liberal democrats

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.

Preview of English Lib Dem Executive – Sat 23rd Jan 2016

Saturday sees the first English [Liberal Democrats] Council Executive (ECE) of 2016. Put out the bunting! I wrote a short explanation of what the body does just over a year ago.

The first part of the meeting contains the usual reports from officers of the English Party (Chair, Treasurer, Vice-Chair and Candidates) and its reps to other party bodies (Federal Executive (FE), Federal Conference Committee (FCC), Federal Policy Committee (FPC) and the G8 local election grants scheme), although within these there are sometimes substantive issues that need discussion. Some of these officers also chair committees which also report back, such as the Vice-Chair chairing the Regional Parties’ Committee and Treasurer chairing the English Finance and Administration Committee. I have included a section on the membership of the committee and various other elected reps at the bottom of this post. The second part of the meeting involves reports on particular areas of work of the English Party at the moment.

Due to space and time I am not going to go in to every item that is due to be discussed at ECE and instead I just pick out the key parts that I think are OK to be in the public domain (do let me know if you think something shouldn’t be or there’s something you like discussing). I have long argued for all agendas and reports to be available on the party website for members to look at if they wish, which would help negate the need for me to do this although giving my view on the areas being considered I would continue with. Getting the reports to be circulated or included on the party website has been hindered slightly by vacancies in the relevant parts of Lib Dem HQ and the need to spend time double-checking everything for anything that shouldn’t be available to the public. Personally, I think very little that we discuss really needs to be kept that secret and will be of little more than of passing amusement to the opposition. However there is a proposal to the ECE meeting tomorrow that should push this along a bit more quickly and I assume will be uncontroversial as almost none of the English Party’s work has ever been that secret, except in the tiny handful of cases where it involves named individuals such as party disciplinary issues or employment situations. An appropriate balance needs to be struck, which may not always be just right, but I can assure members that it is certainly considered properly.

The main issues for noting or discussion tomorrow are:

Diversity motion to conference – this is to improve diversity within the parliamentary party by allowing any local party to request an all-women or all-disabled shortlist for selections or to have reserved places on it for specific groups, and to require all local parties with retiring MPs to choose from an all-woman shortlist and similar provisions for a specific proportion of seats that achieved above particular levels of support at the 2015 General Election. Although candidates are the responsibility of each state not the federal party, there is clearly a desire from many for conference to take another view on positive discrimination, with states then expected to come up with the rules to make this happen. This will no doubt be a source of some controversy at conference and within the party and so probably needs to be debated in a larger forum. I remain unconvinced that the biggest problem is at the selection stage anymore, but is instead earlier in the process, but I do agree it needs to be debated.

Regional employment of Campaigns Staff – a source of considerable discussion at the last couple of ECE meetings has been the restructuring of HQ staff that saw all campaigns officers directly employed by Lib Dem HQ rather than any regional involvement as largely happened before. A number of regional parties have been very unhappy about this and been pretty strident about their opposition to it and despite an attempt by the English Party Chair to broker a compromise, this hasn’t been successful. Personally, I think having a centrally employed campaign resource to be deployed where needed is sensible, although I’ve been in a considerable minority on this within ECE. Previously, regional parties were able to have some influence over the work of campaigns staff and able to employ someone specifically for their region by sharing the cost with party HQ. With party HQ employing people directly, it will mean that regions will need to find other ways of funding any campaign posts they create, and I am very much keen to see this progress as building local campaign skills is a good area for regions to work on (in conjunction with my own employers at ALDC).

Operations Committee – this is a new committee that has been created by the Federal Executive to oversee the day-to-day running of the party. This has occasionally existed before in different guises, but has often involved people who are too busy in other roles to do it effectively. Its membership is the chairs of state parties and chairs of the key federal committees. Hopefully this will ensure that the different committees and Lib Dem HQ work together more effectively and talk to each other properly on a regular basis rather than operating in silos and then getting grumpy with each other when they hear about things on the grapevine (which may or may not be true) or after the event.

