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.