Saturday, November 04, 2006

English Candidates Committee, live from the Birmingham Hippodrome!

Today saw this bureaucrat head to Birmingham for English Candidates Committee, a group which does seem to be somewhat controversial at the moment.

Accusations that we're being less than pro-active in moving selections forward, that we are defending an inefficient, time consuming system that discriminates against women and ethnic minorities, that we're not willing to discuss the issue openly, seem to be tossed about quite freely and yet, when we initiate contact in an attempt to inform and debate, the silence is deafening.

This is my first year as a member of this august body, and I've been impressed by the desire of my colleagues to hone the process, address issues of diversity and defend the interests of the Party, candidates and members alike. Today we managed to agree the European Parliamentary Selection Rules in remarkably short order and spent the afternoon discussing a series of amendments to the Selection Rules, drafted by a group of members of the Parliamentary Candidates Association, an organisation which has been the target of my criticism in the past.

I won't go into details about their proposals, except to note that they were in parts contradictory, authoritarian, centralist and naive. You almost sensed that the authors hadn't actually read the Selection Rules properly prior to drafting their proposals and, worse still, not understood how the Party functions. I freely admit that, whilst not actually shooting the messenger, I did administer the metaphorical and philosophical equivalent of a punishment beating. It was perhaps bad enough that I referred back two of their proposals (one for being inappropriate to the Committee, the other for failing to include required enabling proposals), but I then deconstructed each motion, highlighting its practical and philosophical failings. I was far from alone though, and the various motions crashed and burned to clear defeat.

There is a lesson to be learned from this. English Candidates Committee is not the sole font of wisdom in terms of candidate approval and selection. However, we have a perspective born from a lack of personal self-interest. Candidates have an aim at the end of it, to get elected. People like me do this because we care. We give up our weekends and our evenings, not because we hope to get elected, but because we firmly believe that someone needs to enable candidates, Local Parties and ordinary members to play the fullest part in the process. There is a need to balance those elements, to take into account the needs of the wider Party. So, if you don't like what we're doing, talk to us about it. And some people do...

On a personal note, I was confirmed in my role as Returning Officer for South East England Liberal Democrats, an region which covers the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, East Sussex, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Kent, Oxfordshire, Surrey and West Sussex. This will be my third performance in the role, one that I have greatly enjoyed previously. Having been appointed very early in the process this time (I'm the only one appointed so far), I aim to get some things set up before the formal process starts...

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