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Policy without the Wonks?

May 30, 2016 Comments off

I’ve often said here that people join political parties because they care about specific issues, and they think the party is the best way to advance that issue. Having policy on an issue is one way to encourage people to join in the first place; being the kind of party that would do the “right” thing is another. If we want more people to join the Lib Dems, and to be enthusiastically engaged in our activities and campaigns, then we need to make sure that they’re getting traction on the issues they care about, and that often starts with a policy – a statement of what the Lib Dems think should be done about a particular issue.

Currently, policy making requires a certain amount of expert knowledge. There are a lot more people that care about issues, than know exactly what levers of power are available to be pulled, particularly at different levels such as council and Parliament. So how can we make policy formation more open to non-experts and more responsive? Firstly, we need to know what makes our members tick – what are the issues that move them? You’d be surprised how few local parties can answer this question, particularly about the members who aren’t already activists. Member surveys as part of your member communications process (whether that’s by phone, online or by post) can play a key role here, as can collecting this kind of data at a social event – get people to write down one reason why they joined on a post-it note, and collate them on a handy wall.

Secondly, we need to know what’s possible; this is where the policy experts do come in handy. We need to put the people who have the knowledge in touch with the people who have the desire. Ask around your current and former councillors, candidates and Parliamentarians. Nearby local parties or regions might be able to lend an expert; ALDC might be able to give guidance. How you put these together is up to you; different approaches will work for different local parties. Currently I’m planning some free-form discussion online, either using a forum over the space of a couple of weeks, or some online chat sessions, to flesh out proposals. I’d like to finish this with a day-long face-to-face event, perhaps structured like an Unconference.

Of course, the Lib Dems have a regional, state and national policy process for “official” policy which involves detailed policy motions being debated, amended and voted on at a conference. This requires a certain amount of expert knowledge, and the time and money to attend the conference. The approach I’ve outlined above is hopefully a little more flexible and can serve not only for local manifestos which tend to be a bit more ad-hoc, but also as a way of generating policy input into Conferences.

Where Next for Diversity in the Liberal Democrats?

March 14, 2016 4 comments
beckythomas

Becky Thomas moving the East Midlands Lib Dems amendment opposing All-Women Shortlists

Unfortunately, the amendment to remove all-women shortlists was defeated at Conference earlier today. The debate was generally good on both sides, though the summation was patronising in the extreme. Ultimately though, the strength of the leadership support and the long-trailed campaign including paid Facebook and Twitter adverts, helped to win the day. Sarah Brown’s excellent canary speech swayed a few undecided voters to support the amendment, but not enough.

Still, the voice of Conference has been heard, and it is time to look forward. I do not believe that AWS will solve all our problems, and I believe they need solving. This means I need to play a part in changing my party for the better, and help obviate the arguments made to support AWS before they become entrenched. Thinking more about the points from my last post on this, and from talking to members at conference, it seems that the problems that need to be tackled can be divided into a small number of intertwined areas:

  1. Direct discrimination and harassment, particularly of young and female members. This is effectively a pastoral care issue. We know from the Morrissey Report that the pastoral care in the party has been lacking. We now have a Pastoral Care Officer at LDHQ who is highly praised, but the party hasn’t managed to embed a culture of challenging harassment using the pastoral care system. I get the impression that people still think it’s too awkward, too much red tape, or too unlikely to get results. Perhaps we need another update to the Morrissey Report following the preliminary December 2014 review to give more confidence to members, or the Rock the Boat group to become some sort of support group for those making complaints.
  2. Concentration of power among unaccountable cliques, which entrenches unconscious (and conscious) bias in ways that are difficult to challenge through the democratic processes of the party. Changing the processes to improve transparency and accountability is a governance issue; the current Governance Review may be a good opportunity to challenge this at an institutional level, but practical suggestions must be made.
  3. Bias in recruitment and retention – this is a membership issue. The idea of my previous post, that development and target seats must meet local membership and leadership diversity targets to receive support from LDHQ, still seems to have merit; this would go some way to tackling the bias in winnable seats. As with the membership rebate scheme, giving ownership of this problem to local parties is likely to be the best way to see concrete results.
  4. The expectations we have of potential candidates, and the criteria we use (consciously or otherwise) to select them. This is a campaigns issue. We expect our candidates to primarily be “good campaigners”, rather than people who will make good councillors or Parliamentarians. This biases us towards the able-bodied, those without caring responsibilities, those who do not work long hours, and those who are able to handle the stress of being the focal point of the campaign trail. This even goes against our own best campaign practice about building strong teams and identifying candidates who will be good at the job once elected.