Wired Working Group – FE has created a working group to review the party’s IT strategy and how the party supports digital activities more effectively.

Federal Conference – due to the introduction of one-member one-vote and to help the party use its funds more efficiently, the exhibition at the York Spring Conference will be considerably scaled back. Autumn Conference is moving to hold more of the event on the Saturday which will mean finishing on the Tuesday rather than the Wednesday.

English Party Strategy Review – this was a paper adopted by the English Council (EC) last November on the ‘strategy’ for the English Party going forward. Some parts of it were controversial which led to it very nearly being referred back, although when this failed it was passed quite comfortably. For now, the English Party is concentrating on those areas that are more straightforward and less controversial or where there is a clear route for dialogue. Whilst I supported the strategy paper at EC, largely because I thought there were enough bits I agreed with for me to support it and also because I think the English Party needed a document on which to focus its attentions, I am hopeful that the implementation of it will be done steadily to allow further discussion on those bits that were less universally supported and because the Federal Party is involved in its own strategic review, parts of which overlap with this. The areas currently prioritised are campaigning (largely about how we boost skills on the ground and the roles of regional parties in this – see above), membership (looking at involving existing members further and how we recruit and retain members in the future) and organisation (how the English Party is run and implementing one-member one-vote).

Finally as promised…

Membership of ECE

ECE is slightly different in its membership from last year, albeit not massively, and is comprised of the following members:

Officers Elected by English Council: Steve Jarvis (Chair), Richard Brett (Candidates’ Chair), Antony Hook (FE rep) and Geoff Payne (FCC and FPC rep).

Ordinary Members Elected  by English Council: Margaret Joachim (Elected Vice-Chair by ECE), David Hughes (Elected Treasurer by ECE), Paul Hienkens, Rachelle Shepherd-Dubey, Simon McGrath, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Paul Clark, Brian Orrell, Justine McGuinness, Dawn Davidson and myself.

Regional & Liberal Youth Chairs: Adam Killeya (Devon & Cornwall), Gavin Grant (Western Counties), Tahir Maher (South Central), Paul Hienkens (South East), Ade Adeyemo (West Midlands), Phil Knowles (East Midlands), Stephen Robinson (East of England), Chris Maines (London), Stewart Golton (Yorkshire & the Humber) and Amanda Hopgood (North East). The North West regional chair’s position is currently vacant. Sophie Thornton represents Liberal Youth.

ECE has already agreed to co-opt Anne-Marie Curry (Diversity Champion) and Lucy Nethsingha (ALDC rep).

A year ago my comment on diversity proved controversial when it was picked up by Lib Dem Voice, and whilst it’s got better it’s still not great. On gender 6 of the 25 (24% this year, and 12% last) are women. On other areas of diversity it’s harder to comment as I don’t necessarily know which groups people fit in to but taking two areas that I feel I’m on fairly safe ground on then amongst all of ECE at least two of the 25 (8%, last year 4%) are BME and at least 5 of the 25 (24%, last year 16%) are LGBT+. When you break these things down it often shows a different picture – such as no female chairs last year and only one this, but all of ECE’s BME members are regional chairs. Both of the current co-optees are women, which was partly because of their roles within the party but gender was a consideration and will marginally improve the male/female split to a still embarrassing 70% male/30% female. We simply need more women standing to be regional chairs (and there have certainly been many in the past, although not having reviewed the figures I’m not sure if this a temporary blip or a longer-term issue) and of course also an improvement in numbers standing as directly-elected members.

Committees

ECE has three standing committees with the membership of each elected from within ECE, although it can (and usually does) co-opt other people to improve diversity and to bring in specific skills:

English Finance & Administration Committee (EFAC) is in charge of the funds of the English Party and liaises with the departments of Lib Dem HQ with which there is a service level agreement such as membership and candidates. Members elected are Paul Clark, Brian Orrell, Rachelle Shepherd-Dubey and Gerald Vernon-Jackson. It is chaired by the Treasurer David Hughes and Chair Steve Jarvis is an ex-officio member.

