A sensible reform to Lib Dem selection rules – giving a warmer welcome to returning lapsed members

Back in November I wrote about how I’d like to see the Liberal Democrat selection rules changed:

There is another rule I’ve got in my sights: the qualification period before someone can vote in the party’s candidate selections. Details vary a little depending on which selection you are talking about, but typically you have to have been a member for a year prior to a contest taking place. Joined more recently? Sorry, no vote.

It used to be much more common to allow people to join at the last moment and still get a vote. That caused problems in a few places with last-minute stuffing of the electorates – candidates signing up people they knew, who then voted for them but did not get involved in the party and let their membership lapse at the first time of asking. So a qualifying period of some sort makes sense.

However, here is a better way of doing it.

We could instead say that the electorate is made up of people who have been members for at least a year, plus previous members whose membership has lapsed in (say) the last two years, as long as they rejoin before the ballot papers are issued. And, crucially, when candidates get given the list of members, include the list of those lapsed members too.

The result? A double win. Win one – in a search for their votes, candidates go round talking to lapsed members getting them to rejoin the party. Result? More members. Win two – those candidates who are best at getting people to (re)join the party benefit most. Result? More candidates winning who have this key skill.


As an added bonus, change the rules for party leader and president elections. They do allow last-minute new members to vote, but they don’t allow for the candidates to be given the list of lapsed members. Make that change and again we would see people going round talking to lapsed members and encouraging them to get involved.

That idea didn’t sweep the board amongst those involved in the English Party’s selection rules, but I think it’s fair to say the promotion of the idea did help tip the balance to ensure that these parts of the rules were thought about again. The result of that has been a relaxation of them agreed this month:

ECC [the English Candidates Committee] has agreed one discretionary change to all the rule sets:

  • The three-month grace period in which lapsed members may renew their membership (and thus retain their eligibility to vote in a candidate selection) will now run to the members’ meeting.

This reverts to the earlier arrangement, enables membership to be renewed at the members’ meeting, and may help with membership retention.

It means there’s now more of a chance for (some) lapsed members to rejoin the party and vote in a selection, which in turn means there’s more scope for would-be Parliamentary candidates to woo such people, therefore both demonstrating their own organisation-building abilities and also raising the party’s membership.

Thanks are due in particular to Mike Tuffrey for arguing for a more relaxed approach. Though his and my ideal rules would differ somewhat, Mike and others have secured a good, sensible reform.

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