Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Lib Dem leadership stifles debate on Europe - and U-turns on a promise?

After 400+ party members signed a petition to trigger a special conference to debate a Stop Brexit policy, the powers that be in the Liberal Democrats agreed to a compromise where they would enable the policy to be debated at autumn conference in Bournemouth in exchange for the petition being withdrawn.

But now, at the last minute, it seems that the party’s Federal Conference Committee (FCC) has broken a promise to remain neutral in a crucial conference vote this Saturday and will now oppose the attempt to suspend standing orders to allow a Stop Brexit policy motion to be debated in place of a scheduled “consultation” session on Brexit.

In a blogpost, Andrew Hickey, one of the organisers of the special conference petition, has detailed how the organisers reluctantly agreed to cancel the demand for a special conference (in order to save the party the estimated £15,000 cost of holding it) after the FCC proposed the standing orders vote as a potential solution.

In an email to the organisers, Andrew Wiseman, Chair of the FCC, promised that:
“FCC has said it will not oppose the suspension of standing orders. Some members are in favour and other are against, but as a committee it has said it will not oppose and will be neutral. When I speak to the FCC report I will make it clear that FCC do not oppose this.”

After the organisers reluctantly agreed to this compromise, nothing further was heard until last week when someone in the higher levels of the party briefed against the Stop Brexit policy motion to that well-known organ of Liberal opinion the Daily Mirror.

Then, on Saturday, FCC voted to oppose the suspension of standing orders in a 5-4 vote – with at least one FCC member claiming they had not been told that Andrew Wiseman had promised the petition organisers that FCC would remain neutral on the issue.

FCC also voted for a wrecking amendment to be debated alongside the Stop Brexit policy motion (should said debate take place) which would replace the heart of the motion with a policy of wanting a second referendum to accept or reject the government’s Brexit deal – the same policy that saw the Liberal Democrats score their lowest post-World War II vote share in this year’s general election.  Wrecking amendments cannot be taken for debate according to Conference Standing Orders.

Liberator Collective member George Potter, a supporter of the motion, tells us that:
"Once again it seems that, rather than risk members democratically deciding whether the party’s policy should be principled opposition to Brexit completely or just calling for a second referendum, the Liberal Democrat leadership would rather use underhand and deceitful tactics to stop the debate from even taking place.

If they are successful, not only will the party’s members have been robbed of their say on one of the most important issues of the time, but the party won’t have another chance to decide a Brexit policy until the end of 2018, less than six months before the UK is due to leave the EU."

All of which will be a new test for Cable's new chief of staff Sarah Olney, who as a post-2015 member is unlikely to have seen any proper Conference rows (until now).  Did she encourage FCC leadership drones into this U-turn - or was she given lessons by those who led the party into its Coalition-era car-crash on the NHS Bill?

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Paddy Ashdown: stranger than fiction

Paddy Ashdown's been at it again.

He has reportedly embarked on a new career writing fiction.  This, however, proves the old adage that truth is often stranger.  Not the reports of involvement in plotting to depose Tim Farron as leader (for more of that, subscribe to Liberator and read Radical Bulletin in the forthcoming issue).

The Federal Board was, to say the least, surprised to receive a paper from the former leader which had to be seen to be believed.  Putting aside his frequent Mark Twain quotation of not interfering - "don't speak to the helmsman, don't spit at the floor", the noble Lord railed at the party's democratic structures and its now one-member, one-vote Conference.  Scrap it all, he says - and replace it with a 38 Degrees-style direct democracy organisation, free of values in which anyone can join, free of charge, vote on a key matter and then not so much leave as merely log out.

In the interests of transparency, Liberator is publishing the text here, in full.

Unfortunately for Paddy, the Board did not like his proposal much.  Following the fiasco of his tenure of the 2015 "Wheelhouse" and his current stint as local party chair in Yeovil - seeing the return of a 15,000 Tory majority, last seen in 1979 - it may be that he heeds the advice of one member that "the Board thought a pile of horse manure would be a more cogent and realistic statement", and presses 'Delete'.  Or he might just send it to his friend Tony Blair instead.


Here is Ashdown’s second rule for the internet age: “If you see a business model that takes no account of the new technologies, you see a business model which is failing”.

This applies to most newspapers, some old fashioned businesses and nearly all political parties.

Conventional political parties remain immovably stuck in the 1870s.

They are vertical hierarchies, when the paradigm structure of our time is the network.

They are high overhead, narrow membership, high cost of entry, limited participation organisations, while successful social and commercial structures are based on a low overhead, mass membership, low (or no) cost of entry and instant participation model.

They are festooned with lumbering committees and a tangle of elections which pretend to provide accountability and transparency, but actually obscure both, when direct instant democratic participation is the rule for the most successful modern civil society movements and political structures (think Cinque Stella, Momentum, More United and En Marche).

In order to play a full part, today’s conventional political party requires its members to be obsessives prepared to spend evenings in damp village halls and bright September days when they could be on the beach, in stuffy conclaves at faded seaside resorts, passing obscure amendments to policies no-one will ever hear of again. But most ordinary people nowadays conduct their internet lives, not through consuming singular obsessions, but through multiple daily transactions which mix what they believe in, with earning a living and having fun.

Political Parties, as institutions are dying (except those who have in some form or another adopted the internet in their internal structures, like Momentum and Labour). This is one of the reasons why our politics seems so bewildering and senseless to ordinary people and voters.

Our Party is in an extremely hazardous condition. Unless we do something radical and different soon, our old members will become disheartened and our new members will fade away.

Here is my proposition. The Party Board should commission a study which would report in short order (but before the end of July) to investigate whether and if so how and in what time frame, the Lib Dems could be converted into a modern, internet based political organisation (LibDems.org), structured around a low overhead, low cost of entry, mass movement model in which a one person one vote internet enabled democracy, was the normal way of taking all our key decisions.