Tomorrow’s English Lib Dems Council meeting held at University College London will probably be one of the more interesting ones in a while. I say this as someone who has always found English Lib Dem Executive interesting, but been less engaged by the English Council. The reason for this is that it sees motions to implement the rules on diversity that the party’s Federal Conference voted for in March, changes in the way that the English Party operates to bring in OMOV and a revised structure for the state party and, in a change to the originally advertised programme, an open discussion on the EU referendum result and a possible snap General Election. There will also be a presentation by the party’s Chief Executive Tim Gordon.
But before I go on to those, here’s a few excerpts from the various reports from the English party officers and its representatives on other party committees that have been presented to the English Council meeting:
- As has been widely advertised, the party has seen another surge in its membership since the EU Referendum (about 12,000 new members at the time of writing) but last year’s post-General Election surge has largely held up. Two-thirds of those new members from last year renewed immediately and signs are that a good proportion of those left will renew before their membership expires.
- A proposal will be going to Federal Conference to increase the proportion of membership subscriptions that go the federal party from 44% to 45%. This is intended to help improve the national party’s cashflow.
- The membership incentive scheme has been a great encouragement to local parties to recruit new members, however it was always intended to reward local party efforts rather than just to hand extra cash to local parties as a result of a national membership surge. There is an expectation that the way the incentive scheme works will be reviewed in the light of the most recent membership surge.
- A further 53 General Election candidates have been approved since May 2015 which will help plug some inevitable gaps should there be a snap General Election this Autumn. I’ve been impressed at how rapidly the state and regional candidate officers have sprung in to action to ensure that we already have pretty advanced plans should there be a General Election this Autumn.
- The Party President has set up a diversity taskforce following the motion passed at Spring Conference. She is also looking in to complaints about allegations of sexual harassment at conference, however although this may achieve some important changing of the culture, action can only be taken by state parties on specific complaints if people are prepared to provide information so that the party can investigate. I appreciate this can be difficult for people but as I’ve said before I am very impressed by the party’s Pastoral Care Officer and so I’d urge people to contact her. You will be supported. Her details are going to be included in future conference directories but you can also make complaints here.
- Although the EU Referendum didn’t see the result we wanted it was felt that the engagement by members was impressive, including one weekend when over half of all local parties had a street stall.
- Proposals on the party’s Governance Review will be presented to the party’s Autumn Conference. Whilst I support many of the draft proposals there will inevitably be some that are controversial. There is also the possibility of course that it will all have to be delayed if there is a snap General Election.
- The Federal Policy Committee is currently recruiting to four new policy working groups on industrial policy, foreign affairs, education and rural issues. The deadline for applications is the 4th July so you need to act quickly if you want to join them. More details can be found here.
- The Federal Policy Committee are actively looking at ways to engage more people in the policy making process. Consultation sessions at conference have been improved, Skype is now routinely used for members of policy working groups and they are looking to develop packs that can be used by local parties for each topic under discussion.
- The York Spring Conference saw the highest attendance at a Spring Conference that there’s been for a long time. It also made a small profit which is very positive given that traditionally it has made a loss, and this is largely due to efforts by the Federal Conference Committe and Conference Office to run the conference on a smaller budget.
- The Federal Conference Committee is reviewing how ‘interventions’ are made in conference debates. These are short contributions made from the hall, but as such it is harder to balance opinions according to the debate or on diversity. Suggestions on how to improve this are welcome.
- Liberal Youth are organising an Activate weekend for younger activists on 28th July. They are also planning their freshers’ campaigns including mental health, house building and the EU referendum response. They are also looking to create guides to help Liberal Youth regional parties to run better action days.
Motion: Changing the Westminster selection rules
This follows on from the motion at Spring Federal Conference and as such probably needs little extra information here (you can download the motion that was passed in the agenda from that conference available here).
There is however an amendment that would seek to change the threshold at which a region had to designate a seat to select from an all-woman shortlist from having at least two seats receiving 25% or more of the vote to having 20% or more of the vote. This would ensure that those regions who previously didn’t need to designate a seat would now have to do so. At the same time however an additional clause would also ensure that all-woman shortlists cannot be imposed on a seat without their agreement as long as they can prove their ‘gender balance credentials’. I’m not entirely sure what this means.
Whilst I was always opposed to the original diversity motion, (for a variety of reasons which there isn’t time to go in to here but was largely around the principle that we shouldn’t stop seats from selecting the right candidate for their seat regardless of characteristic and about the effect the motion would have on other forms of diversity), I do feel that the expression of feeling given by the Federal Conference was such that this motion does need to go through. I will however listen to the debate on the amendment as I need to fully understand what it means before I decide how to vote on that.
Motion: Restructuring the English Party
The English Council last November approved a strategy paper that included creating a new structure for the English Party. The party has also now adopted One Member One Vote (OMOV) at a federal level and so this will now be introduced at state and regional level. The amendments to achieve all of these things are too detailed (and dull) to explain here, however in addition to OMOV the key changes proposed at this meeting would in summary:
- Replace English Council with an English Conference which all members in England can attend. For logistical reasons this is expected to become a part of Federal Conference.
- Replace the current English Council Executive (ECE) that is comprised of all regional chairs, a number of specific office holders (such as chair, vice-chair, treasurer, candidates etc), and 11 additional members directly-elected by English Council. Instead it would become a committee comprised of just regional chairs and a slightly increased number of specific office holders elected by all English members – chair, campaigns, candidates, finance, members and standards.
- Replace yearly elections with two-yearly elections.
Since these proposals were originally put forward one key change is that the Federal Executive has expressed a desire to move to three-year cycles for all federal, state and regional committees, with each level electing in a different year. I appreciate the neatness of this, but I know there is some concern that at at a regional level committing to three years as a regional chair might put off some people who are prepared to do it for a year and see how it goes. I have a lot of sympathy for that argument as someone who was regional chair for a year and decided that it wasn’t the right time for me to continue but wouldn’t want to let the region down by resigning early.
There is also an additional amendment which would see the retention of a smaller number of directly-elected members of English Council Executive members rather than abolishing them completely. Rather than the 11 at present it would see five which is consistent with the sub-committees of ECE. Again, I have some sympathy for this, and not just because I am a current directly-elected member, as it allows you to include some additional people with useful skills and experience who don’t have the time to be a regional chair or are perhaps former experienced regional chairs whose knowledge you would value, but I will again listen to the debate before deciding how to vote.
There is a valid argument to be made about whether this is the right time to be making these changes to the English Party structure when we don’t know how the party’s federal Governance Review will impact on state parties. Some recognition of this is seen in that the full change to OMOV won’t be made until the Governance Review has concluded and the proposals do show a willingness by the English Party to examine whether it does work in the best way. However, despite the mandate given to explore these changes given by the last English Council I worry that some of this will end up having to be unpicked again once the Governance Review has been approved (or not) by Federal Conference. Having said that I do largely support what is proposed and so plan to support the motion as a whole.
I had anticipated this post being shorter than usual due to the more straightforward agenda. Seems it wasn’t to be so, but as always feel free to contact me by either writing a comment or filling in the comment form available in the header of this website which then comes to me directly via email.