Liberal Democrats

Lib Dems: English Executive – 21st January 2017

A new year, a new committee and a new chair. However this first meeting of the English Lib Dem Executive will be a surprisingly short one. First, with many of the other party bodies having taken a rest over Christmas and the New Year, and even more so this year given the membership of most regional and federal committees having only just been elected, it’s been a fairly quiet time. Secondly though, and more significantly from an English Lib Dem point of view, this meeting of the English Executive  is being condensed in to the first half of the day so that the English Review Group, which is considering how the party should be structured in England, can meet in the afternoon. I explained the process of the English Review Group in my report on December’s English Council and so I won’t run through it again, but essentially this get together today will be a facilitated discussion that will come up with a set of options that will be put to the members for discussion over the coming months and which will then be turned in to some more concrete options in time for the next English Council in June. The membership of the English Review Group (of which I am one) is one person from each English region and amongst this membership are a range of opinions on how things are best structured in the future from complete abolition to a variation on the current structure. I don’t think there’s anyone however who believes things should remain exactly as they are. It should be an interesting discussion.

One decision that will also be made at this first meeting of the English Executive is the membership of the English party’s sub-committees and the election of some of its other officers. I will provide a full list of these in the comments below this post after the meeting. That will also allow me to post the names of the new regional chairs as a few of these have changed this year and I don’t know the names of them all yet and all regional chairs are ex officio members of the English Executive.

Here, however, are a few (perhaps a few too many) bullet points from the reports that have come to today’s English Executive meeting:

  • The party’s new Federal Board (which has replaced the Federal Executive) has had an away day to develop the party’s strategy. If you want to influence how the party is run over the next three years then there’s probably never been a better time to do it.
  • Tim Farron has stated an aim to have 100,000 party members (at the end of 2016 the membership in England was 70,579 – the highest for well over a decade following floods of new members after the General Election, EU Referendum and Trump’s election). Recruiting and retaining these members will need significant support from regional parties, especially in the less active local parties. The party’s recent success with digital communications in by-elections has shown how much more the party can do on this front in other levels of the party although direct human contact is still vital.
  • Compliance with election and political funding laws and with party membership rules is becoming increasingly complex and although many of the more difficult cases are handled at state level and by Federal party staff, regions are increasingly needed to give a lot of support to the process. The Electoral Commission fine was discussed in some detail by the Federal Board, although I’m not able to share any further details.
  • The party has appointed regional spokespeople on Brexit. Whilst the individuals appointed have been largely welcomed, there has been some unhappiness that the first most regional parties knew of it was when they were mentioned in an article on Lib Dem Voice. A personal aside from me – I remain convinced that most of the problems or upset in the party come from people simply not talking to each other about something.
  • The Federal Board has a number of vacancies to fill. More details here.
  • The budget for the party’s G8 scheme which helps give financial support for campaigning at a local level has been given a one-off increase this year given the scale of next year’s English county and Scottish and Welsh local elections. Most of the money is being targeted at gains. In recent years G8 has also helped subsidise the excellent (I can say that now without being biased) Kickstart training weekends organised by ALDC, and this year the September weekend will be moved to July to give people even more of a head start for their 2018 and 2019 elections.
  • The English Candidates’ Committee (ECC) would like regions to make available via regional newsletters etc. more information on the candidates process and how it will proceed once the current snap General Election candidates cease to be candidates in May. In particular there remains a need for more returning officers, assessors, facilitators and candidates themselves. Regions will also have a very busy 2017 considering areas such as the party’s diversity requirements and how this relates to specific seats, candidate compacts and boundary changes.
  • ECC is considering how decisions on a snap General Election are communicated in the future. This time around a decision to put in candidates was made at Federal level which then had to be implemented by the state and regional parties, but there was considerable upset in some areas on how this was done.
  • ECC is also grappling with the issue of how the party handles the seat where the Speaker is an MP as by convention this isn’t fought by the main parties (some people would like a rule that the party never stands in that seat, whereas others think it should be contested), how candidates get updated information on party policy and whether there should be a representative of party candidates who live abroad as others are co-ordinated either by their state or regional party which doesn’t apply to overseas members.
  • Federal Policy Committee (FPC) has adopted standing orders for the first time and will also now be doing a regular report back on its activities following each meeting.
  • FPC recently considered the proposals to have emerged from the party’s Nuclear Weapons Policy Working Group, and these will be going to Spring Conference. It is also creating a new group on Immigration and Identity. There will also be a motion going to conference on faith schools which it is felt to be a significant enough issue on its own to not be subsumed in to any policy papers on education in general.
  • There is a proposal to this meeting of the English Executive that there should be a newsletter to members in England to include regional reports, candidate news, a financial update and simple information from the party within England.

