Wednesday, July 25, 2007

LibDem policy-making culture - decisions made by those who turn up?

Jeremy Hargreaves has made some good points about the discussion on LibDem Voice about party policy-making.

I agree that Aaron and Dan have made some excellent points on LDV. One element that hasn't been mentioned is that I have found over the years that the collected brains of a LibDem conference normally contain people who know all the essential and many of the non-essential (!) points to be made in any debate. I would trust a LibDem conference to come to a sensible view on most subjects. It is, after all, over a thousand people from all over the country, many of whom have hands-on experience of any given subject.

I would also say that if someone is a particular subject-matter expert they can turn up for one day of the conference and are normally allowed to speak at the chair's discretion. Surely getting a day off work and making domestic arrangements for one day is not too much to ask if someone has something special to say on a particular topic, is it?

I would also say it can be a bit of a "cop-out" to say that the LibDems have an exclusive decision-making process. If someone has enough time to be an active member of a local kick-boxing club (no names, no pack drill) then surely they can give a few hours every so often to attend a local branch meeting? This especially applies because local LibDem parties are invariably crying out for new blood to be active. I know of no local branch chairman who doesn't allow someone to have their say on any given topic, especially under AOB at the end of a branch meeting.

A gentleman of my acquaintance always used to end our local branch meetings with the same homily about the evils of smoking. We used to laugh internally at this after the 97th repetition (mainly because we knew the speech off by heart), but, in the end, the gentleman initiated a debate on the subject at the regional conference and bent the ear of the leader (who was a smoker) on the topic.

The other thing is that one member is just one member. Just because a view just happens to be held by one member in isolation and isn't agreed with by anyone else, doesn't mean that the policy-making process is flawed.

Sometimes local parties vary. Some really involve their members in collecting views for the party conference. As Bridget Fox said, there may well be a culture of decisions being made by those who turn up, but those who do turn up universally wish that more people had turned up to make the decisions with them!

It would be delusional to imagine that any LibDems ever gather at a meeting and are pleased that not many other people turned up! (Well it doesn't happen much anyway!)

But it is down to us, the members, to speak up if such involvement is lacking and I congratulate Dan and Aaron on doing so on LDV.

As for on line involvement - yes - excellent. And look at the Trident debate. I made a point which was personally rebutted by Nick Harvey on the forum set up especially for that debate. He aslo individually addressed virtually every other point brought up on that forum. What other party can boast such engagement with its members?

1 comment:

  1. Ooh - so somebody reads my blog :)

    Unfortunately going to lib dem meetings isn't the only thing that's gone out of the window since the baby arrived - no more kickboxing for me either.

    I have looked at getting more involved - the consultation on Trident was good, but, and this is important, had zero impact on the policy - so issues were raised there, but 99% of them weren't known to those in the conference and so became a waste of time for those involved.

    The other things I've been doing are the lists - I've created two specialist lists - one for open standards and software, another for drug problems and policy.

    Something that's very disappointing is that an MP spoke to me about arranging a meeting between some open technology experts, myself included (and I was willing to travel and sacrifice a billable working day) and our shadow treasurer - nothing came of it though. Compare this to the Tories - technical experts were able to talk to the leadership and now they have a sensible policy on open source and open standards while we don't.