» internal party elections ¦ What You Can Get Away With

It’s federal election time! – Probably only of interest to Lib Dems, but Jennie Rigg will be doing questions for federal committee candidates again, and wants your input on what to ask them.
Utter scumbags – “What I cannot accept, however, is the properly grotesque argument which this contemptible, reckless, immoral and intellectually bust Conservative Party is running to justify and explain its human rights plans. In Grayling’s thumping rhetoric to the grinning faithful in Birmingham, you do not see a meaningful and serious-minded parliamentary deliberation on the contested understandings of human rights, but an abject and irresponsible failure to engage in any intellectual or morally credible way with fundamental rights ideas.”
So The Lib Dems Have A Glee Club Where They Sing A Rude Song About Tony Blair – Buzzfeed are, I think, the first media outlet to actually understand Glee Club, and not use it to prove some agenda or other is correct.
In Spain, Politics via Reddit – Interesting look at the way Podemos is using the internet to transition from movement to party.
Understanding UKIP: Identity, Social Change and the Left Behind – The authors of Revolt on the Right, Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin have a new paper on UKIP’s voters and supporters.

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A lot of Lib Dems will have received an email from Tim Gordon, the Chief Executive this afternoon. In it, he asks for those of us who are conference representatives to use our power to nominate one of the four candidates for the party presidency. Each of them needs 200 nominations from representatives to stand, and I believe not all of them have currently reached flat figure.

I think it would be a shame if any of them were denied the chance to stand because of insufficient nominations, so I would appeal to anyone who hasn’t yet nominated anyone to do so. It doesn’t lock you into voting for that person in the election itself, but helps ensure that everyone gets a choice.

I would also ask the four candidates to make it clear if they need more nominations or if they already have enough. It would be a bit silly if there were a flood of nominations for people who already had the numbers required, while others remained short of the target,  so that would allow for some co-ordination.

In the same vein, it would be good if party HQ – who receive the nominations – could also inform us if and when candidates make it to 200. After all, if people are sending in nominations independent of the candidates then it’s possible for them to make it without being aware, while HQ are.

This isn’t about favouring any particular candidate, but ensuring people get the chance to choose between a wide range of them. The nomination hurdle for the party presidency is ridiculously high, and the party would be weaker with a reduced field of candidates in the election.

UPDATE: I’m informed that Liz Lynne has sufficient nominations.

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(not taken during today's vote)

(not taken during today’s vote)

As I said before, I couldn’t make it to Liberal Democrat Conference this year, but thanks to BBC Parliament I’ve been able to watch the debates so far, and thanks to Twitter I’ve been able to have some contribution into ongoing debates and discussions. I’m glad to see that Conference agreed the ‘one member, one vote’ proposal but with Mark Pack’s amendment that means some work has to be done before it’s introduced.

It was an interesting debate to watch, though the amount of straw man arguments and false dichotomies being put forward was somewhat dizzying to watch. As far as I can tell, there are very few people in the party who oppose widening democracy within it, but there’s a wide range of views on how to do it and so Conference made the right decision. We’ve agreed that we want the principle of one member, one vote, but now we have to agree on how to implement that before it comes into force.

The question I’ve been asking for a while – and no one supporting the proposals gave an answer to in the debate – was how are members who can’t be at Conference going to be represented under any new system? We’ve heard lots of tales of people who want to come to Conference but can’t be conference representatives under the current system, but nothing to suggest that the views of those who can’t make it to Conference because of time, money, other commitments or any other reason have any importance.

That got me thinking – why are we fixated on voting at Conference? Sure, Conference is a great event for party members to go to, and political party conferences have been around for a long time, but are they necessarily the best way of deciding a political party’s policies in 2014? If we were creating a political party from scratch, would we insist that the only way they can decide on that party’s policies is if they can get to a certain city on a certain set of dates, while paying quite heavily for the privilege of doing so? Shouldn’t we be looking at a system that suits the way people, technology and politics work now, rather than patching up a system based on the technologies and politics of decades ago?

That’s why one suggestion in the debate chimed with what I’ve been thinking over the last week or so – we need a full review and rewrite of the party’s constitution to review everything about the way the party works. The party constitution wasn’t set out in stone, and lots of things have changed in the twenty-five years since it was first written. There’s a lot that has changed since then – not least the party actually being in Government – and it makes sense to me for us to review everything about how we work in the light of all that experience. If we want a party that really empowers all its members, and gives them all an equal voice in running it, then we need to be prepared to make some real reforms to it, not just bodging together something to try and fix it up again and again.

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key_conference_votingI won’t be at Conference this year (in short: didn’t know if I’d have the time, then when it looked like I did have the time, costs had gone up so much I didn’t have the money) so my contribution will be the occasional blog post and the odd bit of long distance heckling via Twitter. Even if I can’t be there, I can still hope to influence those of you who are there.

It’s that issue of who gets to have a say that’s getting my attention first. On Saturday afternoon, Conference will be voting on an amendment that will radically alter the way the party works. It’s billed as ‘Expanding the democracy of our party with one member, one vote’ because, after all, what Lib Dem would want to say they’re against expanding democracy? Why, it’d be like declaring yourself to be against Shirley Williams!

The problem is that the principle behind the motion – giving all party members a say in policy and how the party’s run – is good and democratic, but the actual proposal doesn’t really deliver on that principle. As I’ve said before, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that democracy is just about voting for things, so therefore if more people have more chances to vote for more things, then everything must be more democratic. The assumption behind the OMOV proposals is that simply making it so that any member can vote at conference and any member can vote for party committees is intrinsically more democractic, regardless of how it’s implemented.