These problems are all interlinked to some degree – for example, if your local party isn’t diverse, then the power will always be held by a homogeneous group no matter how transparent and accountable the members of that group may be. And the solutions to these problems will be far more complex than the glib outlines I’ve made above. But I think that trying to tease the issues apart into different areas of responsibility may be helpful in finding a starting point. So what have I missed? Let me know!

lytokenwomen

Liberal Youth members protesting all-women shortlists, with “I Am Not A Token Woman” T-shirts

On THAT Motion, and Diversity within the Party

March 12, 2016 1 comment
New Liberal Democrat chair of candidates, Mitt Romney

New Liberal Democrat chair of candidates, Mitt Romney

I’ve been following the discussions on motion F20, “Electing Diverse MPs”, for a while now. It’s also known as “the All-Women Shortlist” motion as that is one of its recommendations. It’s certainly controversial, particularly among women, and I honestly don’t know which way the vote is likely to go tomorrow morning. I am not going to get into some of the antics surrounding the establishment campaign to push this through, though I’d really like to rant about the (white cis male) person who told me I don’t care about diversity if I don’t support this motion.

When you strip away the reams of facts and figures in the run-up, what it’s proposing seems fairly limited to me:

Conference therefore resolves that to increase the proportion of Liberal Democrats from under-represented groups in the House of Commons the Liberal Democrats will:

  1. Continue and extend support for individuals seeking approval or selection as Westminster candidates from under-represented groups, thus building on the work that has been done in the past including the Leadership Programme.
  2. Create a ‘2020 Candidate Diversity Task Force’ to co-ordinate partywide efforts to actively recruit parliamentary candidates from underrepresented groups from both inside and outside the Party. This will include a focus on recruiting candidates with more than one protected characteristic and from minorities who are under-represented even within under-represented groups. The Task Force will work with ALDC and our cohort of councillors, recognising that, whilst local government is important in its own right, it can also be a good recruiting ground for potential Parliamentary candidates. It will report to the Federal Executive, working with the Diversity Engagement Group as appropriate. The Task Force will have one representative each from the three state parties, the Federal Executive, ALDC, EMLD, LDDA, LGBT+, LDW, Liberal Youth and PCA and be led by a Candidate Diversity Champion appointed by the Leader and the President. The Federal Executive Report to Conference will include updates on the work of the Candidate Diversity Task Force.
  3. Through the work of the 2020 Candidate Diversity Task Force and Candidate Diversity Champion, in association with SAOs, AOs, ALDC and parliamentary candidates, examine the party’s approval and selection processes, and the role of PPCs after selection, to identify barriers that may exist for under-represented groups, including those identified in the Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Selection, as well as disadvantaged groups including those from a low socioeconomic background. Solutions will be proposed to overcome these barriers; to seek to make proposals to increase diversity at all levels in the party; and to bring forward proposals on how to address the emotional, practical and financial challenges facing candidates from under-represented groups.

So point (A) is doing what we’re already doing; point (B) is also doing what we’re already doing – the groups mentioned are already represented through the Diversity Engagement Group, so this is just recreating the same organisation and giving it a task it should already be doing. (C) is an expansion of the thing that the group in (B) should be doing.

Conference recommends that:

