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What we must do next to learn the lessons of 2019

January 22, 2022 8:47 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

The headline "two new MPs so far in this Parliament" is a welcome one. Winning, especially winning with record swings, is what we all want.

Underneath the headline is a lot of hard work, plenty of tough decisions, and a drive to improve. We should all be thankful to our activists, staff and supporters.

It is clear to me that the diagnosis and recommendations my team and I set out after the failures of 2019 were right, and that they are being taken seriously. Not least among them was that a Federal Board of 41 members cannot, and should not, be the clear leadership team we need to steer our party and help us all win elections. Something of that size is a talking shop, and talking shops are neither democratic nor effective.

I therefore welcome the Federal Board's motion to Spring Conference setting out options for reforming the structure of the Board.

My thanks to those who took part in the supporting consultation - collectively you have been clear that it is time for change. This feedback was crucial in helping the Board refine our options to a sensible number for consideration. With limited time, not all ideas could be brought to the floor.

Conference is being asked to choose between three options for change, and then finally between reform and the status quo.

As you can see (below) from the proposed set-up of a new Board, the options deliberately ensure key voices from across the party - geographically, demographically and in other respects - are built in.

I am pleased that the reform options presented address the concerns highlighted in my review. The options provide for a smaller, more nimble leadership team.

They also retain the democratic selection we cherish while clarifying responsibilities, individual and collective.

I see in these options a chance to better encourage cooperation across the party. To build a real leadership team. Only when we have that team can our leaders be held collectively accountable by members: currently a missing ingredient.

That accountability makes for a better democracy for members. Too much power, now, is wielded outside of our official structures, and so outside of accountability.

I look forward to a rigorous, healthy debate at Conference. This is a complex question and I will be listening hard to colleagues and friends to help make my own decision. My principles will be democracy, accountability, electability, and not letting the best be the enemy of the good.

Organisational change is not easy. For us, though, it is necessary.

Do see below for a quick summary of the options coming, in more detail, to Spring Conference.

What a reformed Board would look like: key points

The smaller, reformed Board under these proposals would consist of:

  • The President, who shall act as its Chair;
  • The Leader;
  • The Chair of the English Party, the Convenor of the Scottish Party and the President of the Welsh Party;
  • The Vice President responsible for working with ethnic minority communities;
  • Three people who shall be party members elected by all members of the Party except that persons who, at the date of the close of nominations for election under this paragraph, are members of Parliamentary Parties set out in Article 17 shall not be eligible to be candidates for election under this paragraph. Casual vacancies amongst this group shall be filled in accordance with the election regulations;
  • A Vice-Chair of the Federal Policy Committee;
  • The Chairs of the Federal Conference Committee, the Federal Communications and Elections Committee, the Federal Finance and Resources Committee and the Federal People Development Committee;
  • The Chair of the Young Liberals; and
  • A principal local authority councillor, elected Mayor or Police and Crime Commissioner, elected by the principal local authority councillors, elected Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners of the Party.

Others would also be invited to Board meetings where applicable, such as a staff representative and the Chief Whip for topics that particularly affect staff or interact with our MPs respectively.

It's important to note how many of the roles listed are already elected by party members, given direct accountability:

  • The Party Leader, President and Vice President responsible for working with ethnic minority communities are all elected by all party members; and
  • The Scottish Convenor is elected by all members in Scotland, the Welsh President is elected by all members in Wales, the Chair of Young Liberals is elected by all Young Liberals members, that the councillor representative is elected by all councillors, and that the Chair of Federal Conference Committee (FCC) has to come from the FCC members elected by all party members.

Conference will also be asked to choose an option for holding the Board to account, with options including a relatively small 'scrutiny committee' model of less than 20 members, a larger 'Party Council' model of about 40 members, or direct oversight by Conference itself alone.

More details of these options are in the full motion which will appear in the conference agenda.