A good test of a proposed new rule is to imagine: if it was already in place, would you be convinced by arguments to abolish it? So imagine with me that the Liberal Democrats had one-member, one-vote (OMOV) in place, instead of our conference representatives system, for electing our federal committees and for voting at party conference. A world with all party members able to vote in both.
It would not be nirvana. You can imagine some being concerned about the time and cost involved in coming to conference and the members who therefore miss out. You can also imagine complaints when ballot papers come round that members do not know enough about what the candidates are like or their track records.
So take one more step down imaginary lane with me and picture me at a podium in front of you, laying out all these problems and revealing – hooray! – I have an answer.
The solution? Take the vote away from 93% – yes, just over nine in ten – of all party members. And then, let us also introduce a form for each local party to fill out annually – a form of electoral registration, but one where only two-thirds of would-be voters actually get registered. So from every member having a vote, we’ll cut it down to just over 4% – a little under 1 in 20 – having the vote.
Who could object to that? Well, pretty much everyone, I would hope.
To take the vote away from 19 out of 20 members would require absolutely drastic problems to be justified. None of those putative problems with OMOV would come close.
So let’s return to reality; the unfortunately reality where the franchise for party committee elections is just 1 in 20 party members and where we keep the power to vote at conference out of the hands of just under 40% of the members who will be at Bournemouth conference where a move to OMOV is being put to the vote on Monday afternoon.
There certainly are hiccups and issues with moving to OMOV. I am very well aware of them, having been one of the prime movers behind the amendment which sent back the previous OMOV plans for further thought.
However, this time round, the wording of the proposals has been fixed (and credit to the Federal Executive for involving critics of the previous plans such as myself in revising them). There are still issues to push on with reducing secrecy around what the elected members of committees get up to and with having the right election regulations.
But is any of this a reason to say to 19 out of 20 members: no, you can’t have a vote in our next committee elections? Or to say to the nearly 40% of members who will be at conference but without a vote, we’re all happy for you to be voteless?
Which is why if you’re one of the select lucky few who currently has the vote and will be in Bournemouth, I hope you will join me on Monday in voting to let others join us in having the right to vote too.