Lib-Dem-logoWith depressing predictability, many people’s response to the concerns a lot of Liberal Democrat members have raised about the return of Chris Rennard to the Federal Executive has been ‘aren’t there more important things to worry about?’ It’s also interesting to note that ‘shut up and deliver leaflets‘ has now evolved into ‘go and do some phone canvassing’. This is of course mixed in with ‘don’t you know there’s a by-election on’ and ‘talking about this just gives us bad publicity’ to try and shut down any debate by blaming everyone else for the bad things.

It’s an interesting attempt at political judo: trying to make it look like it’s those people complaining about the Lords putting Chris Rennard on the FE are the ones in the wrong, rather than those who’ve actually made the decision. It feels to me very much like people who misunderstand free speech – yes, you have the right to say what you like, or elect whoever you choose, but that doesn’t free you from the consequences of your actions. Imagine if Tim Farron used his slot at Prime Minister’s Questions to ask Cameron if he could tell him who put the ram in the ram a lam a ding dong. He’s perfectly entitled to ask that, and as leader he can choose the subject of his questions, but he’d have to face the consequences of that choice.

This is the situation the Lords group – or, at least, the 40-odd of them who voted for Rennard – are in. They’ve made their decision according to the rules they have and in accordance with the power they have to appoint a member to the FE. Having seen the decision they’ve made, a large chunk of people in the rest of the party have pointed out that it’s a really bad decision and the response hasn’t been to try and explain why they think it’s a good decision, but to complain that people are daring to criticise it. Hiding behind ‘there are more important things you should be doing’ and ‘you’re making the party look bad, go and deliver leaflets as penance’ is quite a depressing way to try and avoid a debate and shift the blame for the effects of a decision onto those who didn’t make it.

Too many people forget that liberalism is about the freedom to make decisions and act, but that freedom comes with responsibility for the consequences of your actions. No one acts in a vacuum or makes decisions that are void of consequences and to assume that you can do whatever you want without facing criticism when you get it wrong is to demand to be removed from all consequences and be unaccountable in the way you exercise your power. Unaccountable power is something liberalism opposes, and it’s those who are trying to get everyone to move on and just accept it that are being illiberal here.

, , ,

House_of_Lords_chamber_-_toward_throneThere are some words you don’t want to see coming up on your Twitter feed because you know they’re invariably associated with bad news. When you’re a member of and follow a number of Liberal Democrats, “Rennard” is one of those words, as it normally means that everyone’s least-favourite former chief executive has done something silly again.

This time, it wasn’t just him being silly. Assisted by the votes of thirty-nine other members of the Liberal Democrat group in the House of Lords, he’s been elected as their representative on the party’s Federal Executive. I’m not sure what was going through the minds of these peers when they decided that someone cited as the principal reason why several prominent women have left the party was the best person to represent them on the FE, or why they think that raking up old arguments is the best way for the party to spend its time when its trying to rebuild. Some credit must be given for the twenty peers who voted for Tim Razzall to take the place instead, with questions being asked of the fifty or more who didn’t bother to vote.

What’s clear now, as it has been ever seen the allegations about him were first raised, is that there is a clear divide in the party over Rennard and that there are a number of people in senior positions in the party (particularly amongst the Lords group) who want to put him back into a prominent position because they believe the legend that he’s a political campaigner without equal, who can somehow magically restore the party’s electoral fortunes if he’s given the chance to. At best, this is somewhat overstating the ability one person could have on the party’s fortunes, but I’d argue that the supposed miracle-working powers of Rennardism ignore that he was principally a tactician and it was the party’s strategic positioning during the Ashdown and Kennedy years that created the real opportunity. (See here for my more detailed argument on that)

What we have here is a section of the party establishment deciding that standing up for their old mate is more important than giving the party the opportunity to rebuild and make a fresh start. Like Jennie, I want to see Tim Farron and Sal Brinton telling the Lib Dem Lords to think again, and I want to hear from the other members of the Federal Executive what they intend to do about it. Are they happy to see it being used to make the whole party look bad?

I’m sure it’s not their intention but the Lib Dem Lords are doing a very good job of showing just what the problems are with giving power to an unelected and unaccountable group. One of the outcomes of the party’s governance review has to be to remove any power over the democratic structures of the party from unaccountable groups like them.


(title highly commended in the category of ‘headlines most likely to send someone to sleep’)

I’ve done my bit for the party and completed voting in the latest round of internal federal party elections. (Now just the regional ones to go!) However, while I was filling out the final few places on the Federal Policy Committee ballot form – there’s a certain kind of evil fun in working out who you really don’t want on the committee, and is thus deserving of 63rd preference – I was struck by a few thoughts, which I thought I’d share here.

My words have been heeded – OK, it’s not entirely down to me, but the quality of information from candidates was a marked improvement on last time when I wrote this post. I don’t have the manifesto booklet from last time to compare, but people seemed a lot more willing this time to use their publicity for something other than a CV and some glittering generalities. I think that reflects that there are a lot of healthy debates going on within the party about future direction. People aren’t just setting out to manage the status quo but are talking much more about what they’ll do with an elected role.

Relaxing election rules worked – I haven’t liked any candidate’s Facebook page, but I think it’s good that they exist. What I’ve found much more useful this year is that people can actually talk in public about the fact they’re standing for election and what they want to do. So, there have been lots of blog posts from candidates, people talking about it on Twitter, and a very useful intervention by Jennie Rigg, with her questions to FPC and FCC candidates. These – and Andy Hinton’s question to Federal Executive members on accreditation – were much more important in determining where my votes went than the manifestos. Indeed, all my high preference votes for FPC and FCC went to candidates who’d answered Jennie’s survey, and she deserves lots of thanks for all the work she’s done on this.

Who should be voting? A few people have raised the question of whether the franchise for these elections should be widened from the current system of only conference representatives getting to vote in them. There’s a very strong case for widening the franchise (especially as using the internet for voting and distributing manifestos cuts the costs), but I think we have to be careful in rushing to do it, as there is the prospect of them becoming popularity contests for well-known names, as seems to happen in Labour NEC elections.

I think there is a strong case for having all members elect at least part of the Federal Executive and Federal Policy Committee, but alongside a national list, I’d also look into electing some members regionally – to ensure the whole country is represented – and whether Parliamentarians should be able to stand in the members section of the election.

On a similar issue, some people are calling for Conference to be one member, one vote, which I’m all in favour of as soon as they can come up with a way of holding conference in a way that allows all members an equal chance of getting there at the same cost. Until they solve that, they’re proposing a system that would allow conference to be dominated by the people who can spare the time and money to get to conference and/or those who live near to the conference venue.

If you’ve still not voted – the deadline is Wednesday at noon, so you should be doing it soon! – and are open to influence, here are some of the people I gave high preferences to and would like to see elected:
Federal Conference Committee: Zoe O’Connell, Gareth Epps, David Grace, George Potter
Federal Executive: Elaine Bagshaw, Daisy Cooper, Bill Le Breton, Caron Lindsay
Federal Policy Committee: Jo Hayes, Gareth Epps, Ewan Hoyle, Richard Flowers
ELDR delegation: Jo Hayes, Allis Moss, Mark Valladares
International Relations Committee: I voted in this, but I don’t feel positive enough about any of the candidates to endorse them publicly.

Right, now when do I get the regional ballot papers…?

, , , ,