Finally, I try and write these posts in as comprehensive and timely a fashion as possible and update anything I’ve said in them or that emerged at the meeting via the comments section below. Sometimes however life gets in the way of this and even though these posts can at times feel far too lengthy I’m happy to give more detail where I know it if I’m contacted directly (there’s a contact form on this blog). Where I don’t know an answer then I can put party members in touch with someone who does. Don’t forget there’s also a section on the members’ section of the Liberal Democrat website that includes reports and notes from party meetings at Federal and English level.

 

Lib Dems: English Council – 10th December 2016

This English Council (EC) is later than usual as normally it would be held in November, but it was postponed due to the Witney by-election. The big change since the previous meeting is that the English Party has elected a new Chair for 2017 Liz Leffman who will take over from Steve Jarvis on 1st January. Steve has been Chair for two years and was previously treasurer of the English Party and so has worked very hard and done a great job for the party for some time and I certainly appreciate all that he’s done. Although his proposals to reform the English Party were sent back for review, it’s interesting that despite being pretty much English Party establishment he has been very keen on changing the way it works. It will be interesting to see where Liz takes the party in this respect over the next year.

Due to there not being enough nominations I have been ‘re-elected’ to the English Executive again for 2017, and a by-election is now underway to fill the remaining three vacancies. I’ll report on the full set of new committee members when they are all known in January.

English Council reports are often made up of items that have already been reported through English Council Executive meetings, and so here are any updates or new developments that I feel I should highlight, in no particular order:

Federal Policy Committee

There are three areas of policy work that are currently active – rural communities, 21st century economy and education. The FPC and FCC have both operated a system of ‘regional reps’ who are existing members of those committee and operate as a link between that region (and SAOs) and the committee. It was noted at EC that this wasn’t working particularly well as some reps have close links with their region whilst others no one has ever heard from. This may be reviewed when the new federal committees are elected.

English Review Group

Despite a desire by this group to get on with the process of reviewing how the party functions in England its work has been delayed by both the Witney and Richmond Park by-elections. It was then felt best to hold off slightly until the outcome of the English Party’s Chair’s election was known. All of these delays and the change of Chair has resulted in a revision to the process. The original plan was a two-stage process. First a set of open questions would go out to the membership asking what the party should look like in England and what they feel the pros and cons are of the current structure. This would then be narrowed down to a set of options to be consulted on around the time of Spring Federal Conference, with a final set of revised options to be presented to the English Council meeting in June for a vote. There has been some pressure to stick to the original plan of getting this done in time for June English Council and so now the English Review Group will take the responses from the original Party Governance Review, views from their own regional membership and these will be discussed at an away day in January where we will come up with a set of three options that we believe would make a good start for debate. These will then be presented to the members to comment on and a final decision will still be made in June. This feels less open in some respects, but there has been concern from some people that having a range of open questions initially would simply re-run the consultation done by the Party Governance Review less than a year ago and create a volume of replies that then wouldn’t be handled in time for this process to be completed by June.