  1. Any local party should be able to vote for an all-women shortlist or an all-disabled shortlist, or reserve some spaces for candidates from other under-represented groups.
  2. As a minimum the three state parties should follow the Canadian Liberal Party practice of requiring the relevant Local Party to provide documented evidence to their region or state (as relevant) of a thorough search for potential candidates from under-represented groups before being granted permission to start their Westminster selection process; this should apply in those seats where the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate received more than 15% of the vote in the 2015 General Election but the seat is not held by the Liberal Democrats.
  3. In Scotland, Wales and each Region of the English Party, take measures to move towards a slate of candidates that reflects the diversity of the state or region, in line with the Leader’s ambition of having at least 50% women candidates and at least 10% BAME candidates across Great Britain.
  4. If any sitting MP elected in 2015 decides not to contest the next General Election, his replacement should be selected from an all-women shortlist.
  5. In Scotland, Wales, and each Region of the English Party where there are two or more non-held seats which gained 25% or more of the General Election vote in May 2015, the regions should designate as a minimum of one seat not held by a Liberal Democrat MP to select its candidate from an all-women shortlist. Where these seats are affected by boundary changes, the party’s rules on re-running selection processes will apply.
  6. In addition to the one seat identified in 5. above, where the Liberal Democrat parliamentary result at the 2015 General Election was in the 10% of seats which had the highest percentage vote without returning a Liberal Democrat MP, the selection shortlist for the 2020 General Election should, subject to sufficient applications, include at least two candidates from under-represented groups.

Most of the points are aimed at all-women shortlists, and some of the others are vague, particularly the unspecified measures in (3). I was speaking to a regional candidate’s chair who was hard pressed to find enough people to stand in the 2015 General Election, who feels that the requirements to “provide documented evidence” and include candidates for under-represented groups will be either meaningless or impossible to meet based on the current ratios of women and BME people in particular who put themselves forward for candidate approval. He anticipates finding one or two token potential candidates to ship around the region to selection meetings to make up the numbers where local parties haven’t made any real effort to address diversity. I think this hits the crux of the problem for me – this motion is a top-down solution to a bottom-up problem.

I’m not going to get into whether doing this, or failing to do this, is “fundamentally illiberal”. That’s a silly argument, and I believe that most people, however they plan to vote, have good intentions. There are of course some people who deny that the Lib Dems have any diversity problem at all, but there’s no accounting for whatever planet they’re on. The question is, what problem are we trying to solve? Given the number of women who’ve told me they won’t stand for Parliament if the party adopts AWS, I’m not sure it’ll get us many more female candidates. I don’t think it’ll do anything to address some of the sexist attitudes within the party, nor the concentration of power among the typically male, pale ad stale usual suspects, and I fear that it may engender ill-will among activists which will make us less likely to elect female candidates selected under AWS, since we don’t have any safe seats to speak of.

Fortunately, the Federal Conference Committee has selected two good amendments for debate. The one from Ethnic Minority Lib Dems which aims to improve the motion’s approach to BME diversity is a no-brainer. The second, from the East Midlands Liberal Democrats, keeps the working group and the requirement for state and regional parties to take measure to reflect diversity, but removes the proposals for all-women shortlists. Since the proponents of the motion have been telling me that it’s about more than AWS and is a comprehensive strategy for diversity, I’m sure the same people wouldn’t describe this as a wrecking amendment. My hope is that the motion passes with both amendments, and that’s what I’ll be supporting. If the East Midlands amendment falls, I’m not sure how I’ll vote on the main motion – it comes down to whether perceived inaction on the part of the party will do us more harm than the negative effects of introducing AWS, and that’s a tough call to make.

Where Next?

As I mentioned in my conference diary post, I’m feeling a bit guilty that I didn’t engage with this motion sooner. I’m sure this blog, coming ten hours before the debate, won’t influence too many people ahead of the vote. But whatever Conference decides, we’ll have to live with it and move on. One argument in support of the motion is that “we’ve tried other things and they didn’t work” – this is unarguably true, but I think we need to consider why those other things didn’t work, and why we think that AWS might succeed where they failed. If we don’t understand that, and I haven’t seen any real attempt to do so, then this motion simply follows the “Yes, Prime Minister” adage – something must be done; this is something, therefore we must do it.

When challenged to provide an alternative to AWS, I thought back to the party’s membership rebate scheme – by giving tangible rewards to local parties for improving recruitment and retention, we saw a massive grass-roots recruiting effort which has increased our party’s membership base for eleven consecutive quarters. I’m wondering if we can do something similar here; since the motion is talking mainly about Parliamentary elections, let’s try to solve the diversity problem that way. I propose two simple tests; the more I think about them, the more I think this approach has legs.

  1. A constituency can only qualify as a “development seat” with regards to support provided by LDHQ if its Liberal Democrat membership reflects the diversity of the people it seeks to represent.
  2. A constituency can only qualify as a “target seat” with regards to support provided by LDHQ if its Liberal Democrat local executive reflects the diversity of the people it seeks to represent.

