OMOV: the FE has submitted a mess to conference, so let’s sort it out

NIck Clegg on a beach. Photo courtesy of Liberal Democrats - some rights reserved https://www.flickr.com/photos/libdems/2879485822/in/photostream/

Not even Nick Clegg can rescue the procedural problems with the OMOV proposals. They need to be sent back for further work.

(Note – I’ve updated the post below to add in more detail, especially on the problems with the wording of the FE’s proposals.)

The package of constitutional and standing order amendments tabled for Glasgow Conference by the Federal Executive (FE) to introduce one-member one-vote (OMOV) to the party’s federal committee elections (rather than just election by conference reps) and also to allow any party member to come to conference and vote are worthy in intent but deeply flawed in practice.

The proposed changes are incomplete, introduced unplanned (and, in one case, very costly) side-effects and also fail to address the issues many people, myself included, raised during the consultation that any expansion of the electorate needs to be accompanied by measures to ensure that the wider electorate also has the chance to find out what those it elects then does in their name.

The wider the electorate, the more important it is to have good systems to supplement word of mouth for ensuring that voters know what the track record is of candidates and then subsequently what those elected get up to. Just as the party doesn’t believe that public elections are just about the electorate but also about getting the other rules right too, the same should apply to the party’s own elections.

Such views were warmly received during the consultation process, but when it comes to the proposals being put to conference, they’re absent.

Back in July I commented in response to the publication of the original outline plans:

So the proposal is to make the change without doing anything at the same time to strengthen the ability of members to find out what those they have elected are doing and so be able to hold them accountable in a meaningful way? If so, that’s very disappointing, especially as the importance of doing that came through so strongly in the consultation session, from both people who are in favour of OMOV and those who aren’t.

Sue Doughty, who is down to move the amendments, responded positively at the time (for which, kudos):

Mark, your comments about making people accountable doesn’t at all go against either what we are proposing or the current situation. We have time to get this right so any proposals on how to do this would be very helpful.

However, although I made suggestions, neither they nor others have been incorporated by the Federal Executive and the restrictions around amending proposals to change the constitution and election regulations mean that it’s not simply a matter of submitting amendments to Glasgow to sort this out. (You can’t, for example, amend a constitutional amendment in a way that brings in any new issues.)

Moreover, there’s the problem with the drafting of standing order and constitutional amendments proposed. For example, the provision that the constitution can only be amended by “a two-thirds majority of representatives present and voting at the Federal Conference” would be become “a two-thirds majority of members at the Federal Conference” – which will lead to arguments over whether and how to count members who are not in the Hall but present at conference at the time of a vote. (And what indeed is “present”; what is the geographical catchment areas within which you would be counted as present? The conference hall? The conference centre? Any of the official conference venues? Walking between them?)

Confusion would also rest over the future electorate for Federal Conference Committee as the changes would leave in the reference to the FCC’s elected members being “elected by the Federal Conference” and hence not by OMOV. And what  mechanism would be used for electing them? No mechanism is set out, so could the election simply be a show of hands in the Hall early one Sunday morning?

In a similar confusion vein, the requirement to distribute policy consultation papers is proposed to be amended to require circulation to members, which given that the only way of circulating something to all members appears to introduce a constitutional requirement to hugely increase the party’s postage bill.

The list could go on, but one other point is particularly worth mentioning. The changes would also make it much easier to call a special conference in future as they simply swap the requirement for 200 voting conference reps across at least 20 local parties to call a special conference to one for 200 members to call one. As there are far more members than conference reps, this reduces the threshold in effect massively, and indeed means that in many cases one single constituency party, if it marshalled its members effectively, could call a special conference on its own. The idea of making special conferences much easier to call is, despite its importance, one that hasn’t been raised in the consultation process so far – and therefore looks like an accidental side-effect of the way the proposals have been drafted.

Therefore the best solution is for Glasgow conference to decide on the principle of OMOV and, if it agrees to the principle, then not to bring OMOV into force until a number of necessary preparatory steps have been taken. Hence this amendment which I’m going to submit (and which I prefer to a simple opposition of the motion / reference back as it gives conference the chance to set out exactly what it wants and then tell the FE to go and do it). Thanks to Duncan Brack for improving its wording.

It needs at least 10 voting conference reps to go in, so if you’d like to support it please email me on mark.pack@gmail.com with your name, local party and membership number.


F6 Expanding the Democracy of Our Party with ‘One Member One Vote’ – amendment

Delete line 12 and replace with:

Conference, however, regrets the multiple flaws in the proposed constitutional and standing order amendments proposed to this conference, and the inclusion of new measures not previously consulted on, including (but not limited to):

  1. Ambiguous or confusing wording in the amendments to Articles 2.7, 7.2 and 8.1.
  2. The failure to amend Article 6.10(h), on the Federal Conference Committee.
  3. The abolition of the requirement for those calling for a special conference to come from 20 different local parties, making it possible for one local party on its own to call a special conference in many cases.
  4. A new and uncosted requirement for policy consultation papers to be sent to every party member, whether or not the party has a working email address for them.
  5. The failure to amend conference standing orders 1.3(b), 1.4, 1.6, 3.1, 3.2 and 4.5, all of which would retain references to conference representatives despite other amendments abolishing them.
  6. The failure to propose any amendments to committee election regulations.

Conference also believes that any expansion of the electorate must be accompanied by other reforms to improve the flow of information on the activity of party committees and their elected members to the newly increased electorate.

Conference therefore agrees in principle to expanding the rights of members as set out above, but subject first to federal conference voting through:

  1. A newly drafted set of constitutional and standing order amendments and election regulations that accurately and comprehensively cover the changes required for implementing this principle;
  1. Amendments to the party constitution requiring the Federal Conference Committee, the Federal Executive, the Federal Finance and Administration Committee, the Federal Policy Committee and the International Relations Committee each to produce a written report after each full meeting of the committee, with the report to be made available to all party members via the party’s website or such other electronic means as the Chief Executive shall decide is practical;
  1. A new confidentiality policy for attendees at federal committee meetings which significantly relaxes the current de facto situation while protecting necessary confidentiality over personnel decisions and information that would advantage our political opponents if made public and which writes the confidentiality policy into the party’s constitution;
  1. A new process for members of a federal committee to request that a public vote be recorded on any decision, with the terms of the vote and the voting record for each committee member; and
  1. One of a range of options tabled to amend the Federal Committee Election regulations to allow more campaigning by candidates and to require any online voting system to prompt voters to first view candidates’ manifestos before being able to vote.



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