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Opinion: Time for constitutional reform: but not the way you think

May 10, 2015 12:08 PM
By George Potter in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

It's time for constitutional reform - of the Liberal Democrats. We need to redesign our party structures to make them fit for the challenges we face.

While there has to be a big debate on what needs change and what the best options are, here's a rundown of options worth considering:

1. Either abolish membership fees or create an associate membership which costs nothing and has some of the privilege of full members. Why should you have to pay to join our movement instead of donating when you wish and are able to?

2. Reduce barriers to participation within the party. This means introducing one member, one vote everywhere in the party and should involve eliminating, or heavily reducing, the period of membership required to be able to vote in internal elections. In the Canadian Liberal's leadership election the winning campaign signed up over 100,000 new members alone with the incentive of being able to vote for the party leader - why can't we do something similar?

3. End the dominance of England in the federal party. At the moment the Liberal Democrats are dominated by England because England, uniquely, has given all of its policy making powers to federal conference. So instead of debating truly UK wide issues we tend to spend most of conference debating matters which are devolved everywhere else in the UK. We could do this either by abolishing the English party and having regional parties, by returning policy making to the English party or by abolishing the federal party and having completely independent parties in each country.

4. Make our structures more supportive of effective, mutually supportive campaigning. At the moment each local party is pretty much a silo. If you want to get involved in campaigning you rely on having a functioning local party to either make use of you or to direct you to a neighbouring local party which needs help. In practice this just doesn't happen in far too many places, often because there isn't a functioning local party. We need some sort of structure which is wider than local parties but smaller than regions (perhaps county sized) so that no talent even in the party gets wasted just because the member in question belongs to a derelict local party.

5. End the spectre of damaging leadership challenges and leaders who don't just know when to go by making leadership elections a routine event which happens at least once a parliament with the sitting leader always being allowed to run in them. Routine elections would force people to put up or shut up, give us a way to remove disastrous leaders if we have to and stop the party from being damaged by failed attempts to unseat sitting leaders.

6. Create the scope for local policy making through local party policy meetings or conferences where members can pass policy on local issues. By doing so we'd not only develop a better basis for our local campaigns but we'd also provide an additional incentive for people to join the party and get involved in the area where they live.

So those are my suggestions to start the debate. If you have any thoughts please leave a comment below!

* George Potter is the Policy Officer for the Lib Dem Disability Association (LDDA), writing in a personal capacity. He blogs at the Potter Blogger.