One thing I should really emphasise is that this is not, as been claimed elsewhere, an attempt at self-preservation by the English Party. The group is made up of people with a range of views including those who would retain the English level but revise its powers and processes, those who want to scrap the English level and push its powers up to federal level, and those who want to scrap the English level and push its powers down to regional level. In reality I think all members of the group are open to having a debate about it and it is likely that the group will present options rather than just one answer. I would also be interested in seeing some alternative ideas that can’t neatly be pigeon-holed in to any of the three broad positions. What I’ve realised over the years is that plenty of people agree on wanting to abolish the English Party but not many people agree on what should be done with the powers that it does have, how you create an effective link between the regional and federal parties, or given any thought on how this impacts on the Scottish and Welsh Parties, and hopefully this process will do that.

Changing the membership rules

This motion to the English Council proposed to scrap the current one-year rule in England where you need to be a member for a year (in reality to have renewed once) before you can vote in party selections. This was introduced some years ago, and at the time to little controversy, to deal with entryism where a group of connected individuals recruit a large number of new members to the party with the intention of taking over a local party and imposing a candidate of their own choice on the members. The argument for its scrapping was that we now have such a large number of new members who have chosen to join on an individual basis that this is unfair on a large group of people, in many places a majority, who are keen to participate and are definitely not entryists. It has also been emphasised that the party’s new membership systems can pick up any attempts at entryism and these can be handled using other party rules. This motion went through comfortably with very few votes against.

English Candidates’ Committee

There will be a new chair next year, but I think everyone who has worked with the outgoing and retiring Chair Richard Brett, knows the amount of effort he’s put in, in particular recently at trying to improve communications between the state candidate processes and the federal committees.

The currently ‘selected’ parliamentary candidates are in place until 31st May 2017 when new selections will get underway. Any local party who wants to be part of the first tranche of selections can start now in the making the preparations for this, such as preparing constituency profiles, working out the timings, choosing a selection committee and so on.

Finance and membership

The party has recently seen another slight uplift in its membership thanks to the election of Donald Trump as US President. As a result of the increased membership throughout the year the party in England has manged to see a small surplus in its budget for the first time in a while. The increase in membership has however of course increased the cost of running the Membership Department.

The budget for the Membership Department has been increased for 2017 to help them handle the larger party membership. 50,000 of the party’s members will be due to renew in the middle of 2017 and so this will be a huge challenge. The Compliance Department’s budget has also had a modest increase.

Preview of English Lib Dem Executive – Sat 29th Oct 2016

I’ve not managed to blog the last English Council Executive (ECE) meeting or follow up on the English Council (EC) meeting which I feel a bit frustrated by. This has been due to some personal circumstances and a slight reticence whilst I was in the process of job hunting given advice received from a couple of recruitment agencies that being seen to be currently politically active might jeopardise my employment chances. I’m not sure whether that’s true but you don’t want to take the risk. With me now having been recruited for a new role starting soon, and having a little more time on my hands, I am trying to catch up with some of the English Party’s activities in light of tomorrow’s ECE meeting which is back meeting at Lib Dem HQ for the first time in a while.

As always this post has ended up far too long, however there are at least two pretty chunky areas that are seeing a lot of work which you can read more about here… (more…)

Preview of English Lib Dem Council – Sat 2nd Jul 2016

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.

English Lib Dem Executive Report – Sat 19th March 2016

Here’s my regular report from the English Lib Dem Executive (ECE), this time from the one held last Saturday. I wrote a post before the meeting and so this is adding to that report.

First, a short clarification from that report. The membership figure I gave was just for England rather than the total party membership. However the English Party treasurer reported back at the meeting that the figure had since been revised upwards and so he needed to clarify the exact figure. So I suppose it’s fair to say the figure is at least the 52,654 I gave before.

