Thoughts on internal elections

The results from the Liberal Democrat federal internal elections came out this morning, and you can see the results here (for a list of who was elected) and here (for the full voting breakdown).

Various people on blogs (see Jennie and Andy, for example) and Twitter have been discussing the results and the way we run elections before and after the results were declared, and I wanted to jot down some thoughts I’ve had before I forget.

How many party members read Lib Dem blogs? And how many of those are voting reps?

There was a lot of discussion about these elections on various blogs and Twitter, but how many of the relevant people were actually reading them? I noticed that many people who I expected to do well in the elections because of their prominence as bloggers did pretty poorly.

So the question has to be whether the debates we have on Lib Dem blogs (up to and including those on Lib Dem Voice) are actually being seen by much of the party membership. And even if blogs do reach lots of people, are they the same people who vote in these elections? (Have there been demographic analyses of how elected conference reps compare to the membership of the party and the population of the country?)

One other thought – why not just call them ‘Federal representatives’ and ‘Regional representatives’ and not mention Conference? Would that encourage more people to take on the role, if it’s not thought of as being just about going to Conference?

And one last point – the people who get to vote in the 2014 internal elections will actually be getting elected as voting reps in about twelve months time. People planning campaigns for then perhaps should be getting organised a lot sooner than they think they should.

Should the party be encouraging more internal debate?

We pride ourselves on being a democratic and open party, so we shouldn’t be afraid of debating openly amongst ourselves. Indeed, the fact that so many candidates wanted to stand for the different committees shows that there is an urge for that to happen. However, is that debate best accomplished by giving each candidate one sheet of A5 to set out what they want? (And then only letting most people see that if they’re a voting rep) Should the party be encouraging candidates to supply more information online and enabling virtual hustings and debates?

(Jennie pointed at the Pirate Party’s system this morning, which makes a distinction between a campaigning period and a voting period – that could be something worth considering)

Andy makes a good suggestion in the LDV comments:

If there were a dedicated website, a really useful feature would be for it to ennable an online hustings system, where anyone can submit a question to all candidates, subscribe to replies to a question they or someone else have asked, etc. A kind of clearing-house for questions. If it was a reasonably formal part of the way the election was run, then it would avoid the issue of some candidates not supplying their contact details, making it difficult for people like Jennie Rigg and myself to step up to ask questions and broadcast the replies. When you look at each candidate’s details on this website, it could then show not only their original election statement, but also their replies to any questions they’ve been asked.

That would be very useful, and having that in one official location would make it easy to direct people to, while allowing others to campaign and promote people based on what’s being said there.

Following on from Andy’s thought, it occurs to me that if you were to build a system that enabled people to contact candidates, ask questions and receive public replies, there’d be uses for it outside of internal elections. Imagine at the next General Election if, rather than just having their bio on the party website, people could pose questions to parliamentary candidates through it? (It could even be extended to be available for local council candidates, if they wanted to use it) If the party was to start working on a system like that now, then the internal elections in two years time could be the test bed for it – and you could increase participation in the debate and questioning by telling people this is a test of an important part of the General Election campaign – and then it could be rolled out publicly a few months later for the General Election.

That’s all for now, but I reserve the right to bore you all with more thoughts about this at another time.

Signal boost: Internal party elections

I mentioned the other day about Jennie Rigg’s plan to gather questions together for candidates in the Liberal Democrats’ internal elections. Unlike when I come up with a grand plan and then neglect to follow through, Jennie’s a woman of action, and not only has she collected together a list of eleven questions for candidates for both Federal Policy Committee and Federal Executive Committee, she’s managed to send it out to most of the candidates.

