Saturday, December 10, 2022

ALDE Party Council - some post-Council reflections

I think that I've remarked before that I'm not always good at conferences. I'm a bit shy, not necessarily the best at small talk with people that I don't know and tend to be a bit aimless unless I actually have something to do. Yes, it's nice to catch up with old friends, and conferences do offer that opportunity, but I can find them a little daunting.

Bratislava, however, went better than I might have feared. It helped that the relatively intimate gathering that is Council allows more time to catch up with old friends and colleagues and that the lobby bar at the venue hotel was actually rather nice, with comfortable armchairs and sofas, and not too brightly lit.

That meant that, as the evening passed, I found myself in conversation with some familiar faces, with the time to catch up on the rest of our lives, rather than talking politics all evening. And I accept that this seems a bit strange, given the reason we've all gathered, but I still find people fascinating, and as I have no ambition other than that of competence, it makes for a much more enjoyable, relaxing time.

Turning to the politics, I have found, I think, a niche within our delegation, and there were enough things to engage me to give me the impression that my presence was useful. And that matters because going all the way to Slovakia for a relatively short event is not without cost.

Whilst I occasionally kick back against the idea of being pigeonholed as a bureaucrat, there is a role for someone to hold the ALDE Party Bureau accountable, rather than just focussing on the policy and campaigning elements. As I've said before, a political party is better at winning elections if it is well-run and well managed. Without a strong base, all of the policies in the world mean little if you don't have a machine by which they can be communicated to voters. The trick is to balance the various demands of campaigning, ideas generation and compliance.

Reassuringly, the current Party delegation seem happy enough to trust me to fulfil my role in such a way as to not upset too many people and, in return, I make sure that they understand what I'm doing and why. That reassurance is a two-way street, in that knowing that I have their confidence makes me better at what I do.

With that confidence comes a greater ability to chip in on policy making. I'm not an expert, unlike some of my colleagues, but I'm well-informed, bring the viewpoint of someone with a South Asian background, plus a degree of gentle cynicism about the glories of Western democracy. That means that, when we're debating something within the group, I can perhaps tweak the language of a resolution or amendment or judge the efficacy of an idea and occasionally convince my colleagues to change tack a little.

And, given that I've been around rather longer than many, especially within the ALDE Party, I can find solutions to problems that might otherwise be complex. I know who to talk to and when, I know how the Statutes and Internal Regulations work, and I have a comfortable relationship with the ALDE Party Secretariat. Sometimes, that can be very useful.

I think, therefore, that I can look forward to three more years as a member of our delegation with a degree of confidence. Not too much, because I'm not that kind of person, but enough to allow me to be a little more relaxed, a little more "me". The first test of that will be Stockholm at the end of May. Let's hope that I pass... 

Friday, December 09, 2022

ALDE Party Council, Bratislava 2022 - so, what did I actually do?

So, having given a more formal report on events in Bratislava, it’s really rather about time that I offer a more personal perspective on events, one that focuses more on me and what I did there.

Delegation Meeting

Whilst our primary business was discussing the urgency resolutions, my contribution was to offer some compromise language and update my colleagues on some technical details.

Individual Members summit

The leadership of the Individual Members are deeply unhappy about the proposal to bring the current arrangements to an end and create a new “Friends of ALDE” group. Members of the new group would not have voting rights at Congress or Council and would be supporters rather than active participants. I’m a Liberal Associate (the descriptor for non-EU members) with rights pretty much equivalent to those proposed under the new arrangements and had two reasons for attending, one rather more controversial than the other.

As a member, I had every right to attend and express my views. However, as one of the primary authors of the paper that was to be presented to Council the next day, I am partly responsible for the proposals by which the Individual Members will be wound up.

I do think that the leadership of the Individual Members has been pretty poor in recent years, resembling nothing more than a group of squabbling children arguing over possession of a rather shabby toy. The meetings I have attended have been pretty unedifying and behaviour has been poor. But that is, in itself, an argument for finding better leaders rather than simply abandoning the idea. Instead, my concern is that the policy demands of the Individual Members leadership seem determined to reduce the influence of the member parties to a point where there would be little value in paying an annual subscription. There is a philosophical chasm between the objectives of the two sides, and I can’t see how it can be reconciled.

I’m also not convinced that the leadership represent much more than themselves. The participants in their policy working groups come from a very small pool indeed. I am convinced that the majority of Individual Members join for three reasons - to show support, to be kept up to date with events and to attend briefings and seminars. The new proposal would allow all of that.

I didn’t want to say too much - I don’t agree with the stance they are taking - but felt obliged to correct some of the inaccuracies in their claims. And, whilst I don’t think that they’re in the mood to listen, I did at least try to convince them to stick to the facts.

Stuttgart Declaration session

I was a bit late for this, due to the Individual Members but I did make a contribution. The 1976 Stuttgart Declaration was the founding document for what is now ALDE and it is proposed to update it for a new political age.

It would be successful, I suggested, if we could come up with a statement of principles such that, if someone was to attempt to guess our policy stance on a particular issue, the statement would point towards what it might be. The great liberal philosophers remain valid because their arguments resonate across the ages, and our document should too. The policy statement which follows would be more of an appendix. That seemed to meet with approval, so perhaps I’ve hit upon something.


As the delegation’s “house bureaucrat”, I’m given licence to lead on finance and organisational stuff. So, I queried why we weren’t offered an indication of the current 2022 budget outturn figures when asked to approve the 2023 budget. Comparing it to a 2022 budget which may, or may not, be a fair reflection of what actually happened, rather hampers Council from doing its job of scrutiny. The Treasurer suggested that it would be inappropriate to offer us unaudited figures and I guess that my perspective as a tax inspector differs from his as an accountant. I think that he’s wrong - my job is to scrutinise his work, not merely to applaud it, and I don’t doubt that I’ll return to that topic in May.

I also had a central role in the discussion of how a Secretary General is appointed and evaluated, given that I co-wrote the document that the Bureau presented to Council. The failure of the Co-Presidents to manage the agenda meant that it didn’t really get the airing I had hoped, which augurs badly for the discussion that has to take place at the next Congress. I raised the issue of a “conflict of interest” clause, preventing Bureau members from seeking the position within two years of the end of their term as a Bureau member - something we take for granted in government here. I sensed that Co-President Timmy Dooley wasn’t keen and whilst I did rather spring it on him, it’s an argument that I haven’t given up on.

I had to explain to the delegate from the Individual Members that the paper on the future of their organisation wasn’t a platform to argue whether or not they should be abolished - that decision was taken in Dublin at the previous Congress, after all - so trying to make the argument wasn’t particularly helpful. I’m guessing that this will run and run, not helped by some of the contradictory messages being conveyed.

If I had to sum up how Council went, from a personal perspective, I’d say that I did what I promised I would do, scrutinising the work of the ALDE Party, offering a perspective stemming from a firm belief that an organisation should live its own values in terms of how it operates and how it treats its people.