So here are the main points from the meeting, which is a mixture of discussion arising from the reports presented to the meeting, and a lengthier discussion that looked specifically at some of the points that had come out of the General Election Review and the Party Governance Review:

  • The party has considered the option of moving Lib Dem HQ out of London but the cost is the largest barrier because there would still need to be some sort of base in London which would mean the party would have to sustain two HQ buildings not one.
  • The costs of running Spring Conference this year were substantially less than they have been, and if you exclude staff costs made roughly a £5,000 loss which perhaps isn’t as significant as was originally thought. I should say that this figure is approximate and based on information supplied to the Federal Conference Committee and so I don’t know how it is calculated. The conference hall overflow area in the exhibition area turned out to not be needed (although a couple of debates came close to being full), however the cost of having ‘hard-shell’ stands may mean that the exhibition at Spring probably won’t return to exactly how it used to be. There was a clear desire at the meeting that Spring Conference should continue, whether this is as a Federal event or just an English one.
  • The party is currently recruiting a new Director of Campaigns and Elections and it was proposed that ECE should request that the English Chair be on the interview panel. I was happy to support that as it provides a link between the appointment and regional parties, however the decision was clearly not in our hands and we didn’t know who was already proposed to be on the panel.
  • The next English Council is moving to early July (since the meeting it was agreed to be on the 2nd July) as it was originally scheduled to be the weekend before the EU Referendum. There was a suggestion it was instead moved earlier to mid May to allow the changes to candidate selection rules to take place sooner rather than later, but the time taken to come up with the rule changes and to properly consult on them makes that difficult. I made a request that we engage much more extensively with the wider party on this than we usually do as the decision will be of interest to a lot of people who aren’t on English Council.
  • Whilst on the subject of candidates, there are many parts of the candidate selection process that constituencies can get on with before the rules are agreed and will allow them to advertise as soon as the rules are sorted (as I’ve said previously, if you’re in a seat that wants to be an early selection you need to contact your Regional Candidates’ Chair ASAP). A briefing note will be sent to all local party chairs to make sure they’re aware of the schedule and what they need to do to select. Unlike in the last parliament, where both state and federal parties agreed that we should wait until boundary changes were known before candidates were selected there is no suggestion that this should happen this time. In most cases a selection will stand regardless of boundary changes, although a handful may have to reselect if the changes are particularly extensive. In cases where the majority of the new seat was in a seat that was previously selected under an All-Women Shortlist then the new one will be. It’s important to be aware that the next boundary changes will not just be a dusting off of the previous proposals with just a few tweaks, as the electorate has changed quite dramatically in some areas and this will have a knock-on effect even if there are areas that look as though they closely match what happened last time. This is something that the party needs to be taking more seriously.
  • Whilst on rule changes, the next English Council meeting will also consider changes to bring in One Member One Vote to the English Party and changing the current make-up of ECE. The original plans for this were outlined in the English Strategy document agreed last November, but these have now been turned in to some draft amendments that will be tweaked by a small group of ECE members before being circulated more widely. With all members in England being able to vote it would see English Council instead replaced with an English Conference which due to its potential size could be a part of Federal Conference, or run as a standalone event. Whatever happens however it would need a very different sort of agenda as the current format of English Council is pretty dry and