Getting it right on Europe, how we run the party and on local candidates
Here’s my latest report for Liberal Democrat members and supporters, from the party website:
The next steps in our European policy
There’s a lesson we should learn from Brexiters. It’s that for most of the road to the tragedy of the 2016 referendum they weren’t Brexiters but Euro-sceptics. For most of that time, they weren’t campaigning for Brexit to happen tomorrow, but against a particular aspect of the EU. That is how they built up a broad coalition of support to get Brexit through.
In turn, we need to do the same in reverse – to recognise that even many Remainers are put off by ‘let’s rejoin the EU now!’, but that even those who voted Leave can be won over by campaigning issue by issue on the merits of cooperation with our neighbours.
It’s an approach that party members overwhelmingly supported in our recent (with a record-breaking response!) consultation.
At our spring federal conference, we’ll be fleshing out the details of what this means when we debate a motion which sets out our comprehensive plan to reconnect our political and trading relationship with Europe.
Getting party reform right
Our Federal Board is currently 41, which means we have approximately one Federal Board member for every two members of Federal staff. That isn’t just a quixotic statistic, it’s also a sign of something wrong with how the party’s governance structures work.
As our independent review of the 2019 election found:
“The lack of connection between operational, political and governing parts of the party has created structures which foster a lack of collaboration and isolated decision making”;
“There is no clear ‘leadership team’ where the three pillars of the party – political, operational, federal – can make cohesive decisions, simply, quickly, and effectively. The Federal Board – 40+ members – is not, cannot, and should not be that team”; and
“The Federal Board was often a ‘rubber-stamp’ and is too large a group to be a realistic decision-making body.”
That’s why we’ve got a motion coming to this Spring conference that would instead give us a Board of 16, bringing together key decision makers across the party along with other changes made to increase accountability and scrutiny of the new Board.
For example, the changes would also introduce a new power of no-confidence in the President – so that if I go off the rails, I can be held properly to account.
Dorothy Thornhill, who led that review, has written about why we need these reforms and you can see the full details in the Spring conference agenda.
Under the proposals, over 80% of Board members will be elected by party members – either in all-member elections (such as our elections for Leader and President) or in elections by parts of the party (such as all members in Wales elected the Welsh President, who will be on the Board). But in addition, our internal democracy will also be strengthened by making the Board more effective – because the more a Board is like a talking shop, the more power seeps elsewhere in practice.
I hope you’ll come to the debate on this, which will be on the Friday night of our Spring federal conference. You can register for conference here (and it’s only £5 for first-timers). Or register here for the Conference Live event being organised alongside it by ALDC.
Why we need more council candidates
When we debate party policy, strategy or election tactics, questions about what might attract or put off voters often – and rightly – come up. But there’s one sure-fire, rock-solid way of repelling voters from us, and it’s one we use far too often. It’s not having a Liberal Democrat on the ballot paper. Zero votes for the party guaranteed.
Both Labour and the Conservatives, for example, get very close now to having a full slate of candidates in local elections. Despite improvements in recent years, we are still lagging a long way behind, and not yet back to where we used to be. So we know we can do better – because we have.
For more on why this matters, and how local parties can find more people to stand as candidates, see my piece for Ad Lib.
Amna Ahmad has been elected our new Vice President responsible for working with ethnic minority communities. She takes over from Isabelle Parasram, and will serve out the rest of Isabelle’s term (i.e. until the end of this year).
I’m looking forward to working with her on the important task of improving our record on diversity and inclusion.
It has taken some time to get the election result declared, so in the new election regulations being proposed at the spring conference is a shorter, clearer timetable. It’s important that people have a right to appeal over election results – but also important that when members elect someone, that person can promptly take up their post.
In related news, a new demographics dashboard is now available to local parties via Lighthouse. It makes it easy to compare the diversity of our local membership with that of the local population – so local parties can better understand where they need to improve and what impact their efforts have been making.
Our HQ team is continuing to work to apply our values to how we operate as an employer, and the party has just successfully achieved Level 2 as a Disability Confident Employer. We believe we should become a Disability Confident Leader (the final level) and we will work towards that this quarter. We have also been accepted onto the Business Disability Forum, who will deliver expert guidance on disability helping us to become more inclusive and accessible. We are also now a signatory of the Business in the Community Race at Work Charter, which means taking practical steps to ensure workplaces are tackling barriers in recruitment and progression.
February also saw the first residential training weekend for members of our Stellar Programme, designed to ensure we improve the ethnic diversity of our future Parliamentarians.
Still time to make someone amazing smile
Spring conference sees the next round of party awards. It’s our chance to say thank you to some of our amazing colleagues and you have until 25 February to get nominations in.
Improving our use of data and technology
We have four major projects underway to give campaigners the best data and tools to win elections and run our grassroots organisation: improve our websites, raise the quality of our data with improved sharing and synchronisation, bring data management back in-house and make consent tracking (for GDPR compliance) easier across our different systems.
As part of this, we have just signed contracts with Prater Raines to develop a new website system, with data flows integrated to our other systems. We are also ending our contract with Data Sciences, with an enhanced in-house team taking over their work. Our electoral register updates are now running significantly faster, and there’s more progress to come.
Other Board business
Our February Board meeting will include the latest quarterly review of party performance, as well as a look at whether we’ve got the right quarterly objectives coming up. We’ll be doing our annual review of the party’s risk register and looking at how the implementation of the Party Body Review Group’s work is going. Now that the big changes and simplifications in the rules for party bodies are in place, how is the roll out of them going, and what do we need to do next to support party bodies?
As ever, if you have questions on any of this, or other party matters, do get in touch on email@example.com. Do also get in touch if you’d like to invite me to do a Zoom call with your local party or party body. I’m always keen to do more of these as they’re a great way of hearing from the frontline what is and isn’t working.