Tuesday, June 13, 2023

ALDE Party Congress - is your journey strictly necessary, sir?

I am not a morning person, as Ros will testify. And so, rather than catch the very early morning flight on the Friday, I’d booked myself onto the mid-afternoon flight the previous day, allowing myself a leisurely journey from the Gipping Valley to Heathrow’s Terminal 5, plus a decent night’s sleep in Stockholm prior to the Congress.

And all had gone well, to the extent that I arrived more than four hours before my flight, having stopped at Westfield Stratford to buy a hat, leaving me time to have lunch (and perhaps a glass of something sparkling) in the British Airways lounge. I was settled and relaxed.

That is, I was, until 3.30, when there was a flurry of activity and the announcement that the 4.40 to Stockholm had been cancelled for reasons unknown. It suddenly became a bit chaotic, as we were first directed towards a gate and then advised to leave the airport.

So, what was a bureaucrat to do?

The first priority was to rebook my flight but, with thousands of people trying the same thing, and the British Airways app rather out of commission, I rang their call centre, taking advantage of my Silver status. They weren't able to get me on the evening flight, but there was a seat on the (horribly early) 7.05 the next morning.

Next priority, a room for the night. The Intercontinental Hotels Group app came up with a hotel within a short bus ride of Terminal 5 at a rate I was willing to pay, so I could then inform the hotel in Stockholm that I would be a day late.

And finally, clothes, given that my luggage was trapped somewhere in Terminal 5's baggage handling system. A quick trip to Richmond and a raid of Marks & Spencer did the trick before dinner and a gentle bus ride or two to my hotel.

I awoke early the next morning, far too early, and set off to the airport for attempt number 2. As advised, I called in at the assistance desk, arranged for my luggage to be linked to the new flight and checked in. Back to the lounge for breakfast and a glass of consolatory prosecco, and fingers crossed.

My expectations were not great but, with some good fortune, I arrived in Stockholm pretty much on time, as did my luggage, giving me time to get to my hotel and arrive at the Waterfront Congress Centre just in time for our first delegation meeting.

It was time to get to work...

Monday, June 12, 2023

Post-Federal Council, some musings on internal Party democracy and accountability

At the end of Federal Council last week, I raised with my new colleagues the question of reporting back - how, and to whom. I wasn’t trying to start a debate, more an attempt to give them something to dwell on.

My personal view is that, having been elected by the members (at least, those engaged enough to want to take part), I have some obligation to tell them what I’ve done and why, so far as is appropriate. Naturally, I will do that in my own mostly light-hearted way - I’ve never been one to take myself too seriously - but I will respect the responsibility that has been placed upon me.

That isn’t always easy. There have been those, many on the committees concerned, who are uncomfortable with transparency, and I do get that. Indeed, I take the view that there are some things too sensitive to be aired publicly, in which case I will not mention them or do so in a neutral manner designed to indicate that the subject has been discussed but no more.

I will also adhere to whatever rules that Federal Council decides upon in terms of confidentiality. There are some issues that require discretion, especially where they relate to individuals, in particular, staff. As a Federal Council member, I have an obligation to treat others with respect and courtesy, as made clear by the Member Code of Conduct.

This disappoints some people, who think that liberal principles require us to be utterly transparent. I judge that to be naïve, knowing as I do that our opponents would never make the same mistake. And, given that our strengths include hard work and an element of surprise, why give anything away that might jeopardise either?

My personal policy has survived the best part of two decades now, from my time on the London Liberal Democrats Regional Executive, its East of England equivalent, via English Candidates Committee to Federal International Relations Committee, and I’ve tried to be pretty consistent throughout.

That means that my reports aren’t “official” - that would require me to be the Chair, which I’m not. And they represent my perspective, based on what I know, which means that they might not be perfect - I may have missed nuance, or be unaware of institutional history/memory. But they’re mine, and I’m accountable for them.

So, when (or if) I choose to run for re-election, voters will have rather more than a brief, carefully curated, manifesto upon which to judge my worth. It is for my colleagues to decide how, and if, they do something similar, and I wouldn’t criticise their decision either way - they’re busy people with their own priorities and personal styles. Some will be more restrained, others not used to blogging or other social media. We are all different.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

ALDE Party Congress - where your correspondent did go to the (meat)ball…

The world turns, and things change.

For many years, going to an ALDE event meant being led by the suave, and occasionally cynical, Robert Woodthorpe Browne, whose almost legendary ability to cut deals meant that our influence somewhat outweighed our numerical strength. And now, we have a new leader, David Chalmers, whose first Congress this was.

Naturally, David operates rather differently, although he clearly gets that, in a post-Brexit environment, Liberal Democrats have to work harder (and smarter) to get things done. And, whilst he’s still trying to assess the strengths and weaknesses of his core delegation, and work out whether or not individuals can be trusted, he’s being cautious in terms of how much room for manoeuvre he can grant us. Discipline is the watchword.

There is a logic to that, in that we’re obviously not in a position to freelance - we’re bound by Party policy, of course, and there are relationships with other sister parties that we want to maintain.

In truth, it affects me less than some. I’m not much of a policy wonk, at least I know that I’m not expert enough to assert much. And my “specialist subject”, i.e. the inner workings of the ALDE Party, is seldom of critical import, or, if I’m frank, of interest to my colleagues. Except when it is…

And this Congress was one of those rare events, with some rather significant proposals on representation of non-EU member parties, the abolition of the Individual Members in their current form, and a clearer structure for the appointment of future Secretary Generals. Having served on a small working group appointed by the Bureau to look at the Individual Members and Secretary General issues, I at least had a grasp of what was happening and the background before it.

There were a lot of policy resolutions - forty-three in total, plus six urgency resolutions - far too many to allow any meaningful discussion, although they had been ranked in order of perceived significance to ensure that some of the most far reaching ones got debated.

But I did at least have a job of sorts. There was a time when Returning Officers mattered. With paper ballots, a count was required and ALDE’s somewhat bizarre elections rules - first past the post but with a stipulation that voters must vote for as many candidates as there are vacancies - meant that you did at least have to think a bit. Now, with electronic voting, once polls close, the ballot technician pushes a button, the results are displayed, and that’s it.

But the rules still state that a Returning Officer is necessary, and my German colleague, Daniel Obst, and myself are apparently acceptable to the Secretariat - I don’t imagine that the Bureau care much - and so we are informally approached in advance, agree to resume our double act and all is well.

All that was required was to get to Stockholm…