As Mark Pack and others have pointed out (disclaimer: I’ve seconded Mark’s amendment), the proposals that have been submitted to Conference are a mess in what they’re attempting to achieve, and don’t even address the wider issues of ensuring that the expanded electorate is an informed electorate. I don’t dispute the idea that giving more members a say in the process is a good one, or that there are some members effectively disenfranchised by the current system, but that doesn’t mean that any replacement system is necessarily better. Bringing in a dog’s breakfast of changes and crossing our fingers that there won’t be problems or that we’ll sort them out when they turn up is pretty much the same idea David Cameron has for dealing with constitutional reform.

The problem I see is that any real one-member-one-vote system isn’t actually compatible with the ‘Conference runs everything’ system we have at the moment. (For a simple example of this, imagine if every member wanted to attend Conference and use their vote if the new system comes in) At present most of those who can’t attend Conference – because they can’t afford it or because they don’t have the time – are represented there by representatives from their local party who they can influence. Change the system to the one being proposed, and how are those who can’t get to Conference going to be represented? They won’t be represented by anyone from their local party, and if they can’t get to Conference themselves, they’ve been completely disenfranchised.

The point is that just giving people the vote is only step one in the process, and no real plan is being put forward for step two and beyond. Passing the OMOV proposals in their current form doesn’t address the issue of making the party a genuine mass democracy, which would involve a lot more changes than most people want to consider.

If you’re genuinely interested in expanding the democracy of our party, then vote for Mark’s amendment or to refer back this motion so proposals that actually do that can be created. Democracy doesn’t just come about because we pass a motion and declare ourselves more democratic, and voting for this proposal as is would be to stumble forward into the dark in the hope we can make it happen.

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After giving the matter no consideration and not talking it over with anyone, I’ve decided to stand for Liberal Democrat Party President.

My key priorities will be to reduce the party membership, not listen to any of those members who do remain and to do all I can to ensure that we lose as many elections as possible.

I’m proud to say that I’m definitely in favour of bad things. I’m committed to regressive values and promoting injustice wherever I can, I want fewer good things for everyone in the party and will be working hard to ensure that people lose whatever good things they have.

Actually, I lie when I say I’ll be working hard. As President, I’ll be doing as little as possible and whenever I do bother to go out and visit somewhere, I’ll make it my aim to demotivate them, stop them raising any money and help them lose whatever elections they’re fighting. I’ll be able to do this because I’ve got no experience in campaigning, have never met anyone else in the party and yet somehow know nothing of the world outside politics either.

My approach can be summed up as complete conservation, seeking to keep us doing everything exactly as it’s been done in the past with no changes whatsoever.

So, vote for me for a commitment to making no commitments, stronger fairs, economic societies and a President who really doesn’t want the job and probably wouldn’t be very good at it anyway.

Read the rest of this entry

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Let’s say you want to see the House of Lords replaced by an elected chamber. ‘Great!’ Someone tells you. ‘Then you’ll love my plan! I want the upper house to consist of three hundred senators, each one elected from a single constituency at each General Election with the same electoral system as MPs, will you support me?’ You say no, because that’s not the sort of upper house you want to see, but before you can talk about the flaws in that plan or explain a way to improve it, the proposer starts telling you that you’re clearly not interested in electing an upper house because if you were you’d support their idea whole-heartedly and then make any changes after it’s introduced.

It’s an odd example, but it’s how I feel after encountering the people who are proposing that the Liberal Democrats switch to ‘one member, one vote’ (no more local party representatives at party conference, and federal committees elected by all members not just conference reps). Various people – including me – who aren’t opposed to widening the electoral franchise or changing the way Conference works have pointed out that there are various flaws with the current proposals, and in return the response has come that we clearly don’t support the idea at all, and that if there are problems then we should support the proposal as it is and look to fix them afterwards.

The problem I have with the proposals is that they fall into a trap that’s common in British politics in assuming that democracy is about voting for things, so if we have more people able to vote for more things then we must be more democratic, right? This ignores the fact that democracy is a process, not an event, and to make something ‘more democratic’ is about more than just reforming voting procedures. Whoever the electorate is, they need to be engaged and informed about the process they’re part of, and there are no proposals to change that process.

At an electoral level, there’s no commitment to change or invest in the electoral process to ensure that members are actually able to make an informed choice about who they’re voting for. As it stands, we’re likely to get more manifestos that say effectively nothing and have to rely on individual members giving up a lot of their time to ensure there’s any scrutiny of people standing for election. If we want a more open and democratic process then effort has to be put into achieving it, not just crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. (My proposal would be to publish manifestos and open campaigning three or four weeks before voting opens, giving proper time to campaign)

There are lots of other things that have been suggested (see the comments here for examples) but the point is that they should be introduced at the same time, not some add-ons to be potentially brought in at a later date. Over the years, I’ve seen too many packages of reforms in different fields that have introduced a first phase with a future second phase promised but never delivered (to go back to the beginning, look at House of Lords reforms) and I think just introducing ‘one member one vote’ without contemplating the wider implications of it is a mistake. I worry that people seem to think it’s a magic fix for everything they perceive as wrong with the party, and are assuming that ‘more democracy’ is automatically better without considering what ‘more democracy’ actually means.

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The Problem With Liberal Democrats In Government – That sound you hear? Jennie Rigg hitting a nail perfectly on the head.
Let’s end this Christmas Psalms Race – Jim Jepps has some entirely reasonable suggestions for keeping Christmas entirely within December.
Welcome to Pyongyang – Simon Titley discusses Liberal Democrat internal democracy on Liberator’s blog.
The rise of UKIP: what does it all mean? – Analysis from Dr Rob Ford on Political Betting.
Is politics impossible for ordinary people? – “Can an ordinary person sustain the disdain bordering on hatred directed at politicians (of all parties) mixed with the irrational and overly emotional expectations of modern voters?”

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