Of course, (2) is rather at the whim of the people who choose to stand for internal election, and the people who vote for them in those internal elections, but the same applies to Parliamentary candidate selection, so I’m not going to rule it out straight away.

There are other noble things which we can attempt – for a while, I thought that carrots and sticks to get people to attend the party’s excellent diversity and unconscious bias training would help, but the adage about taking a horse to water applies here.

We also need to tackle the big cultural problem that we select candidates who have plenty of personal time and money to invest into the election campaign, rather than selecting the candidates who would make great Lib Dem MPs and working around their current personal circumstances.

In any event, the only way we’re going to tackle this problem is by getting enough people at the grassroots to grasp it and address it head-on in their local community. I am sad to say that there is not enough of this in motion F20.

Conference Diary at First Glance

March 11, 2016 1 comment
Harry Potter Time Turner

Possibly the only way to take part in most of the Conference activities.

The last few weeks for me have been absolutely hectic, and not in a particularly good way. So it’s only this evening that I’ve cracked open the agenda for Spring Conference and had a skim-read. As I’ve said before, there is loads to do at a party conference, and that’s just the formally scheduled activities; the seeing friends, going out for a drink or meal, catching up and swapping gossip and stories will comfortably fill any remaining gaps.

I figured I’d post my first-pass itinerary as some indication of what I intend to get up to. I expect I will put more policy debates in once I’ve had more of a chance to read them and think about how I can contribute and vote. Let me know what I’m missing!

I say this every time, but I need to get more organised in advance of Conference; I wanted to get an amendment in on the All-Women Shortlists motion (I wanted to write about this in some length but fortunately Jezz has done a great job on LDV), and I wanted to submit a question to the Federal Executive asking why we didn’t appear to have any contingency planning for staffing levels at party HQ in the event of the beating we took in May, which has left us flailing over the summer while trying to pick ourselves up. I hope that others will have done this for me, but I need to strike a better balance between the stuff I do to help promote and run the party, and using my power as a member to hold it to account.

Friday

3:00 Check in to Flat
Consultative Sessions @ Novotel: Liberty and Security
6:30 – 7:30 Conference Rally, Barbican
8:15 – 9:30 “The Ideas that built the Liberal Democrats”, Novotel MR4

Saturday

9:00 F1 – F3: Opening of Conference and Reports
11:00 Training: Campaigning and Engaging with Diverse Communities, Novotel MR6
11:45 F7: Regulatory Framework for Cannabis
1:00 – 2:00 Fringe: EU Referendum & Immigration: Turning Tide of Opinion, Hilton Minster
2:20 F8: Report of the Federal Executive
Lunch!
3:45 Policy motion – “Privacy and Security in a Digital Age”
4:50 F16: AOs and SAOs to enrol
6:15 International Perspectives on Winning Referendum Campaigns, Novotel MR3
7:00 – 9:00 EMLD on Diverse MPs motion, Melbourne Centre, Escrick Street
10:00 Glee Club, Novotel, Fishergate Suite

Sunday

9:40 F20: Electing Diverse MPs
10:00 Check out of Flat
11:45 F22: Tim Farron Speech
1:00 Close of Conference
Categories: Conference

Autumn Conference: Time to Recharge the Batteries

October 3, 2014 Comments off
The Clyde Auditorium, by Ross Goodman. Licensed as CC-BY 2.0.

The Clyde Auditorium, by Ross Goodman. Licensed as CC-BY 2.0.

Liberal Democrat Autumn Federal Conference begins this weekend in Glasgow, and runs through until Wednesday. Other people will have opinions about the policy motions on the agenda, the challenges facing the Leadership, even the Presidential and Federal elections which are ongoing. But this is an activist’s blog, for activist people, so that’s where I’m going to concentrate (apart from plugging one campaign).

The biggest problem we face as activists right now is fear and self-doubt. We think that people will hate us on the doorstep (pro-tip: generally they don’t). We’re not sure we can live with the compromises we’ve made in Government – letting the Tories do some stuff we don’t like, so we can get some stuff they don’t like through. We can’t quite be bothered to do that Focus round tonight… maybe tomorrow. And maybe we’ll canvass next week instead of this week. The weather might be better, after all.

