Tuesday, March 27, 2007

How does the party actually work?

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...


Duncan Borrowman said...

I am probably one of the few campaigners who has read the constitution, has in the past read the London Region constitution, reads selection rules etc.

The issue for me isn't knowing what they say, it is - in the case of some of the more obscure structures (English Party.. Candidate Selection process.. are two that spring to mind) - how we have ended up with some real sledgehammer to crack a nut bureaucracy. I am genuinely intrigued at what makes people come up with lines like:
"However, a text-only, black and white calling card whose size and textual content must be approved by the Returning Officer in advance may be used by the candidate in person when calling on members at their selection register address. The candidate may leave such a card in a hand-written envelope when appropriate."

Simon said...

As an Engineer, I'm currently thinking there's a gret similarity between long running software projects, contributed to by several people over time, and long standing documents like constitutions.

You read through code and text alike and are sure to come up with bits that make you think "what was the person who wrote that bit on" and others that are simply long winded and over complicated.

Aaron Trevena said...

I think you're right - Party decisions are pretty opaque and secret unless you happen to be in the right place - even if I could get to the conference I don't feel I'd have any input.

Which brings me to the conversation I had with the guy from the party who called last night asking for more money...

I pay my membership, I paid towards the last leadership election, now I'm supposed to pay for campaigning to get more libdem councillors elected...

But my input is ignored, I don't know who my local councillors are, I don't know their policies, and all I have seen has been steeply increasing council tax, and a constant series of wasteful spending in the local papers..

Maybe it's a crazy idea, but how about we concentrated on only having local councillors who were good at their job, and ensuring national standards and policies on things like using open source to save money, using renewable energy to save money, paying councillors 'just' 40p a mile to travel by car instead of 55p, not producing pointless newspapers to 'save money' on recruitment, etc.

I'm pretty sure that seeing less Lib Dem councillors, and them doing a better job, voting against waste of money and resources instead of for it would encourage people to vote us into government, but the zealot campaigners only see bums on seats - as if having control of lot's of councils counts for an iota when it comes to MPs..

People vote for MPs based on the national party in part, and the quality of the MP, that's why you get a rotation of 'parachuted in' MPs come and go at each election while those who do a good job stay for decades regardless of the opinion polls.

That experience tells me that if we concentrated on good MPs and good councillors and coherent policies for councils then we'd get more - simply throwing money at getting more bums on seats is more likely to put voters off - If I voted for my MP based on the performance of my local councils I'd vote Mebyn Kernow or Green, not Lib Dem - but fortunately Mathew Taylor is an outstanding MP and I have faith in our shadow cabinet (heck I know who they are, and what their policies are, unlike my council)