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.