Regional Parties’ Committee (RPC) deals with membership, compliance and disciplinary issues. Members elected are Dawn Davidson, Tahir Maher, Geoff Payne 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 have been elected by ECE – Paul Hienkens is English rep to the International Relations Committee (IRC) and Anne-Marie Curry is Diversity Champion.

 

The post where I try to explain Farron’s religious dilemma, by comparing it to how I became a Liberal Democrat

Some years ago I attended a memorial service for a friend of mine. At it, one of the people giving a eulogy said something along the lines of “As someone who goes through the same conflicting emotions, I know how hard it was for him trying to reconcile his sexuality with his Christianity.” It was a very emotional part of the event, and it stuck with me and I still remember it many years later. Not only because the person giving the eulogy had at that time spoken little about his own sexuality, but also because many of those who knew the person for whom the memorial service was being held probably didn’t know he was a Christian. But this must be something that affects thousands of people in this country. It is also a conflict that will affect many more people who whilst not gay, have a strong Christian identity and have strong liberal convictions.

I deliberated a while before writing this post, as adding yet another post to the discussion about what Tim Farron’s attitudes are or are not on both religion and the morality of homosexuality or abortion, didn’t necessarily feel helpful. But when the quote above came to mind again, it felt like something I wanted to get off my chest. As someone who doesn’t believe in any religion and was brought up in a resolutely atheist household, wading in to any discussion on religion is also perhaps not helpful.  However that’s what I am about to do.

I imagine being a Christian has many parallels with how people such as myself became Liberal Democrats. We hadn’t initially thought about why we were, we just sort of knew deep down that it felt right. Later on as you read more about it, you get to know more people involved and you start to deliberate either with others or internally some of the issues that arise, you realise that your gut instinct was right, and yes you are a Liberal Democrat. But like being a Liberal Democrat you also find some of the things that are said or that are written don’t tally with quite how you feel about the world. Largely they aren’t fundamental issues, but they are places where if pressed you find it hard to reconcile your gut instinct view with the accepted view of what being a Liberal Democrat is about. In the end you have to accept that no one will ever agree on what is ideologically pure and even if they could then everyone’s beliefs are always a bit of a compromise as you have also been heavily influenced by other life experiences, the opinions of others or you simply just take a different view from the accepted wisdom of other Lib Dems.

I once wrote a comment on a blog where I disagreed with the party’s views on how education was structured. One person came back and asked me “why on earth therefore was I a liberal” because of my views on that one specific subject. It was, and is, entirely unfair to question someone’s whole political outlook based on their views on one issue, or even one part of an issue. Just as I have tended towards a more traditional socialist structure on the organisation of education, I have also over the years not agreed with votes at 16 (these days I tend more towards ambivalence) and I have also not felt entirely comfortable with allowing gay couples to adopt (although I’ve accepted that it’s better than the alternatives). These are all issues about which many Liberal Democrats feel passionate and they see as something that makes them identify as a Liberal Democrat. For me, they aren’t but I am a Liberal Democrat in nearly every other respect so why should a tiny handful of specific issues make me fundamentally not a Lib Dem.

