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The Next Elections we need Newbies to Win

October 23, 2016 Comments off
thankyou

Liz Leffman, helped to a storming second place by our newbies.

This week, the Lib Dems stormed to a strong second in the Tory heartland of Witney, leapfrogging from fourth. Thousands of volunteers from across the country piled down to David Cameron’s former constituency, and sent a shockwave through British politics. Life-long Tory voters, disgusted by Theresa May’s lurch to the hard-Brexit right, supported our hard-working local candidate.

As important as the ground-breaking result however was that many of the Lib Dem volunteers who pounded the streets, hit the phones or reached for their wallets in this campaign were new members, since the 2015 General Election and the EU Referendum. Turning members into activists is vital to the success of any political party, but more so to the Lib Dems who don’t have much budget for paid staff operations. The activists in Witney learned from the best, whether it was Candy Piercey, John Aylwyn, Neil Fawcett and many others on the ground, or the phone bankers trained by Claire Halliwell and James Baker at ALDC in Manchester, or many more.

Between now and Christmas, pretty much every local party in the Liberal Democrats will hold its Annual General Meeting, at which it will elect its volunteer committee to run local affairs for the next year. It’s really important that we empower our newbies to get involved at this level, rather than just see themselves as footsoldiers, and support them in their endeavours – they will bring fresh ideas and energy to the local party, hopefully some often-needed diversity, and enthusiasm. And most importantly, they will help break down barriers between the local party executive, and the membership. We need every local party in the country to be actively engaged with its membership, bringing liberal values to local communities as best we can. If we can’t manage that, keen liberals will drift away from the party and find themselves homeless and disengaged.

So if you are a new member of the party, please do stand for election at your AGM, whether it’s as an officer with a specific portfolio, or as a member of the executive, and make sure your local party engages all its members and plays its part in bringing about Our Liberal Britain.

The Usual Suspects

March 3, 2016 4 comments

Stagnant Power

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Local party execs sometimes remain very stable…
(photo by Okinawa Soba, Creative Commons by-nc-sa 2.0)

The Liberal Democrats is a party with a huge amount of internal democracy. However, that democracy is rarely held to account or challenged ,at all levels. Local parties stagnate, with the same small clique rotating the officer positions. One thing that’s vital as part of the Lib Dem Fightback and our influx of new members is making sure we get new voices and fresh ideas represented on our elected bodies, and empowered to make decisions.

Of course, most of our members didn’t join a political party to form committees, hold meetings and take minutes, so local parties need to push to find ways to engage members – that means understanding their points of view even if they’re not all at a meeting. This can involve members’ surveys, or social events where you can get to know people.

The Usual Suspects

Movie Poster for "The Usual Suspects"

Never mind your local party exec, meet the people who do the real work.

However, politics is the art of exercising power, and there are plenty of positions, both official and unofficial, where Liberal Democrats can hold and exercise power with no accountability to the membership. These positions are often held by the Usual Suspects – the fixers, the people who Get Things Done.

Take for example the person who has the authority to nominate candidates – this is arranged centrally by LDHQ and is a position of significant power. Or the person who ends up organising local authority candidate training and approval in a hurry, and just emails around enough of their mates to make sure the bases are covered rather than looking to a wider pool. Or the person who volunteers to represent the party to an external body such as a community group, but never reports back to the membership or executive. Or the party staffer who ends up accountable to no management chain, let alone to the members on whose behalf they supposedly operate. Or, in my own situation, the person who hosts various IT systems on which a party body relies.

I’m sure that pretty much everybody in such positions is well meaning and effective. However, as liberals, we need to maintain transparency and accountability as a principle, before something goes wrong. A lot of the scandals within the Lib Dems (and outside it too) boil down to unaccountable people becoming too important to criticise. Beyond that, the Usual Suspects are also more likely to match the pale, male and stale image of our party, and that can derail attempts to improve diversity.

The Objective

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Members old and new at a Manchester by-election, after opportunities to stand and help were advertised widely.

Everybody acting on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, whether at a local or national level, whether a volunteer or paid staff, should be in some way accountable to the membership, either directly or via a relevant elected body. Members should know who they are, what their powers and responsibilities are, and to whom they are accountable.

We should maximise liberty by promoting choice and taking actions to limit individual power. That can include having multiple people trained and authorised to do a job, making information widely available (whether it’s canvass data in Connect, or details of local community groups for candidates) and making sure that opportunities to volunteer or get involved are as widely advertised as possible. By advertised, I mean with enough background that a newcomer will feel empowered to get involved – whether that’s providing training before a campaign session, or letting people know in advance what to expect when they turn up to a Pizza and Politics night, and knowing whether there’s some kind of social activity once the Focus is delivered. Imagine you are a shy newbie who’s never been to an event like this before.

