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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Take a number – Outside magazine reports on some of the deaths to have occurred amongst people climbing Everest this year. (via)
Policing The Land – in honour of #ldconf – Sarah Brown rewrites The Land to make it fit the brave new world of accreditation and security theatre.
Clegg and coalition six months on – James Graham looks at what’s happened in the Lib Dems six months after he left. Long, but well worth reading.
Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math – A couple of months old, but I’ve only just seen it. Some figures and projections in there that will keep you up at night.
One big rule if you’re writing about politics – Andrew Hickey has a simple rule to work out who’s worth reading and who’s not.

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Warning: contains a double dose of tactical nuclear bastard.

The 24 types of Libertarian – Cut out and use as a game of bingo in certain comments threads. (via)
Liberal – but not so democratic in the Lords – James Graham looks at why Lib Dem peers seem so reluctant to abolish their cushy, well-rewarded sinecures and proposes a radical suggestion.
My ‘yes’ campaign hell – I’m thinking of compiling a book featuring all the post-referendum reports from Yes To Fairer Votes staffers, entitled How Not To Run A Campaign. This is James Graham’s chapter.
Illiberal conference: Blog post roundup and things you can do – Zoe O’Connell on the way the party has acquiesced in allowing police vetting of delegates to Conference, and how to protest about it.
Practical Tips on Writing a Book from 23 Brilliant Authors – Lots of useful tips in there, even if some of them are contradictory. (via)

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Yesterday, I learnt something I didn’t know before about British politics – the police claim the right to pre-emptively veto people attending the conferences of political parties.

I probably wasn’t go to go to Liberal Democrat Conference this year, as various other commitments and the hassle of getting to Birmingham and back likely outweighed the benefit I could get from it. So, I didn’t really notice the email about booking for it being opened and the new security arrangements that had been put in place until they created a large storm of concern amongst Liberal Democrat twitterers and bloggers.

If you haven’t heard the news yet, then this is it: to register for a Lib Dem Conference now, you have to provide a passport number, NI number or driving licence number as well as a photo that complies with passport rules. This information will then be passed on to Greater Manchester Police (on behalf of West Midlands Police) to assess whether you’re a security risk and decide if you’re entitled to come to Conference. Oh, and they’ll also want to keep the data you supply to them in one of those handily-secure databases from which information never gets leaked.

Now, I can understand these sort of rules being imposed onto the Labour and Conservative conferences without protest because – as recent political history shows – both parties are full of people extremely happy to trade liberty for the appearance of security and neither of their conferences get to decide much of importance. We, however, are meant to be different – we’re liberals, we’re against this sort of thing.

That the Federal Conference Committee and the party hierarchy rolled over so meekly at this request from the police worries me – what else is being acquiesced to behind the scenes in the name of ‘security’ that we’re not being told about? Why were we not told that anything like this was in the works before it was suddenly landed on people?

And then there’s the big question that really troubles me – why are so many people who call themselves Liberal Democrats so happy to meekly roll over and accept this? Do they not realise how ridiculous they sound when they bleat about security and how it’s nothing to be worried about because it probably won’t lead to you or anyone you know being banned? As others have said, the one thing that now makes me want to go to Conference is the prospect of party policy being set by people who are quite happy to nod their heads and agree to something like this – what else might they give away on the grounds it doesn’t really affect them?

If you’ve made it this far, then will you please sign the open letter or the petition against this?

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I’ve been mentioned in the Daily Mirror. Sadly, not for any great achievement on my part, or coming out with some great opinion that needed to be heard by the people, but because they can’t be bothered to report a story properly. I was one of several people who tweeted from the Lib Dem Special Conference yesterday about Tom McNally and Chris Huhne pledging to leave the Government if the Human Rights Act goes but I was the one named as a source by the Mirror – possibly because I’m a councillor and say so on my Twitter profile – rather than any of the many others who mentioned it as well.

Of course, a decent journalist might have contacted Huhne or McNally themselves, but why go through all the hassle of having to work out how to get in touch with a Liberal Democrat minister when your deadline’s pressing, and you can just do all your work by following Twitter hashtags?

Tomorrow’s Mirror headline: Lib Dems are secretly alien lizards from space. Though I am kind of hoping some crazed follower of David Icke will one day find that and hold it up as proof that the Turquoise Messiah is right.

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My first Special Conference in almost fifteen years – the last one was an NUS one in Derby about tuition fees and free education in 1996 – and what promises to be an interesting afternoon.

Still haven’t written my king-promised post about the coalition thanks to all the meetings the last week has spawned getting in the way, but at the moment my vote this afternoon looks like being a cautious yes with support for the amendments.

On my way across Birmingham to the NEC now – first time I’ve been there since the 90s too – and I shall be Twittering throughout the day. #ldconf is the preferred hashtag if you’re looking for tweets about it.

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