So, if you’re a candidate and you haven’t received any questions yet, now you can go and find them, and if you’re a party member wanting to know more about what people want to do if they’re elected, you can go and find out. The answers are being collated here as they come in, and they make for very interesting reading so far, giving you a much greater insight into what they stand for than a side of A5 in the manifesto booklet ever could. Indeed, it occurs to me that this sort of public forum, with the opportunity to question and debate the points made is something the party should be encouraging for a healthier internal democracy. I’ve noticed previously that Labour Party members are often debating their NEC and Policy Forum (I think that’s the right name) elections, and it seems odd that ours up to now have almost been conducted in secrecy.

There’s a few other thoughts I’ve had about internal party democracy from reading those responses, but I’ll save them for another post. Until then, get over to Jennie’s blog and read what they’ve got to say!

It’s internal election time

My, is it really two years since the last set of internal elections in the Liberal Democrats? Obviously yes, because the Lib Dem Twitterverse and blogosphere is at something-that-might-be-a-fever-or-might-be-the-result-of-sitting-too-close-to-the-radiator-pitch about it, but this time we may get more discussion of them because the rules have finally been relaxed to allow it.

Given that the deadline has passed, it’s probably too late to point candidates towards my suggestions for what to say and not say in their manifestos from last time, but I would say that they’re important things to remember when campaigning in these elections. They are important, and the committees will have some important decisions to make about the future direction of the party as we approach the next election.

With that in mind, I’d like to point people towards Jennie’s plan to gather together questions for FPC and FCC candidates – if you’re not standing, it’s your chance to get a question to a lot of candidates, and if you are standing then when she’s gathered together her list of questions, answering them is a way to get your views seen by a lot of people. Hopefully, it’ll mean we can get a proper debate going, and give me a chance to really think over who gets my 63rd preference for Policy Committee this time.

On Lib Dems and leadership

I left a comment last week on Jennie Rigg’s post about potential leaders of the Liberal Democrats that I wanted to expand on.

Jennie was looking at the potential candidates for next leader of the Liberal Democrats, and one thing that comes up from her survey is that the party isn’t exactly overwhelmed with leadership contenders. What I wonder is if this is a result of what the party expects from Parliamentary candidates and MPs, effectively limiting the pool of leadership candidates by preventing potential candidates from even jumping the first hurdle – being an MP – long before any of the others come in to play.

I’m not going to name names (because that would probably start a whole other discussion) but at many party events, conferences etc, I’ve been struck by the talent and abilities of people in the party who aren’t MPs, and clearly aren’t planning to become one. It’s my opinion that many of these people would not just make great MPs, they’d be assets in senior leadership positions. However, because they’re not going to be in Parliament, those talents rarely get seen beyond a small area. Why is it, though, that these people don’t choose to go for Parliament?

As I said on Jennie’s post, one major problem is that to become a Parliamentary candidate for the party – particularly in a winnable seat – you are expected to put in a large amount of time and effort across a number of areas. As has been pointed out by the Campaign for Gender Balance and others, this is huge disincentive to stand for many people. Unless you get lucky and win selection in one of the party’s very small (and probably reducing) number of safe seats, then you effectively have to give up whatever career you already have to devote yourself to trying to get elected. While there are some exceptions who have given up almost everything and gone for it, I think others prefer taking an easier path. That’s not to say that their decision is wrong, but in the overall scheme of things, it could go towards explaining why Jennie’s survey comes up with so few candidates.

(And this post isn’t special pleading – I’ve got no desire to become an MP, as hooting like an idiot in the House of Commons isn’t my idea of a rewarding career)

Worth Reading 64: Troughton to the power of Colin Baker

Another gathering of things people have said better than me:

I Hate It When Politicians Talk About “Hard-Working Families” – Jennie Rigg points out the flaws in a bit of politician-speak.
Democracy 2015 – The Independent’s new campaign – I was thinking of pointing out some of the flaws with this campaign, but A Dragon’s Best Friend has beating me to it.
Gathering of the damned – DoktorB on party conferences and leaders’ speeches.
Do we have to be so macho? – In the wake of David Cameron’s ‘butch’ comments, Emma Burnell questions the style of modern politics.
Comedians using their fans for co-ordinated, safety-in-numbers bullying – There’s a ‘y’ in the day, so Rick Gervais is behaving like a privileged arsehole.