Ultimately, it’s about making sure members are empowered to achieve what they joined a political party to achieve. That might not fit in with the larger strategy that one of the Usual Suspects has come up with, but there has to be a balance between individual enthusiasm which keeps people motivated, and the worthy but dull admin work or leaflet delivery cult approach that ultimately wins us elections. And why should the larger strategy be decided by the Usual Suspects? The overall picture for our organisations should be clear, communicated to members, and open to debate and suggestions for improvement!

And yes, this is all easier said than done. A lot of these situations come about in the first place due to lack of motivated volunteers. But we always need to try and make them better, because stagnation will ultimately fail. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, even within the Liberal Democrats.

Categories: Uncategorized

Breaking from the Past

January 24, 2016 Comments off

If you haven’t seen Tim Farron’s first Lib Dem leadership speech, you should. It’s good in general, but I want to concentrate on something said in the first ten minutes. He came to praise his predecessor Nick Clegg, not to bury him. He explicitly said that he was proud of Nick’s achievements in Government, proud that the Liberal Democrats had gone into Coalition to do our best by the country, and that the tough five years for us as a party was nothing compared to the tougher five months for the country under a majority Tory Government since May 2015.

Since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, he has said nothing of substance about his predecessors. The general impression is that Labour is a brand-new party, completely separate from the days of Miliband, let alone the days of Brown and definitely the days of Blair. Any criticism of Labour’s record, both in Government and in Opposition, is met with “Yeah but that was before Corbyn”. I don’t believe that that dismissal is valid, even if we ignore Corbyn and McDonnell’s terrible, meaningless U-turn on the Fiscal Charter (exposed neatly by John Humphrys’ interview with Diane Abbott around 2:42), and the inevitable further cock-ups and rebellions to follow. Most of the Labour MPs under Corbyn’s leadership were MPs under Miliband, and many under Blair and Brown (including Corbyn himself). They have their own power and ability to influence the party’s direction. There is a long-term threat to rebels in terms of deselection and replacement in 2020, but a party is always more than just its leader. Especially if, as Corbyn says, he wants a less Presidential style of leadership – and the Parliamentary Party still has a lot of Blair, Brown and Miliband about it.

The same sort of people who put Labour above reproach are the ones who claim that the Lib Dems are “still Tories” because Farron hasn’t actively disassociated himself from the Coalition – despite never having served in the Coalition Government – because he hasn’t disowned Clegg. We must remember that today’s Labour party is not so different from yesterdays’, or the day before that, and continue to hold Labour’s feet to the fire for their failures in Government and in Opposition.

Categories: Uncategorized

Be Excellent To Each Other

May 8, 2015 2 comments

Many Lib Dems up and down the country are feeling crushed today. Many have lost their jobs, or know people who have. We knew this election would be hard, but the results for us are worse than the worst expectations. There are now only 8 Liberal Democrat MPs in the House of Commons.

This result is less than 24 hours old. It is a big thing to process. Professional journalists get paid to form opinions quickly, not necessarily correctly. Anybody who is claiming to have a simple reason for this result is either getting paid, stupid, pushing a particular agenda, or some combination of the above.

Liberalism is not a dogma which dictates right and wrong; it is a philosophy by which right and wrong can be identified. It will take us time to contemplate, discuss and reach consensus on the right way to move forward from this. In the immediate term, the best thing we can do is look after ourselves, and each other.

It’s important to satisfy the basic needs of your human body. Some people haven’t slept since the results were announced. Before we can even think straight about things, we need to sleep, eat, and recharge.

I’ve spent some time today reaching out to Lib Dems both local and further afield. I’ve heard a suggestion that we should have a Special Conference anyway just for group hugs. We are not alone, and while our Parliamentary representation is diminished, our membership is not, and neither is our passion and commitment to Liberalism. Reach out to each other, go for a coffee or a pint, do something fun.

As those great Liberal philosophers, Bill S Preston Esq. and Ted Theodore Logan said: Be excellent to each other.

Categories: Uncategorized

Quick Pointer for Bi Visibility Day

September 23, 2014 Comments off

Today is Bisexual Visibility Day. I haven’t had a chance to write something specially for it, but please see my post from last year – little has changed!

Categories: Uncategorized

Making Lib Dem Voice More Useful

August 1, 2014 5 comments

ldv-sanitiser-screenshotLiberal Democrat Voice is an independent website run by volunteers which accepts article contributions and allows discussion on a wide variety of Lib Dem-related topics. I don’t read every article there in depth, but it’s basically essential reading for Lib Dems, even if you just skim the headlines to get a sense of what’s new.

Unfortunately like most news websites these days, the comment section has become a regular shouting match for derailment and disruption rather than discussion on the topics at hand. There are two particular categories that irk me; one is Mens’ Rights Activists who try to derail any post on equalities with their “but what about the white cis straight mens!” nonsense. The other is the anti-Clegg faction who will spam every post on the site with calls for Nick to resign. In my opinion these people are getting in the way of debate, not contributing to it.

greasemonkeyI have finally got sufficiently fed up with this to do something about it, and written something which will filter out particular users’ comments from LDV posts. This should make LDV more useful and less rage-inducing. By filtering out the predictable comments from the predictable people, I should be able to get more out of the LDV comment section. It’ll reduce my temptation to feed the trolls and post things that make me look bad, like the comment in the screenshot. If others use it, it’ll hopefully increase the signal:noise ratio further.

