There are two different parts to the role of Party President – a public cheerleader for the party, epitomised by the number of TV invitations a President usually gets, and an internal management one, epitomised by the fact that they chair the party’s Federal Executive (FE).
It’s up to the candidates – and ultimately the voters – to decide how much importance to attach to the two roles, but my own view is very much influenced by the history of the party having had several Presidents who paid far too little attention to the internal party management role, with result costs to the party’s state of organisation and efficiency, but I can’t think of one who could be fairly criticised for giving that part of the role too much attention.
That’s why in my coverage of the race to succeed Tim Farron, I’ve kept on returning to the question of what the candidates are saying about internal party management matters – and why they should be filling out in greater detail their rather similar overall aspirations. Hopefully, an open four-way contest will encourage the candidates to do just that.
To encourage that, and also to encourage more debate about these matters within the party, I’m running a series of posts from one of the candidates, Linda Jack, setting our her ideas in more detail. Publishing them doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with all their contents, and I’ll be offering a similar opportunity to the other candidates.
But I hope that running the posts will help ensure we get a contest in which the key internal-facing part of the job gets fully debated and as a result whoever wins enters office having had their plans sharpened, filled out and prioritised thanks to the pressures of the contest.
With that, here is Linda’s first post, setting out the four problems she wants to fix.
Linda Jack: Restore, Renew, Respect – Vision into Action
Since announcing my intention to stand for President, the conversations that I have had with members across the country have strengthened my belief in our party’s need to face some hard truths, the most important one being the necessity to rebuild and reconnect. Whoever wins will need to be one of the leading ‘rebuilders’, taking responsibility for internal party issues – structure and systems – and for reconnecting us with the general public.
Our experience in coalition has shone an uncomfortable spotlight on some of the weaknesses in our internal structures and processes; our policymaking systems, and in the way we develop and support the party membership.
I am committed to lead a consensus-building programme, based upon a set of specific reform proposals. We need to create better ‘connection’ between party leaders and our activists and members more generally, ensuring that the sovereignty of the membership is paramount. I am standing on a mandate for change, and in return I will consult widely on reform specifics.
My starting point is our ambition to create a freer, fairer society in which no one is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity – the bedrock of our constitution. We must never lose sight of the fact that no other political party in the UK offers a clearer vision of a society where freedom, fairness and equality go hand in hand, or which challenges an overbearing state while seeking to protect the most vulnerable.
I believe fundamentally that our strength nationally is dependent on our strength locally, embodied by the day-to-day campaigning and representation delivered by party members in communities across the breadth and width of the UK. I know that our members have great and practical ideas about how we can reform the party, as well as direct experience of the effect of government policy in practice. We need to bring these ideas and experiences together, and put them to better use. If you chose me I will be that conduit, bringing the voices of the membership directly and powerfully to the leadership.
This is the first of a series of articles, in which I will set out my reform proposals in more detail, but for the moment I would like to highlight the four problems that I will address.
The first is our structures and systems. We have too many overlapping and often unclear organisations and committees. Governance is cumbersome, and only a handful know all the constitutional and additional bodies, and their functions.
Even as a local councillor, I was largely oblivious to the national workings of the party, which only became clearer when I became involved at the national level. There is a perception common to many members of a closed and cliquish culture at our centre, supported by more than just a little bit of ‘self-perpetuation’.
I think this is unpalatable, and unsustainable, and I propose to address both the reality and the perception with a range of measures, including term limits, wider electorates, and more creative use of technology, so that participation is not restricted to those living in the South East of England, or with the time and money to make long journeys to London.
Second are our policy processes. I am proud of our positive vision which has the capacity to meet the huge social challenges of the 21st century. However I believe that we need to do more to realise that vision. Too often we have fudged the relationship between democratic and representative policymaking (for instance, via the use of Conference Motions), the role of specialist expertise, and the need for judgement by elected representatives and the leadership as new issues arise.
I am not proposing that we have constrain our MPs, but I do want to ensure that conference motions are accorded the importance they deserve and demand as being the considered view of the party.
My third concern is about our misunderstanding of the role of central bodies and HQ, in relation to our constituencies. I believe that we need to change the relationship to make it much more one of equals, instead of the current ‘arms-length’ management relationship.
We need the party’s central structures to take a more ‘problem-solving’ and mediating role, supporting the development of each local party’s councillors and PPCs, offering real investment in community politics for the 21st century and utilising the talents of all our members.
The final challenge is perhaps the most vital as we head into the general election, the way we communicate with each other and the public. I am proposing changes to both our internal and external party communications. For many members ‘feedback’ is tokenistic and a tad patronising. I believe that our party-specific messaging needs to be much better connected to the leadership, and our fundraising communications need to be better coordinated, and less frequent.
I hope you will find my ideas interesting, and invite you engage with them in more detail over the coming days. And most importantly, I encourage you to correspond with me, to let me know your thoughts, concerns, and suggestion, because fundamental to my political mission is my belief in our members, and the importance and value of your insights and expertise.
These ideas are a starting, not a finishing point – they are intended to open up the debate and draw on our collective talent and ideas. Together we can restore our party’s fortunes and offer real and tangible hope for the future of this country, a stronger economy and a fairer society yes, but also a stronger society and a fairer economy – with no one left behind.