wouldn’t engage the members that well (or at least wouldn’t encourage them to come back). The membership of ECE is also proposed to change to instead be made up of the English Party officers, English regional chairs and Liberal Youth England Chair as now, but without the 11 additional elected members (of which I am one). The officers, who would all be directly elected by all members in England, are currently proposed to be made up of the chair and five vice-chairs covering campaigns, candidates, compliance, finance and membership. The last four of these are all specific responsibilities of the English Party, but the addition of a campaigns role is designed to ensure better links between Lib Dem HQ’s campaigns function and the campaigning role performed by English regional parties. Each of the vice-chairs would have a committee to help in their work whose members would be elected by ECE with any member within England eligible to stand for election. Whilst I think the English Party does need to get on with introducing one-member-one-vote I have some doubts about immediately changing the structure of the English Party’s governance even though the general thrust of these changes were agreed by English Council last November. Given that the party’s Federal Governance Review has yet to reach a conclusion and there is likely to be a knock-on effect we perhaps should be waiting for that to conclude first even though it is entirely within the gift of any state party to structure itself as it wishes.
  • Liberal Youth England is keen to promote its Branch Development Fund which helps Liberal Youth branches get up and running. They had a very good turnout at their latest conference and there’s quite a bit of optimism.
  • There was some concern expressed at the meeting about the idea of combining candidates with campaigns in any new party structure. Those who have been involved in the candidates process were pretty passionate about the need to revisit this suggestion contained within the Governance Review. It was accepted that the work of the candidates function is currently poorly understood and there is a lack of communication (in both directions) between candidates and campaigns which needs to be resolved. However, there is also a potential conflict of interest between campaigns and candidates that could end up leading to interfering in specific selections with the result that they are less impartial and fair to all involved and lead to further conflict and formal complaints. The job of a candidates’ chair at national or regional level is already a nearly full time role where the regions do most the work on the ground but wouldn’t be helped by then being separated from those people on the national committee that co-ordinates it. This is a debate that will no doubt continue.
  • There was some discussion about how people are elected to party committees. The Governance Review asks if directly-elected members should be in the majority, and ECE agreed that they should so what the committees do is generally owned by the membership, which is a current issue that affects the credibility of how the English Party operates. This should however include state representatives as being seen as directly elected. However there could be various ways in which direct election is done, such as people being elected within regional constituencies to ensure a broader geographic spread. It was mentioned that the chair of the English Party is currently around the third most northerly English member of the Federal Executive and he lives in Hertfordshire.
  • Regional chairs were concerned that they hadn’t seen the full General Election Review which they thought they had been promised. The summary version that is publicly available contains many recommendations and assertions, but without the full version it is difficult to know how those conclusions were reached and what issues were identified that led to them. It was agreed that it should be kept confidential, but if regions are to play a full role in rebuilding the party then the chairs felt they needed to be better informed.
  • The English Party has awarded an annual Penhaligon Award for membership each year. This has traditionally been about not only membership increase but also engagement. There was a suggestion that rather than awarding it in the Autumn, it should be postponed until next Spring and given to the local party that does the most over the Summer and early Autumn to retain membership from the post-General Election surge.

