Wednesday, 15 October 2008

An assault on democracy - Fernando's ideas

. My hostility to the ideas behind the Fernando bid for the Party Presidency is pretty well known. I am happy to credit him with bringing ideas to the table that have started a debate but giving that credit does not mean that those ideas are automatically entitled to support. Below I talk a little about his plans to radically change our image something that in and of itself may not be a bad thing but the question always has to be what is going to be put in place of our 'brand'.

Key criteria should be whether any change is in line with our programme and also whether it will tackle our central problem which, as I say below, we are not perceived as a viable party of government. Mark Littlewood, writing on Liberal Democrat Voice, says that the central narrative should be;

“we’re going to get politicians and politics out of your lives. They control too much money, have too much power and too much say on your life decisions. This has to end.”

Radical stuff and a message that I have some sympathy for however, still not addressing the central issue which is lack of electability. In fact, such a message is likely to reinforce that view because it will boil down to us being able to say that because we will 'never get in'. This is a highly subjective debate and by far and away not my main issue with this campaign. My main issue is that behind Fernando's agenda of radicalism lies a programme that will end up becoming a blatant attack on party democracy.

The core plank of this is that the barrier separating members from supporters should be removed and that eventually supporters should have a say in our decision making process. Writing elsewhere James Graham has eloquently upended the notion that this would be a vastly superior way for us to organise ourselves. It is subject to subversion and it dilutes the role of people who after all have made not just a commitment of time and energy but also of finances to the party. The stake that a member has in this party is a stake that they have paid for with that commitment. A supporter, by contrast, is somebody who merely has to say they support us (even if they really don't) so yes I think it is offensive that they should be given the same stake and say a member has; instead of empowering supporters we should be encouraging them to make the same commitment and become a member.

It is for this reason that the proposal strikes at the notion of democracy while also paving the way for its subversion. Mark himself admits on this very blog that;

"Neither Chandila nor I are elected by Liberal Vision. We are - effectively - self-appointed."

In this context it is impossible to support calls for 'streamlining' of our constitution when they come from such a source especially when the same commentator supports clarity over 'confusion' about elections and democracy. Such streamlining is unlikely to be tilted in the members favour; one sop is thrown to democracy in the Fernando programme. He proposes that the constitution be amended to allow;

"all members in good standing for twelve months to vote at party conference and investigate ways to internet and proxy voting for absentees".

However, given the rest of Fernando's program it really is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is a meaningless proposal because he is proposing to do away with the very notion of membership in the first place. So, credit due for starting a debate which has been useful if only to illustrate so vividly how we should not move forward.


Linda Jack said...

I don't have a problem with the notion of signing up supporters, it is a simple and effective way to enable people to feel more connected and committed to the party, however, it should be clear the difference between a supporter and a member with all that entails - rights and responsibilities. I think Chandila has some interesting and challenging ideas and I am really pleased he has stood. However, if you read his answers to my "20 Questions" you will see that when we get down realpolitik....he and I diverge pretty quickly!

Darrell G said...

Hiya Linda :),

That was kinda spooky because that is exactly what I was doing as I got this comment through lol.

I have no problem with signing them up; all for it but I am not in favour of diluting the membership by making us all the same as supporters. I read all your series which was very informative and useful although it has not changed where my vote is going 1. Ros Scott and 2.Lembit Opik.

Incidentally on this question I think Ros Scott's idea of associate members is miles better than moving to a US style gives us the half-way house without all the problems that come with the US system...