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Party machine in special measures

May 13th, 2010 Posted in Uncategorized by

One of the side effects of the coalition deal and events around it is to cast a brief spotlight on the strange structure and practices of the Liberal Democrat Federal Party.

The Federal Party, specifically the Federal Executive, recently came to public attention as a cog in the triple lock procedure put in place originally in order to stop Paddy Ashdown running off with Tony Blair without asking his mum and her knitting circle for permission.

In the event of the first and only proper use of the triple lock the FE graciously decided that Nick Clegg and chums could play sleeping lions with the posh kids after the rough boys tried to bully them, with only one voice of dissent.

The FE can now get back to their more regular function of talking about running the party whilst the staff and MPs get on with doing it.

In the meantime, proper fans of the triple lock on the Federal Conference Committee, have decided this historic opportunity to bring down a government, albeit their own, cannot be wasted.

With the co-operation then of the Party President, a sort of lovely mascot of unknown purpose, that nevertheless makes us all feel good, a Special Conference with a mandate to talk about the deal that has already been passed, has been called in Birmingham.

This under the pretext of demonstrating “we are a democratic party”.

Democracy generally is about power and representatives making decisions. This Special Conference is rather more like a grand truth and reconciliation committee. It can decide nothing of any substance and you can’t even vote on the nothing unless you were selected to be Conference Representative by your local party well before you had any idea the Conference was happening. Ordinary members may yet graciously be allowed to turn up, but can’t vote on nothing even if they do.

Self-declared victims of the new regime can then troop up to Birmingham, have a bit of whinge, then piss off home having exercised their democratic right to turn up.

We could go further. A truly ‘democratic’ party I guess would also go to stage three of the lock and consult the entire membership, perhaps by sending out postcards and asking people to send a smiley face or grumpy frown depending on how they were feeling. Coalition representatives could then decide what level of contrition to express at party tombola nights.

There is nothing per se wrong with the intent behind these theatrics. Consultation is a good thing, and sometimes it can change decisions.

What is odd is the antiquated manner in which it is executed and pretensions to democracy implied, that were they real would actually mean that a handful of party apparatchiks with mandates from a few dozen party members could undermine an agreement between representatives of over half the British population. Rather like a parish council having a veto on whether Britain could join the euro.

The party could consult a very large section of the membership about this deal should it wish by running a cheap on-line survey using our own software (Liberty Research) and by advertising a dedicated phone number for non-digital members to register an opinion.

That’s certainly cheaper and more carbon friendly than a train ticket to Birmingham, and more representative of party opinion than the views of those conference reps motivated enough and able enough to turn up at short notice.

The main difference is any added value one might get from a hall debate. But if you want that, organise a local party meeting, engage with the media, or utilise one of dozens of websites with a forum. That at least won’t cost the Liberal Democrats the price of hiring the NEC.

The party machine then has made itself look quaint, and whilst the MPs are engaged in a historic process of reforming and modernising real government, there appears to be a job to do within.

5 Responses to “Party machine in special measures”

  1. Jock Says:

    Rather like a parish council having a veto on whether Britain could join the euro.

    I think that’s a rather excellent idea myself!

  2. Jon Smalldon Says:

    “A truly ‘democratic’ party I guess would also go to stage three of the lock and consult the entire membership, perhaps by sending out postcards and asking people to send a smiley face or grumpy frown depending on how they were feeling.”

    This is a fine idea and should be put in place by the time the AV vote comes around. We could have two fingers for FPTP.

    But although I enjoyed the article I disagree with it. It may just be a talking shop in Brum but given that we’ve just embarked on our first time in government for generations and done it with the party most had assumed we could never work with even a talking shop for grievances is a better idea than letting bitterness fester.

  3. Foregone Conclusion Says:

    It isn’t quite a talking shop. I had a look at the rules on amendments, and although the deal is agreed to and can only be approved or vetoed, conference could tag on additional things for the leadership to push for in the future, could time-limit the coalition, etc, etc.

  4. Foregone Conclusion Says:

    One might argue that this will only be ignored by the leadership, of course!

  5. tim leunig Says:

    Tomorrow will be a love-in, and will show the world that the party at the grassroots, as well as at leadership level, is serious about putting our ideas and principles into action.