How could the English Party be abolished?

Some tweets need more than just a tweet to reply:

A little bit of background first: (a) the English Party is in need of, at minimum, very major reform, and (b) the English Party’s rules are about to stop working. Moreover, a common complaint is that the party’s structures overall are too complicated, with the spaghetti like tangling and confusion an issue that the Morrissey report highlighted.

So, how to address that? A simple out-and-out abolition of the English Party in one blow is possible, but would require very lengthy and detailed constitutional amendments including decisions having (most likely*) to go through both the federal and English Party structures.

Given that the English Party’s structures are opaque and slow moving, that may not be a swift blow. It would also be a far from trivial exercise to get the wording of all the amendments to all the different constitutional clauses and rules right.

The move to one-member, one-vote for the federal conference and federal committee elections (OMOV) by comparison is a minor, straight-forward reform – and look how hard it has been to get the wording of that right. (I’m pretty confident the wording will be right when it comes back to conference in the autumn, but even on that another small wording issue was picked up just today.)

But there’s another way. The English Party has already devolved its policy-making to the federal party, so that the Federal Policy Committee and federal conferences are used to make English, as well as federal, policy.

This means that slightly quirkily Welsh and Scottish members get a vote on English policy – and at one conference English education policy was even changed by an amendment from a Scottish local party.

However there are no demands of ‘English votes for English conference reps’ in the Lib Dems as a result because there’s no equivalent to divides between parties in the Commons which makes English votes a live issue there. If, say, Scotland was full of Orange Bookers and English a hotbed of Social Liberals, then EVECR might become an acronym and an issue, but as neither they nor Wales are, it hasn’t.

Devolving policy making upwards to the federal party has worked well because it put power in the hands of already existing structures, which had their own accountability and reporting mechanisms. So it made things simpler and accountable, removing structures and bodies rather than creating them.

The same could be done for both candidate selections and membership rules. If the English Party simply devolved both to the federal party, most of the structures needed to run them are already in place.

We have a federal conference which meets twice a year that can provide the democratic check on the system and the democratic means to adopt rules and regulations. We also already have a committee in the Federal Executive, due soon to start being elected by all party members, which can provide the necessary in-between conference role and, although publicity about the FE’s decisions is far from perfect at the moment it is already far better than some of the obscure yet important corners of the English Party – and will get better as the pending OMOV reforms require less secrecy and more reporting.

Such a devolution would also works well for party staff, as nearly all those who service the candidate and membership work are based at party HQ alongside federal staff already, and indeed many of them are also employed to do federal work. There would be important details of employment arrangements to get right, but at heart this would not require a big upheaval and it would simplify line management and job descriptions.

That all makes such a double devolution pretty straight forward. Some rule changes would be needed, such as to give the Joint States Candidates Committee a bit of a brush up and boost to be up for the role of taking on English candidate processes, but even that shows the advantages. Have a boosted JSCC start reporting regularly to federal conference and there’s an immediate line of reporting and accountability to the wider party that would be much better than the current English arrangements.

There may also need to be a tweak to the party’s appeals process so that a level of appeal from the English Appeals Panel to the Federal Appeals Panel isn’t lost in some cases. But this is all much easier than the ‘abolish in one blow’ option.

Once these are done, what’s left of the English Party would, I suspect, wither away to be tidied up in smaller chunks in future.

Which all makes this double devolution approach sound rather good. But I’d not heard anyone else suggest it before and indeed I’d not thought it through before putting fingers to keyboard to answer the tweet.

So this may need more thought… and do comment away on what you make of the idea.


* Either clause 2.7(c) of the federal constitution applies, which required English Party approval for its abolition, or 2.7(c) is side-stepped by each region applying for state party status, but that then requires every region to go through an internal process and so doesn’t end up being a swift solution either.

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