At the weekend I ran the first of a series of guest posts from would-be Lib Dem President Linda Jack setting our her plans for the party in more detail. Here’s her second post, expanding on her previous comments about wanting to change and simplify the way the way party is run.
You can read Linda’s first guest post, Linda Jack sets our her plans for party reform: four problems to fix, here whilst I’ve also blogged my thoughts on one of her ideas in that first post – though you’ll notice from her comments below that Linda has some answers to the questions I raised in that post.
Note: I’ve offered the other Presidential candidates the chance to have guest posts too and am expecting some shortly.
Linda Jack: Restore, Renew, Respect – Structures fit for purpose
Our party’s institutions and systems have evolved according to need, following the Liberal-SDP merger a quarter century ago. Two reviews have taken place since then, the latest initiated by Nick on becoming leader. Unfortunately neither led to significant change, and with the coalition agreement they have been under increasing strain.
The greatest challenge is our lack of transparency. Only a handful of people thoroughly understand our party’s complexity; indeed, although a member of many governing bodies, the only full organisation chart I have seen was in the Morrissey report, which caused embarrassment internally and hilarity externally.
This complexity has hindered us as coalition partners, as politically sensitive issues can arise rapidly, and it is not unknown for civil servants to manipulate party differences to achieve ends they think are important, whatever the commitments of elected leaders.
Put simply, for any party seeking to rule with members’ consent, complexity limits responsiveness.
Complexity and lack of transparency mean it is unclear which institutions are responsible for investigating or resolving internal problems. This places the party at risk of ‘inadvertent neglect’, as has become obvious recently.
At the local level, lack of accessibility is even more concerning. I find that many members, including unpaid office holders, are unaware of where to find help with the range of challenges, good and bad, that local politics create.
A telling symptom of this problem is our tendency to create new institutions to deal with such problems. Forming new committees or conducting reviews is often a substitute for properly using existing committees, and for clarifying responsibilities.
These are all problems that I think our new President must tackle, quickly and on appointment. So in the interests of clarity and openness, here is how I would address them.
First, I will create a complete list of bodies, including all sub or sub-sub-committees, limited companies, trusts and advisory bodies, and give details of who appoints them, their formal functions, and their ‘constitutionality’.
Second, I will identify their financial sources and spending.
Third, I will propose a new structure, with fewer bodies and clearer functions and scope. Importantly I will propose clearer relationships between each body. I will make clear distinctions between those responsible for employees, for formal but unpaid party officers, and for the general membership and activists.
My key concern will be to limit functional overlaps, while also ensuring the roles of ‘sub-national’ institutions are much clearer, especially in relation to central bodies.
I believe firmly that ‘the local party should be the monarch’. I want a party that is truly and constructively ‘owned by its members’. It is an unfortunate truth that too many of our members believe they are taken for granted, and that their hard work merely creates opportunities for a party elite.
To rectify this I will propose that more party posts be directly elected, as well as proposing wider electorates where appropriate. I will also propose that our HQ budget and spending are approved annually by Conference.
To address concerns about ‘cliques” I will propose term limits, and require that more minutes are made accessible to members, for example by being online, or included in the weekly HQ emails. I will also propose an appeals system, so members may challenge the constitutionality of decisions by major bodies.
A recent concern has been the inadequacy of our internal procedures. I agree with this concern, but I think even more pressing is the competence of those overseeing the procedures; put simply, do we have the right people, and do they have the right training to ensure our procedures are conducted fairly? I would ensure anyone involved in such procedures was properly selected and trained to do the job.
Lastly, I will propose changes to the way that members talk to elected representatives. I will elaborate more fully later, but I want to address the gulf that often exists between legislation and implementation. I believe that our party, with its foundations in community campaigning, is in the strongest position to provide frank feedback on how things are going on the ground, good and bad. To me this is the most important responsibility and power that our ‘grassroots membership’ has.