The next meeting is on Saturday 21st May.

Preview of English Lib Dem Executive – Sat 19th March 2016

It’s time for the next executive meeting of the English Lib Dems (or English Council Executive or ECE depending on your preference) and so here’s my preview of what is on the agenda and items that I’ve picked out from the reports presented to it. I’m pleased to see that the agendas and minutes for English and Federal Party meetings are now being regularly posted in the members’ area of the party website. To view the agenda (but not the reports) for this meeting you need to log-in and then go here.

Before I get in to the meeting I just want to point out that the first set of proposals from the party’s Governance Review is available. Despite my interest in this which led to me sending in a (far too) extensive response to the initial consultation, this had completely passed me by and I was still awaiting the report. Unless you get the full conference papers mailing you wouldn’t have had a paper copy and so given the interest that there was in this when it first got underway I want to encourage party members to now respond to the generally good set of proposals that have now been produced.

The agenda for this meeting largely involves discussing the various party reviews (general election and governance) and strategies (English) and so until the discussion has been had there’s a limit to what I can report on those. However, here are what I think are the key points from the agenda papers:

  • There is some discussion about replacing the Spring Federal Conference with a Spring English Conference. This is partly reflecting the attendees of this event, but also a need to review it in light of the cost of hosting it. This is also tied in to the future governance model of the party however, and the party is still booking a venue for 2017 and so it may not change immediately. This year’s Spring Conference was the highest attended ever with over 1,400 members and around 250 first-time attendees but is still likely to make a loss due to the fewer external organisations, media and observers attending.
  • The party is working on plans to improve communications between Lib Dem HQ and the membership, as this is something that is often cited as not being quite right whether it’s in volume (too much or too little, depending on your take) and whether the tone and channels are quite right. Ad Lib magazine is now an all-members magazine and it has been agreed that there will be a section containing news from regional parties as well. Regions are also going to work with the membership department on piloting new recruitment ideas. The membership incentive scheme has been a great success, but in the long-run it is unlikely to be financially sustainable and is already a significant financial pressure on the national party and so looking at new techniques is useful from this point of view as well as positive in its own right.
  • Whilst on membership, the party ended 2015 with 52,654 members which was a net increase of 13,679 over the year. A stunning performance. However the challenge is now to get the large post-election increase to renew, whilst the first quarter of 2016 showed a drop in the rate at which some of the longer-standing members were renewing.
  • Parliamentary selections will start to get underway in England in the Summer, and so anyone who is interested in standing should get their application to be an approved candidate in to the Candidates’ Office now (details here). The number of new applicants has been fairly low recently, and so do encourage anyone you know who may be or should be interested. Alongside this, if your seat wants to be one of the first to advertise for a candidate then you should let your Regional Candidates’ Chair know ASAP. The party still needs more candidate assessors and returning officers trained to cope with a flood (hopefully) of seats wanting to advertise for candidates later this year. Regional parties will have the job over the next few months of designating which seats in their region will have an All-Women Shortlist and this needs to be done quickly to allow selections to proceed. The European Parliamentary selection will take place later this year.
  • The Federal Executive has set up a small review group to review the party’s current SAOs and AOs.
  • The party’s excellent Pastoral Care Officer has produced a paper proposing a ‘Partnership Charter’ which aims to improve the working relationships between party staff and volunteers. It’s been well documented how a lack of mutual respect has grown up within some parts of the party which in particular manifests itself with intemperate language, casting aspersions on people’s motives, actions and professionalism and the repeating of lies and personalised negative opinions. Robust discussion is one thing, but the tone of some comments verges on, and in some cases is, bullying. Some people have bravely decided to tackle this head on, but when they have the comments thread has then degenerated in to the exact same problem that the writer was highlighting in the first place. The prompt for the proposed charter however is many HQ staff citing a lack of mutual respect from members as the worst aspect of their job at leaving interviews. The lack of mutual respect is an issue amongst the wider membership as well (and we shouldn’t forget that the vast majority of party staff are long-standing members as well) but it is a serious problem that needs addressing. I hope that this new initiative helps, but it will continue to be a challenge if some people fail to realise they are a part of the problem, and this includes some otherwise well regarded individuals.
  • The party’s Diversity Engagement Group which had been held in abeyance since the General Election was restarted in December with Meral Hussein-Ece as its new chair. They continue to meet and in particular will be looking at how to embed in the party community outreach and diversity of candidates and membership. The report from the group has highlighted a few interesting things – 61% of candidate assessors are women however the number of BAME assessors is very low, Regional Candidates’ Chairs can recommend that the one year rule on being a member before being approved as a candidate is waived if someone comes from an under-represented group, and four regions need to appoint Diversity Champions (SC, SE, WC & YH).

I’m happy to continue to answer any questions that members have about items on the agenda. Just click on the word Contact in the bar above, fill in your comments and I’ll get an email that I’ll respond to.

Looking ahead, I won’t be able to attend the English Council Executive meeting in May due to another personal commitment that day, however I will write a preview of the agenda. The full English Council meeting that had been scheduled for 18th June will be moved to another date due to the EU Referendum, with 2nd July being the favourite. That English Council meeting will have a pretty hefty agenda as it will include the constitutional changes needed to introduce One-Member-One-Vote (OMOV) to the English Party  and it will agree candidate selection rules changes to reflect the diversity motion at the recent Federal Conference. I don’t believe any proposals on this latter point have been drafted yet but it’s important that these have wider discussion given the strong interest in them from many people who are not members of English Council.

 

English Lib Dem Executive Report – Sat 23rd Jan 2016

Here’s my very belated report on the last English Lib Dems’ Executive (ECE) meeting. After my previous post gaining praise from Mark Pack on his own website: “Anders Hanson is one of the stars of the English Party because he does report back publicly on key parts of what the English Party is doing. He’s not part of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture,” my forgetfulness in posting this doesn’t exactly help back up his assertion!

In the interests of balancing the need to keep members informed and in brevity, I’m going to do this as a series of (hopefully) short paragraphs on the key areas discussed rather than going through each agenda item in turn or repeating what appeared in my preview of the meeting. Since my last post a couple of people have got in touch with me asking for more information about certain points and I’m happy to give party members more information when I know the person asking is a party member.