Which brings me back to Tim Farron. Tim Farron has clearly supported same-sex marriage in parliament, and whilst there were parts of the specific act of parliament that he quibbled with, he has still on the whole supported it. He has also argued against changing the law on abortion. But that doesn’t stop him having some internal conflict about these issues based on two instinctive but at times conflicting beliefs that he holds. The words “at times” are also important here, as much of the time there won’t be conflict with the two and will actually reinforce each other. But at the end of the day, there are a number of issues, on which there is a conflict between what Christianity says and what the instincts of a liberal are, which makes it tough for those who are both. I won’t go in to here what is the truly Christian view on these or what exactly the Bible says, as I’ve realised how few Christians agree on that anyway. In the end Tim Farron has voted with a strongly liberal stance throughout his time as an MP.  If we knew that Tim Farron was a massive homophobe – which he absolutely clearly is not to the point where even just writing that sentence dismissing the idea still feels ludicrously unfair – then as Liberal Democrats we would question his views. But in reality he has a conflict between two powerful and at times contradictory, yet instinctive beliefs. He won’t be the only person to have that, and the reasons for his conflict on these specific issues are probably far more convincing that the doubts I have about the issues I mentioned earlier which can be summed up as “well it’s just how I feel”. Tim perhaps needs a better way of expressing this conflict that doesn’t resort to religious terminology (which does put off a large proportion of the country who aren’t religious), but instead looking at any conflicting instincts that we all have, which for the majority of apolitical people don’t involve their political stance, and arguing why his political instincts win out.

We all get different aspects of what we believe in from different parts of what goes to make us who we are. For some people it’s religion, for others it is family or friends, for others it is reading literature, and so on. It’s not what gets us there, it’s what our general attitude is at the end of it. And on that, I have no doubt about Tim Farron’s liberalism and it’s that liberalism that matters.

Preview of English Lib Dem Executive – 30th May 2015

This Saturday is the first English Lib Dems Executive meeting since the General and Local Elections.  For that reason the focus is partly about reviewing the election just gone but in particular looking at where we go from here (the Strategic Review), which is what will take up all of the second half of the meeting.

The first half of the meeting consists of the usual reports back from the officers of the English Party and the representatives to other party committees.  There’s nothing worse at a committee meeting than people who read out the report that we’ve all already had in writing, and this bit of the agenda is increasingly being focused on questions or detailed discussion on one bit of someone’s report.

Strategic review

The English Lib Dems agreed at its March meeting that after the General Election there would be a review to make proposals for the “future role of the English party and the English regional parties in the rebuilding and future development of the party, including the structure.”  This plan was agreed before the result was known, but the rebuilding process is more significant than most of us anticipated.  The idea is to prepare some initial questions and thoughts for the English Council meeting on 13th June, and this will then be worked up to become final proposals for the November English Council and English regional conferences to consider.  In between times the English Party will be consulting with members to get their views and ideas.

Those members who have been around a while will remember the Party Reform Commission (or Bones Report from c. 2008) and there’s a risk that it repeats the same job.  However, the impression I get is that there is an increasing willingness to look afresh at a lot of things and with the devastating General Election result there will be a need for more dramatic change.  There is a danger that the review will become fixated with structure and the clear desire of many people to scrap the English Party altogether, however it is certainly my view that if the party is to be a success it needs to look at what it wants to be and then design the structures appropriately to support that objective.  That may or may not mean keeping a similar structure to the one we have at present, but that isn’t where we should start. (more…)

Preview of English Lib Dem Executive – 24th Jan 2015

A belated report but it’s been a slightly manic week.  Tomorrow it’s time for the first English Liberal Democrats Executive (ECE) of 2015, and perhaps unsurprisingly with the general election around the corner there are few major new projects underway but instead it’s largely about updates on ongoing day to day stuff.  As with all party committees this doesn’t of course mean that the meeting will move rapidly through the agenda finishing early.  One thing that is both a positive and a negative with ECE is that it spends a lot of time discussing each issue, but also in its role as a collective voice for the English regional parties, other issues will always be raised by regional chairs that everyone will want to discuss.

Chair’s report

This meeting is also the first with its new chair Steve Jarvis at the head of the table.  One thing that has particularly pleased me from his first report is that he will be making full contact details for the members of ECE along with agendas and a summary of decisions available in the members’ area of the party website.  So no sooner do I start blogging each meeting then perhaps my reports will become superfluous.  Otherwise his report is largely about the committee’s work programme for the year, with the tasks before the election being about getting people elected in May and the second half about the inevitable post-election review which increasingly seems as though it will include a review of the party’s structure and governance. (more…)