Morrissey’s progress report: will it be enough to kickstart English reform?

Yesterday Helena Morrissey published her promised progress report on the Liberal Democrats following her report last year, triggered by the Rennard case, into the party’s culture and procedures.

You can read it in full below, but three things strike me about it:

  1. Her criticisms of the complexity of the party structures: “There has been encouraging progress, item-by-item. However, the whole is less than the sum of the parts. I believe this is largely due to the sheer complexity of the Party’s structure. I alluded to this in my initial Report and am now convinced that any efforts to build a more diverse and inclusive environment will have considerably less impact than they would in a simpler organisation.”
  2. At the heart of this complexity is the English Party which also comes in for significant criticism: “I wanted to explore the relative success of the Leadership Programme, established in 2011, to see whether there were any replicable factors. It transpired that this programme did not receive support from various influential committees and
    the creators feared that the proposals might be blocked. The Programme did get approved by Federal Conference but the English Candidates Committee, for example, did not advocate for the Leadership Programme or propose any other alternative solutions to these issues. This lack of engagement from influential groups inevitably limits the effectiveness of any initiative. I enquired how people get onto such a committee and was told that the first qualification is to be a member of one of the English Councils. These council appointments are made at regional conference. After that, the process is opaque: there is no job description or list of skills or experience, so the tendency arises for a core existing group to self-perpetuate. Turnover is also low
    – there is no maximum term. The English Council Executive elections recently took place – at the same time as the federal committees, where the proportion of women elected was 44%. In contrast, the English Council Executive now comprises 22 men and just 3 women. This highlights the need for transparent election processes at all levels – again, something that could be more easily achieved if there was and standardised good practice within a simpler structure.”
  3. A specific but important point about party HQ: “There is a mean 0.5% gender pay gap between women and men at staff HQ, based on a review conducted in July 2014. This is much narrower than the national average pay gap of 9.4%.”

On the question about party structures the big unknown at the moment is whether or not there will be serious momentum behind the talk, not just in the Morrissey report but also for example the recent Presidential contest, to seriously reform the English Party.

The contest for English Party chair didn’t see any of the candidates say much of significance about changing the English Party to make its procedures simpler and its democracy stronger – though of course those candidates were fighting under the current system and may have been tailoring their message to their very small electorate.

Which makes the Morrissey report further push for reform to the party’s structures significant – it means there will be continuing pressure from other parts of the party to make sure that English reform doesn’t just slip away into being a couple of emails and an occasional blog post in the name of transparency.


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