A world outside London – there were two discussions on a similar topic both of them under the Chair’s report, which often becomes the repository for subjects that members of ECE want to get off their chest but don’t appear elsewhere on the agenda. The first was a discussion that we always have at least once a year and that was the location of ECE meetings. Although we always agree in principle that it’s healthier for the party to not always meet in London, we still end up nearly always meeting in London as it’s proved generally easier for more people to get to London than anywhere else and when meetings have been held elsewhere they have often had a lower attendance. There is also some impact on cost as there are usually better deals on train fares to/from London and using Lib Dem HQ doesn’t cost anything. Having said that increasingly a clash of meetings has led to ECE meetings being held in other London venues anyway, such as this one which was held at the City of Westminster Archives. It was agreed that we would look at non-London venues for later in the year to give people more time to plan but also in the short term to try and make sure people can always phone in (which some venues we’ve used don’t allow). The second discussion on outside London is the move of Lib Dem HQ. This was something on which I initially didn’t think I could write anything as whilst the possibility of a move was well known amongst party staff, contractual negotiations were still underway. However, the need to move is now in the public domain following a somewhat sensationalist post on Guido Fawkes website. The location of Lib Dem HQ is another discussion that comes up on a regular basis and as someone based in the North I have a lot of sympathy for the argument that it would be healthy for it to not be in London part of the ‘Westminster bubble’. What’s always persuaded me otherwise however is that given how few people are employed at Lib Dem HQ, the cost of splitting the HQ team and needing two bases (we’d always need some staff in London) and the upheaval for a number of not desperately well paid staff, it probably isn’t worth doing. It’s also worth noting that a number of ostensibly London based party staff actually spend most of the week working from home in another part of the country entirely and only travel to London when they need to. I expect this will continue to be debated within the party for years to come.

Post-General Election Review – this is due to be released shortly. There is some concern about how little of it is expected to be available to the wider party membership, especially as knowing more of the detail will be helpful for anyone who has some sort of leadership role within the party. I understand the sensitivities of it and certainly the release of Labour’s General Election review created some unhelpful headlines in the short term. But in the longer term I feel that the more informed discussion that can be had from seeing the full report (with a small amount of sensitive information appropriately redacted) will be better for the party in the future. We will see how much is finally released however as I think most people are working on hearsay rather than knowing exactly what will be decided.

Regional and Local Party rebates – one of the payments of the proportion of membership income that goes back to local and regional parties was missed at the end of last year. This happened for a number of reasons, but the biggest concern was that local and regional treasurers were not informed of it in advance to allow them to plan around it. Discussions are under way to see how this will be resolved.

Police & Crime Commissioner candidates – unlike four years ago many more areas want to stand candidates in the Police & Crime Commissioner elections, however this enthusiasm isn’t shared as widely amongst the people who are approved candidates. As a candidate must live within the PCC area, unlike in a General Election where someone can live anywhere in the country (which allows for any approved candidate to be parachuted in at the last minute), it makes the pool to choose from smaller. The regional candidates’ committees are working with each PCC area to help make sure they have a candidate in place. I think we have to accept that these posts are now here for good, or at least the foreseeable future, and so we should treat them more with the seriousness that we do with other elected posts. There is actually the potential to make use of them as a great way of pushing our liberal and I think unique attitude to policing and justice issues, and so should provide an interesting and different option for those who are interested in taking on a public elected role if they were promoted appropriately.

Parliamentary candidates – there was a big churn in approved parliamentary candidates in the last parliament, with many previous candidates dropping out and more new ones being approved than ever before.  What is reassuring is that the post-General Election candidates review shows that most of these are very keen to stand again in the future. The first seats will start their selection following this May’s elections, and those who want to get on with it should make their desire to do this clear to their regional candidates’ chair. Whilst I’ve always been keen on early selections, and it’s clear that the English Candidates’ Committee want to make this happen, it’s also been clear that many local parties and/or candidates don’t want to do that. You can push them in to it, but to be honest if they are pushing back then they probably don’t expect to win anyway.

