boost you upwards – and I do usually use all my preferences, just because indicating which person is my 63rd and last preference for FPC does give me a certain frisson of sadistic pleasure.

So, there’s my ranking system – what’s yours? Of course, I expect all you future election candidates to take no notice of these because (hopefully) by the time these elections roll around again we’ll have some much more sensible rules on campaigning in place…