There are more important things to do than read this post

I was reading various blogs and other things last night on the subject of police accreditation for Liberal Democrat Conference, and I was struck by the fact that several people I saw on the other side of the debate to me were using the ‘why get upset about it, there are more important things to worry about’ argument. I was reminded of that today, when Jennie Rigg wrote this after receiving a similar response from someone else:

Yesterday, someone I care about a lot told me that while this decision was deplorable, the other stuff I was posting about yesterday, the economic stuff, was more important, and I should “get a sense of perspective”. The fact that the adoption of this process means that people I care about will literally be risking their lives if they want to come to conference apparently needs to be put in perspective with the fact that Vince Cable said a thing…

Of course, the use of ‘there are more important things’ isn’t just limited to Lib Dem bloggers arguing about Conference. We’ve seen it being deployed recently by the Tory backbenches as though it’s a compelling argument against House of Lords reform, equal marriage or whatever else they’re in outrage about at the moment.

I’m quite sure I’ve probably used the same argument myself at some point, but I do find it a very weak argument, so I hope my uses of it have been light-hearted rather than as a sole objection. In and of itself, though, it’s a very weak argument. The main problem with it is that it’s presupposing that there’s some grand mutually-agreed list of Stuff In Order Of Importance that will prove that the person deploying the argument is right, and the person supposedly wasting their time on the things that aren’t as important will agree that they’ve been focusing their attention on the wrong subject.

Human beings really don’t work like that, and what’s high on one person’s list may rank pretty low on someone else’s. There’s also the question of the effect an individual can have. Yes, the economy’s a mess and we need to do more to create jobs, but how much effect on the economy are me, Jennie or anyone else going to have writing about it on the internet? On the other hand, as party members and activists, we can have a direct influence on the accreditation at Conference issue, so isn’t it better to quickly nod and say ‘well done Vince’ then divert your attention to something where you as an individual really can make a difference?

It also forgets that human beings are capable of paying attention to more than one issue, and that when you get a large group of them together – say, into a Government – they’re capable of doing more than one thing at the same time. It’s why the Tory backbenchers arguing against Lords reform or equal marriage just seemed rather silly to me in their belief that this would occupy all the Government’s time. I can’t quite see why anyone in the Treasury, BIS or Transport (to pick three departments that have an effect on the economy) would find themselves distracted from their job because of an entirely different part of the Government putting forward proposals that don’t affect them.

In the same manner, when one joins a political party, part of the reason for that is to spread the effort involved amongst a number of people. The fact that some of us want to use our position in the Liberal Democrats to stand up for some actual liberalism doesn’t stop anyone else from getting on with doing whatever they want to do in the party, and it’s only their urge to sneer ‘don’t you have something better to do with your time?’ that helps to reveal those who’d like to use their time to get rid of those pesky liberals who keep messing up their plans.

And I’m sure you had better things to do with your time than read this post – didn’t you know that there are people starving elsewhere in the world? That climate change could render huge swathes of land uninhabitable? That the sun will expand and destroy the entire planet in a few billion years? What are you doing about any of those, eh? – but thanks for doing it, anyway.

Worth reading 45: And how many revolutions will you start this minute?

