Lib Dem special conference called in showdown over Chris Rennard – but will it happen?

As I wrote earlier in the week regarding the controversy over former Chief Executive Chris Rennard’s election to the party’s Federal Executive (FE):

An attempt to call a special conference is already well on its way to securing enough signatures. Given the limited room for procedural manoeuvre if such a request is properly made and submitted, one way or another things are very likely to come to a head soon.

More than the necessary 200 signatures have been gathered and the party’s Federal Conference Committee (FCC) has started planning for holding the special conference.

There is still an option to call it off, if matters are otherwise resolved first, such as if Chris Rennard decides not to take up his post on the FE.

If the conference does go ahead, it is likely to debate a motion to remove the Lib Dem Lords group’s representatives on the party’s federal committees.

In principle that move would be a mistake as one lesson from this latest controversy is that the Lib Dem peers need to be better integrated in the rest of the party; many seem not to have understood just how controversial their election of Chris Rennard would be.

That said, the powers of co-option will still be there, with up to three co-options possible for the FE, FCC and Federal Policy Committee (FPC). Those are helpful at the moment for actions such as increasing diversity, and they could be pressed into use for also adding a peer if none are on the committees via other routes.

Such a special conference debate would also make for a deeply unpleasant debate all round but, as people moving the motion would no doubt argue, it would also – if such changes to the party constitution receive the necessary two-thirds majority – provide a clear, simple vote to bring clarity to one part of the wider controversies. A vote of less than two-thirds would, of course, be an almighty mess managing the near impossible of making the current situation even worse. The relatively likelihood of each outcome is, of course, a key factor in whether the special conference goes ahead.

Such a special conference would be carried out under the new one-member, one-vote (OMOV) rules for party conference rather than being restricted to conference reps.

Or rather, almost certainly. That caveat is because local parties have been told to elect federal conference reps for 2016 even though all the provisions for them were removed from the party’s constitution as part of the OMOV reforms passed at the September conference. This has variously been described as a measure required by a Federal Appeals Panel ruling, but in fact that ruling makes no statement ordering federal conference rep elections. Rather the ruling pointed out the difference between the federal constitution (which has been changed) and the election regulations (which have not yet been changed) and said that difference needs resolving. To turn this into an instruction to local parties to elect federal conference reps at their AGMs, issued after some had in fact already held their AGMs, was a surprising turn of events. Hence the caveat, in case of another surprise turn.

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