Well, I’m truly gobsmacked!
Along with all other candidates for the Federal Committees, I received an email yesterday evening from the Returning Officer telling me that the results would be published on the party website at 9am today. I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t get on. There were so many good candidates who were better known than I am.
So, it was an enormous surprise to find that I had, in fact, been elected. I am truly grateful to everyone who voted for me. I really want to play my part in getting this party ready to fight the European and Westminster elections and am looking forward to the challenges of the next two years. All of the results are available here with the detailed breakdowns over at the wonderful Colin Rosenstiel’s site.
What I need from all of you who are party members is to talk to me. Tell me what you think the FE’s priorities should be. Tell me what’s happening on your patch and how the Liberal Democrat world looks to you. Tell me what’s working and what isn’t. If you aren’t getting enough information on things, ask me. If you want to email, do so on caronsmusingsATgooglemailDOTcom, If you want to talk to me, I will give you my phone number, but I don’t really want to put it on here just in case some drunken cybernats fancy having some middle-of-the-night prank calling fun.
Election results always bring bad news as well as good. Personally, I was absolutely distraught that Candy Piercy was not returned to FE. She is one of the wisest, most practical heads this party has and I hadn’t in my wildest nightmares thought she wouldn’t be re-elected. I actually cried when I saw Arnie Gibbons wasn’t voted back on to Federal Conference Committee. He’s pretty much always done the right thing. He, Jon Ball and Jeremy Hargreaves going means that the Committee loses a whole load of experience. It has six new faces who will have a steep learning curve. Of course, Gareth Epps, who led the charge against accreditation, has been on before.
Another surprise was the departure of Linda Jack from both FPC and FCC. It goes to show, I think, that her stance of direct opposition to the Coalition is not widely supported within the party and that Liberal Left doesn’t have that much of a fan base.
I have to say that, having heard her passionate speeches on welfare reform and equal citizenship, I am absolutely delighted that Kelly-Marie Blundell has been elected to both FCC and FPC. She’ll be a robust and constructive presence on both.
Social liberals, whether within the Social Liberal Forum or not, are going to be well represented, taking a majority of the directly elected places on FPC. There’s a gain on FCC, too and 6 SLF candidates that I know of were elected to FE, including me. There will be interesting discussions to be had on exactly what we present to the electorate in 2015 in terms of fiscal policy. Danny Alexander has intimated his view that further deficit reduction measures will be necessary. I can’t see many of the new FPC being happy about that.
The Liberal Democrat Voice team did quite well – me on FE, Mark Pack on FPC and Mark Valladares on the ELDR delegation. Although the latter will probably be called the ALDE delegation now that they’ve changed their name in Dublin today. I have to say, I’m never very keen on the idea of dropping the word reform from anything.
I do think we need to review the way we do these elections though. The electorate is voting reps to Conference, roughly 10% of the membership and even amongst those the turnout is nowhere near as good as it could be. My instinct tells me that all members should have a vote, both at Conference and in internal elections. Some think that if you give all members a vote, it’ll actually weaken the party democracy because it makes it vulnerable to infiltration by people with a specific agenda. This was very much an SDP-led inclusion in the make up of the party. They’d seen what the likes of Militant had done to Labour and wanted to put up barriers to stop it happening in the new party. I’m not sure that’s enough of a reason to deny such a huge proportion of your members a say in these elections. Certainly, all members choose the leader and President, but we should be looking at extending our internal democracy. The power in this party has to be with its members.
However, the power can only be with members if we engage with them more. We have to be aware that, unless we’re very careful, those whose names are known for being Great and Good may have an unfair advantage. That could weaken, rather than strengthen, democracy, concentrating power in the hands of too few people which would be just as bad. That is no excuse not to do it – we have to be innovative. For the first time, candidates have been allowed to campaign in these elections, but I think we need to take it further.
The party needs to create a space where candidates can be questioned. Apart from the sterling work put in by Jennie and Andy Hinton, there’s not been a chance to find the candidates’ views on anything not in their manifestos. We need to think about how we can use technology, at no cost to candidates so there are no financial barriers to taking part, to engage the electorate.
I don’t want us to be having the same conversation in two years’ time, so I’d like to see some fast movement on this. We should consult widely within the party during the first few months of next year – have sessions at state, Federal and regional conferences, get local parties involved and make online submission not just possible but welcome. We then need to listen to what we’re told and make changes in time for the next elections in 2014.
Extending the franchise always has a cost implication, but, in my experience, these things pay for themselves if you include an appeal with them. We’ve now had two all member elections for the Scottish Party Exec and office bearers since we changed our constitution in 2009. We also gave all our members a vote, which I think has helped with attendance at Conference. It’s much more of a motivation to go to Conference if you know you have a say. We also need to find some way of allowing people who can’t go to Conference to participate in it.
What I don’t want to happen is for us to disappear into our own belly buttons to talk about internal and process to the exclusion of all else. We can’t allow ourselves to be distracted from the job of winning elections – County Councils in 2013 alongside other local elections, Euros in 2014 and Westminster in 2015. Every single thing we do between now and then has to have an eye to winning as much as humanly possible in those polls.We need a more engaged, involved party to help us with that and there are things we need to do to enhance the whole experience of being a member, not just change the election procedures.
The next two years starts here. For party members, my door, phone line and inbox are always open so please talk to me. I can’t be a good FE member without you.