I first published this post in August 2014. Subsequent events make these lessons rather timely again and still very pertinent.
To recap, four ancillary lessons I think the Liberal Democrats need to learn from the events around Chris Rennard are:
- Don’t judge Presidential candidates by their TV appeal: “voting in the current circumstances for a new President that you’re not sure can do the internal administration part of the job really well is asking for deep trouble for us all”. (2015 update: Sal Brinton has certainly shown she has the necessary skills and interest in the administration part of the job, doing a very good job of trying to steer the party through the latest controversies.)
- The party needs to recognise three levels of misbehaviour: “a sensible post-Rennard review of the party’s expected standards of its members and disciplinary rules should include expanding that range of ‘not serious enough for expulsion but serious enough for other sanction’ offences”. (2015 update: for me, this is the crux of much of the matter. Being a law-abiding party member is not the be all and end all of whether someone is appropriate for various party posts and roles. It is quite usual for the party to expect higher standards than just those two minimums – law-abiding and member – in many circumstances, such as in our Parliamentary approval processes. Or to take an example about when being a law abiding member would not be sufficient to avoid outrage over election to a party post, a local party treasurer who regularly refused to follow the party’s rules for recording financial information and gave a series of shaggy dog story excuses for their failures would in most cases not be worthy of expelling, but would be an outrageous choice as chair of the Federal Finance and Administration Committee.)
- The English Party needs reform: “at the very least, stripping how the indirect method of election for the English Party Executive, replacing it instead with direct elections, along with a review of its functions to see what really needs to be done at an English level rather than devolved up or down”.
- Who gets the party whip is a matter for the whole party: “in a modern democracy, political parties are the collective property of all their members, not just a select few”. (2015 update: all the more so given that some of the proposed reactions to the latest fuss would make problems worse in the long run.)
I fear what will happen instead is that there will correctly be much effort to implement the recommendations of the Morrissey Report and ancillary reviews, but that it will then stop there – rather than the party also learning these four other lessons too.
Do take a read of the full posts and let me know your views.