I am often fascinated by the lack of knowledge of the party's internal structures amongst otherwise very capable, very bright Liberal Democrat campaigners. I always assumed that my lack of knowledge was almost entirely caused by my lack of involvement but on being elected to the Regional Executive in November 2004, I made a point of reading the Regional Constitution (a thrill a minute, let me tell you...).
It did seem like an obvious thing to do, especially as I like to know how things work. I was subsequently surprised to find that I was in a very small minority amongst my new colleagues, to the point where I could state a relevant paragraph and be treated as some sort of oracle. As Regional Secretary, I do admittedly have responsibility for issues of bureaucracy, but it merely indicates to me that knowledge of how the Party actually interrelates is vouchsfed to comparatively few people.
Perhaps this explains the high level of frustration that, in particular, campaigners experience in trying to get things done. In turn, the fact that most organs of the Party effectively meet in secret, don't explain or justify their decisions or actions and don't initiate genuine debate helps to ensure that this remains the case.
We also tend to create some fairly labyrinthine procedures in order to achieve often quite laudable goals. Unfortunately, when these clash with the needs of campaigners, unhappiness generally ensues, especially when said structures are staffed by already stretched volunteers.
I like to think that I have, in a small way, shone some light on some of the more obscure parts of the Party. It isn't an easy task, especially as you need to respect confidentiality, avoid the risk of inhibiting frank debate, and maintain a reputation for discretion.
However, over the coming weeks, I aim to post some pieces which might help readers to understand how this political party actually works, and how you (and I, for that matter) might make best use of it. I would welcome suggestions from readers on what I should try to cover... because if I don't know the answer, I probably know someone who does...