There’s a plugin for Firefox and Iceweasel called Greasemonkey which allows the user to install small programs to edit webpages after they’ve loaded. There are equivalents for Chrome, IE, Safari and other browsers as per the Wikipedia link provided. I have started work on a simple killfile for some of the LDV commenters I find particularly disruptive, which you can download here. Once you’ve got Greasemonkey installed, that link should load my script and start running it on Lib Dem Voice pages. It’s only a first draft at the moment, and I expect future improvements if I can be bothered, but your Greasemonkey should pick them up when I do.

And to make the obvious liberal point: Freedom of speech does not equate to freedom to be heard. These posters are not violating LDV’s comment policy, but I do not want to, and do not have to, read what they have to say.

Private Eye can Arkell v. Pressdram over #TalkNotTech

September 29, 2013 6 comments

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoicePrivate Eye has lamely tried to imply that Lib Dem policy supports paedophilia by linking Conference’s decision to refer back motion F17, to the investigation into Sir Cyril Smith. The piece on P5 of Eye 1349 begins:

Last Sunday, as the Lib Dem conference voted against toughening up controls to protect children from online pornography, little thought was given to the party’s own record on protecting childhood innocence

This is pretty sloppy reporting from Private Eye, an organ which generally does a good and diligent job. F17 was not voted down, it was referred back for further discussion. It was referred back because it did little to protect children from online pornography and had some major side-effects and drawbacks. I am writing the following response to the Eye‘s editor:

Dear Sir,

You recently claimed that the Lib Dem conference had voted against toughening up controls to protect children from online pornography. This is untrue. The policy motion was not voted down; it was referred back for redrafting as it was not fit for purpose. The motion presented to conference introduced the kind of web filtering and snooping the Eye has opposed on many occasions, would do little to protect children, and would deny them access to educational resources.

The Lib Dems who spoke in the debate, including many technology experts and young people, made a clear case for educating children about healthy relationships and good sex education to protect them against the unrealistic expectations set by pornography far better than web censorship can. This became Lib Dem policy in a later conference motion.

Not only was your reporting factually inaccurate, the attempt to conflate this conference debate with paedophilia was cheap and crass. Please return to your usual high standard so I can encourage you to keep up the good work.

As one of the people who campaigned for a reference back on F17, including sacrificing my Friday night to designing flyers for Liberal Youth and LGBT+ Lib Dems to distribute, and organising an all-member mailing for Plus to vote to refer the motion back, I am particularly annoyed by this sloppy reporting and shameful attempt to correlate genuine concern for childrens’ welfare with child abuse. Teaching our children about healthy relationships, rather than pretending we can solve this problem with web filtering, will protect them from abusers.

We do need to continue the #TalkNotTech conversation; it’s something I’ve been thinking about particularly since this F17 debate, and I suspect we may want to pursue a wide-ranging liberal policy on relationships, respect and consent which I’m nominally naming “Destroy the Heteronormative Patriarchy”.

There are many people interested in getting this right, from the anti-F17 agitators James Shaddock and Alisdair Calder McGregor, through excellent speakers including Jezz Palmer and Sophie Bridger, super-blogger Caron Lindsay and many, many others. LGBT+ Lib Dems and Liberal Youth are interested, and I’m hoping this is something Lib Dem Women will want to contribute to as well. Hopefully by Spring Conference 2014 we’ll have a motion we can put to the Conference floor which is truly radical, concentrating on the root causes of sexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, rape culture etc. without being too unwieldy to ever implement.

In the meantime, get writing to Lord Gnome!

UPDATE: Sadly, the Eye‘s response leaves a lot to be desired:

Thank you for your letter, however we stand by the fact that conference did actually vote against motion F17 (and rightly so). A “reference back” is a rejection of the motion, even if, as mentioned elsewhere in coverage of the vote, it’s a polite lib dem way of doing so. Nick Clegg even acknowledged as much in his joke about the Syria vote.

It’s a shame you choose to nit-pick over conference semantics rather than acknowledging that the party’s handling of the Cyril Smith situation and failure to apologise to his victims.

The Eye‘s assertion ignores party procedure, the terms of the reference back, and the speeches given by members in the debate, which clearly demonstrate that the party is very keen on finding a good way to protect children from any potential harm from exposure to porn – and indeed the fact that the party voted for more comprehensive sex and relationship advice for children later in the very same Conference. The motion as presented did not protect children from harm and may have caused worse harm in other ways.

The Cyril Smith “situation” is indeed very serious and worrying. It deserves better treatment from the Eye than being juxtaposed with tawdry and baseless assertions that the party is opposed to the protection of children. Better education for our children about the risks they face, and healthy and appropriate relationships, will help protect them from abuse from adults, whether or not they’re Liberal MPs.