@petehague’s piece on This Week’s Pod Delusion – Jennie Rigg on the concept of Schrodinger’s Rapist (which was a term I hadn’t heard of before her post) and what’s rational behaviour for women.
My encounter with the News of the World – When you hear someone talking about how the non-phone-hacking staff of the News of the World were saints and angels who loved bunny rabbits and kittens, read this and remind yourself of their regular modus operandi.
Capes, wedding dresses and Steven Moffat – Sophia McDougall on why (to paraphrase violently) a wedding dress and the Batsuit are the same thing.
Our democracy is over – Steven Baxter asks why no one thinks of the poor oppressed plutocrats. “The very future of free discourse in this country is under threat. We have no democracy any more. This ragtag-and-bobtail army of leftist thought police are going to stop us from being able to ring up dead kids or bereaved families and listen to their messages – and what then? Criminals and crooked politicians are going to get away with it, that’s what.”
A Punishment Beating – Flying Rodent on the oh-so-tedious Johann Hari vs Nick Cohen deathmatch feud important struggle for liberal values vital intellectual contretemps playground spat. “Let me put it this way. During the week when the Guardian – a paper that Nick and his pals have spent years dumping oceans of shit over – rocked the foundations of the world’s most powerful media empire, shut down a criminal enterprise and brought a genuine scandal of public interest to the front doors of Number 10 and the Metropolitan Police… …A small but determined bunch of angry berks were engaged in the honourable task of helping one of the nation’s most ridiculous hacks wreak his pissy vengeance upon a nationally-discredited twerp for the crime of penning a mildly critical and dishonest book review, years ago.”

Worth reading 39: Unluck comes in threes

Bored? Then it’s time for some linkage:

Colonel Albert Bachmann – Telegraph obituary of a Swiss spy, whose life resembled something from a black comedy about the Cold War.
The Lib Dem Leadership Don’t Get It – But I Do – Jennie explains the elephant in the room that the party leadership aren’t acknowledging.
TPA – Pretence of Authority – Tim Fenton notes that the Taxpayers Alliance’s policies only seem to be for a very small number of taxpayers.
Some Advice to New Councillors – Useful advice from Richard Kemp.
Thirty Books from Interrupted Worlds – Lawrence Miles provides some humorous reinterpretations of classic books from alternate timelines.

Burning of the heretics may now recommence.

Worth Reading 5: Starred

And when you look into the internet, the internet looks also into you:

Tunisia: The uprising has a hashtag – Did you know there’s an uprising against the government of Tunisia underway? Neither did I, but this article’s a helpful introduction to the issues.
Eliminationist rhetoric and the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords – The much-linked-to Sarah Palin ‘bullseye’ graphic is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s been a scary undertone to a lot of political discourse in America in recent years, especially since 2008.
On the politics of blame – Jennie Rigg writes something very similar to a blog post I was writing in my head. My version may still follow.
The Sunday review: The King’s Speech – Remember Sion Simon? The ultimate Platonic ideal of a New Labour apparatchik? Well, he outdoes himself here, criticising Colin Firth for the heinous crime of not apologising for voting Liberal Democrat.
Yes to AV – Arguments for AV from a Conservative perspective, which may be of use in persuading people to vote Yes in May.

And sometimes elections aren’t Rigged

So, in the end, it seems that just two weeks is not enough time to organise a grassroots campaign for the Party Presidency, though Jennie gave it a damn good go. Still, there’s two years until the next contest, which is a lot more notice…

As it stands, it looks as though the contest is going to be between Susan Kramer and Tim Farron. While I am tempted by the idea of writing in a ‘press gang Ros Scott for another two years’ option on my ballot paper, at the moment I think I’m going to vote for Susan Kramer.

Having seen the difference in the last couple of years when the Party President wasn’t an MP, I’m not convinced it’s possible to do the job of President – or, at least, the job as I and others would expect to see it done – and be an effective MP at the same time. Susan seems to be running to replace Ros and carry on the work she’s done – both publicly and privately – and that’s what the party needs right now if we can’t have someone in there to really shake things up and give a radically different perspective.

Even with a large chunk of the parliamentary party serving in the Government, there seems to be no shortage of MPs and Lords willing to speak to the media, and the presidency can be so much more than just someone else ready to do the rounds of radio cars and satellite studios. We need someone who’s spending their days away from Cowley Street outside of the M25, not just down the road in Westminster. There are enough people out there willing to speak for the members of the party already, when what we need is someone who’s going to speak to them.