Transparency – the paper on making ECE more transparent by including contact details for its members on the party website, dates and summary of agenda items to be sent to all English Council members and also posted on the party website and advance notice of potentially contentious items, was passed without need for a debate.

Diversity within Liberal Youth – there is a recognition that by improving the diversity of members and activists within Liberal Youth this will help improve the future diversity of the party’s candidates and party bodies as people progress in to other roles. Liberal Youth are currently looking at how they can do this effectively.

English Strategy Review – some smaller groups are going to be set up to look at what actions can be taken in the short term that fit with the priorities outlined in this paper that was agreed by last November’s English Council. Essentially, the more complicated and controversial areas that nearly led to it being referred back, (such as the possible outsourcing of membership work), will be put to one side for now, but those areas which were genuinely popular will be investigated further. There’s little more to report on this at present, but more should be known on this by the time of the next meeting.

Finally, Co-options – there were co-options to the two sub-committees of ECE – the Regional Parties’ Committee (RPC), that deals with legal compliance and disciplinary issues, and the English Finance & Administration Committee (EFAC), whose role is largely self-explanatory but also works closely with the membership department. The co-options to these committees are largely around adding to the committee what the party website describes as “experience or expertise relevant to the function of the RPC” and they must be members of English Council with the latter in particular massively restricting the options. This makes RPC quite large as a sub-committee but as it’s a committee of work rather than just attending meetings, it’s helpful having a larger pool of people who will take part. The additions to these committees have not exactly improved diversity or gender balance, indeed it’s made it worse, (which is particularly unfortunate given the attendance at this ECE was the first time in a while that was almost 50:50 on gender), but without other names to suggest and knowing that they were all on an individual basis good additions I didn’t object. The party  (and in this I include all of the party) is generally quite poor about advertising party committee vacancies and co-options with the result that it’s often the same faces who appear everywhere. I will attempt to rectify that for ECE posts in the future. Read further down for two current vacancies.

EFAC co-opted Su Thorpe and Peter Ellis, largely because of their respective experience as a party treasurer and scrutinising party finances. This makes the full membership: Paul Clark, Brian Orrell, Rachelle Shepherd-Dubey, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Su Thorpe and Peter Ellis. It is chaired by the Treasurer David Hughes and Chair Steve Jarvis is an ex-officio member.

RPC co-opted Paul Clark, Ian Jones, Lucy Nethsingha, Mike Wheatley and Stuart Wheatcroft, largely because of their experience in dealing with difficult disciplinary cases over the last year and in the case of the latter will help reduce the average age of the committee substantially. This makes the full membership: Dawn Davidson, Tahir Maher, Geoff Payne, Paul Clark, Ian Jones, Lucy Nethsingha, Mike Wheatley, Stuart Wheatcroft and myself. It is chaired by the Vice-Chair Margaret Joachim and Chair Steve Jarvis is an ex-officio member.

There are two further posts that ECE now need to be filled:

A further member of the Regional Parties’ Committee. The RPC meets around six times a year, although it is always possible to phone in to these meetings rather than having to physically be there. The main body of work involves reading reports from people who have investigated complaints against party members and making decisions on complaints and how they should be handled in a methodical and dispassionate way. It is also occasionally needed for members of the committee to make a quick decision on whether to take a complaint forward for investigation or not and this is usually handled by email or by an extra short-notice phone meeting. To improve balance it would be helpful to find potential co-optees who are female and from the Western side of the country. For more details contact the Vice-Chair of the RPC.

A further member of the English Appeals Panel. This is the body where appeals against decisions made by party bodies within England are decided or where rulings are requested on interpreting parts of the constitution. Members are appointed for five year terms and they are expected to be people who don’t currently hold any office within the party or are a parliamentary candidate, but who have been active in the past and would like to continue to do something to help the party. HR or legal experience are often useful, and to improve diversity it would be helpful to find potential co-optees who are female. For more details contact the Chair of the English Party.