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.

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(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…?

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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!

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