Friday, 20 May 2016

A Zip for Europe....... in England

Recent arrivals to the Liberal Democrats might have thought that the conclusive vote at Federal Conference on remedying inequality in candidate selection had resolved things.  However, one of the party's less transparent bodies, the English Council, is debating a series of resolutions as to how the party's candidate selections in England will be run.

For the uninitiated, the English Council is a body of around 160 representatives, normally elected by regional parties [and the renamed Young Liberals].  The obscureness of the electoral procedure ensures that party bureaucrats are best placed to attend.  Nonetheless it takes decisions on substantial issues including membership and candidate selections.  Its next meeting is in early July.

The English Candidates' Committee has put forward proposals on candidate selection for Westminster and Europe.  The proposals for the latter reserve places in the top 2 of the lists for women and in the top 4 for BAME candidates, provided 'sufficient' candidates apply.  [No definition of 'sufficient' is given].  The motions don't take up the full range of measures passed in the York motion, which may give rise to some debate. News of the Welsh Party's position is awaited with interest given its historic opposition to any positive action measures.

One proposal that will attract significant opposition, however, has been tabled by Liberal Democrat Women chair Liz Leffman, Belinda Brooks-Gordon and Kirsten Johnson.  It proposes full 'zipping' for women candidates.  However, it proposes nothing to address other under-representations in the party addressed in the York motion, and merely asks that some provision be made.  It is also worded in a gender-specific manner.

The motion is very unlikely to be received well by those campaigning for the party to meet the non-representation of people with disabilities or from BAME communities, or for LGBT+ campaigners seeking to improve current representation levels; scathing comments from members of Ethnic Minority Lib Dems [EMLD] have already started to appear.  Its submitters have evidently not learned from the behind-the-scenes row between the movers of the York diversity motion and those from EMLD and others furious that the original motion effectively proposed positive action only for white middle-class women.  It seems some Liberal Democrats still think that equality doesn't apply to all protected characteristics.

The 'zipping' motion reads in full as follows:

The English Council notes:
1.       The passage of the Electing Diverse MPs Policy at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference 2016, and the agreement to adopt a range of measures to improve the diversity of our Parliamentary Party;
2.       The need to ensure the diversity of our candidates for the European Parliament elections in 2019;
3.       That the European Parliament has recently published draft legislation calling on member states to take all necessary measures to promote the principle of equality between men and women throughout the whole electoral process, emphasising in this connection the importance of gender-balanced electoral lists;
4.       That in the same draft legislation, member states are encouraged to take measures to promote adequate representation of minorities;
5.       That the Equality Act (2010) enables parties to take action to promote diversity.
Council believes:
1.       That the diversity of our current elected representatives at Parliamentary level is unacceptably low;
Council calls for
1.       All regional lists for the European Elections to be zipped, as in the 1999 European Elections, with the gender of the candidates alternating down the list.
2.       50% of regional lists for the European Elections to be topped by a female candidate, with regions paired with others of similar winnability to determine whether the list is topped with a man or a woman.

3.       Provision to be made for candidates from under-represented groups (those with disabilities, BAME, LGBT+) to ensure adequate representation.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Liberal Democrats to scrap Nationbuilder?

Note: posts on this blog are published by a small team. Therefore the name listed as the author of the post is not necessarily the person who wrote it, but rather is the person who was responsible for publishing it.

Sources inform Liberator that Liberal Democrat HQ has decided to scrap its arrangement with Nationbuilder at the end of the year.

Nationbuilder is an American company which provides campaign websites for organisations like political parties which include features such as mass emails, event management, volunteer recruitment and online donations. The national Lib Dem website and the SNP national website, for instance, are both built with Nationbuilder.

In place of Nationbuilder, LDHQ apparently intends to build its own in-house replacement with the help of volunteers. How well this goes will remain to be seen - not least given the disastrous experience of previous in-house projects like the membership system.

While this will no doubt come as an annoying disappointment to the local parties and activists who have spent a lot of time and money setting up Nationbuilder websites and learning how to use them, one key an upside to an in-house website system is that it will actually be able to talk to the party’s Connect election software and its Salesforce membership database. This was one of the big drawbacks of Nationbuilder which is a major rival of the company behind Connect.

Of course, the real reason for this decision might just be cost. The off-the-shelf price of Nationbuilder for an organisation wanting to store and use up to 81,000 email addresses is almost $1,000 a month - with an additional charge of $20 a month for every extra 2,000 email addresses. While this is quite steep even for the cash strapped Liberal Democrats with a large national email database it’s even steeper considering that this same monthly charge was also applied to every single local party with a Nationbuilder website.

So is this a case of common sense cost-saving coupled with a new willingness to use tools that actually meet the party’s need rather than the latest slick, high-price American product?


It’s worth noting that the company Prater Raines, which was set up by Liberal Democrats for Liberal Democrats in 2002 to provide affordable websites, has long provided a service which, if not quite as slick as Nationbuilder, is significantly cheaper and can do most of the same things that Nationbuilder can and a few it can’t, such as checking whether someone is a paid up member of the party or not.

Indeed, it’s telling that the party leader, Tim Farron, uses Prater Raines for his constituency website rather than Nationbuilder. Some might wonder if, rather than creating something new from scratch, HQ might be better off working with Prater Raines to improve what’s already available.

Nonetheless, scrapping an expensive system far too sophisticated for most local party’s needs and replacing it with a system that actually talks to the party’s other systems is in itself a promising step. Whether this change of approach will actually last is something which can only remain to be seen.

UPDATE: While we have no reason to doubt the truthfulness of our sources, Jake Holland from Lib Dem HQ has made the following statement in response to this post on facebook:

"Contract is up for renewal later this year, but there is no plan to ditch it. It's still the best platform out there for local parties. 

We are looking at how we can build a platform for volunteers to develop new tools and apps on, that is true, but so far we are looking at building out a set of (for the technical out there) APIs. For example, we worked with a few volunteers (thank you Fred Fisher) to build a telling app, which we'll be looking to test out soon, based on an API we made available."