The negative narrative has been pounding on us for nearly five years now, and it’s harder to maintain our energy and build critical masses. While we’ve always believed in theory in pluralism and pragmatism and the art of the possible, it’s hard to avoid worrying about what the party as a whole could have done differently or better, and how things might have turned out otherwise. Even those of us who wholeheartedly believe that going into the Coalition was the right thing to do for the country, that we knew it would make us unpopular but at the time felt it was worth it, even those people get disheartened at the way that our political opponents just spam our Facebook page with TUITION FEES YELLOW TORIES over and over again.

If you’re at Conference, this is the biggest critical mass of Lib Dems you’ll see until after the General Election. Many of them, like you, are disheartened, are burned out, are fed up. You can sit over a coffee with them and complain at each other and you will come away from Conference more disheartened than when you went. But there are also people there who are energetically fighting the good fight, and you can benefit from that energy. There are people making impassioned conference speeches because they strongly believe that it’s important to make good political policy democratically. There are people giving up their time to teach you new skills in the training sessions, or to get involved in discussions in fringe meetings. Listen to some of those speeches, go to some of those fringes and training, and be inspired. Buy a table flag for a local Lib Dem social event. Go back to your constituencies and share that inspiration – tell your members what you did, how you voted and why, discuss what you learned and saw, who you met, what friendships you made.

Let’s get together, inspire each other, work hard, party hard, and go back to our constituencies and prepare to hold our head up high and fight the good Liberal fight, win or lose!

Update on #IPv6 Motion

July 30, 2014 1 comment

World IPv6 Launch LogoI am not surprised to learn from FCC that my policy motion on IPv6 has not been accepted for debate at Conference in Glasgow this autumn. The polite rejection reads:

I am writing to let you know that the conference committee decided not to select your motion Connecting More Devices to the Internet for debate at the Glasgow conference. The subject matter is very technical and, although the drafting does a fair job of trying to make the issues as clear as possible to a non-specialist audience, we nevertheless felt that it would be of limited interest to most conference representatives and was unlikely to lead to a good political debate.

I am sorry to have to disappoint you on this occasion.

So yeah, mildly disappointed, but not surprised. I have asked what further recourse I might have, including lobbying a policy working group or just smiling sweetly at J-Hup.

Categories: Conference, Policy Tags: ,

Policy Motion Draft: Next-Generation Internet

June 19, 2014 1 comment

When I’m not doing politics, I work in IT as a systems and network administrator. This involves dealing with the Internet Protocol (IP) a lot. This is basically the thing that makes the Internet (and hence the Web, which is a subset of the Internet) work. Trouble is, it’s based on an assumption that everything directly connected to the Internet (like your BT HomeHub, Virgin box or whatever) can have a unique identifier called an IP address. But there’s so much stuff connected to the Internet these days from smartphones to lamp-posts that we’re running out of unique identifiers allowed by the current version of the Internet Protocol.

Networking geeks basically solved this problem over 15 years ago in 1998 with a new version of the Internet Protocol, but we’re still using the old one because there’s no real incentive for anybody to switch before anybody else does. It’s a classic tragedy of the commons, so wearing my political hat I think there’s a case for the Government to lean on the industries.

I’ve drafted a policy motion on mandating rollout of IPv6 to end users for Lib Dem Conference in Glasgow. It’s aimed at a non-technical audience, so I’ve elided or hinted at some of the problems of address space exhaustion such as route fragmentation. I’ve had a couple of non-technical people read it, and they can grasp the gist: “There is a problem. There is a solution, but nobody’s doing anything about it. The Government should make them.” Note that I’m only addressing the ISP side; hosting and content providers are largely based outside the UK, particularly cloud-based ones, and it’s a business with tight profit margins; I think that if everybody has the ability to reach you on IPv6, then increasing IPv4 prices (and policies of IPv4 allocators such as RIPE) will encourage those providers to implement IPv6 of their own accord.

I’ll be encouraging my local party to support it, but the more LPs we get behind it (and individual conference reps) the better. Let me know if you have any suggested alterations to the text, or whether you or your local party would like to support the motion.

Maybe in 10 years I’ll be proposing a motion to deprecate IPv4…

Read more…

Categories: Conference Tags: , ,