Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Is our party fit for purpose?

I don't know about you, but over the past few months I've noticed a recurring theme, within the Lib Dems as well as the other political parties. Whether it's the allegations against Chris Rennard or the new developments regarding the Member for Portsmouth South, the whole thing smacks of a party which isn't very good at keeping it's own house in order. And it isn't just us. There were allegations this week that a Labour Councillor was basically bullied by Luciana Berger, the MP for Liverpool Wavertree and I've lost count of the number of scandals the Tories have been beset with, where it's been found that abuses of power took place, or where party processes simply were not fit for purpose.

It's really concerning.

As a political party, we operate in the public domain, and part of our very purpose is to attract volunteers and new Councillors. In that sense, it is of incredibly importance that our party has the proper checks, balances and processes to make sure that our people are protected from abuse from without and within.

I have been in positions myself where I've been very nearly pulling my hair out because I'm so aware that the actions taken within the party wouldn't stand up if they were in the private sector or open to proper scrutiny.

Here's an example.

Like many other people, before I was selected as a Council candidate, I had to sign the Councillor's Charter (do other constituencies use these too?) which was my word that I would agree to deliver four focus leaflets a year, actively engage with my political group and refrain from making public attacks against colleagues. I took the signing of the charter very seriously, in no small part due to the fact that it does in some sense limit what I can or cannot say in the public arena. I know however, that locally we don't really do four focus leaflets a year (we often don't have an organiser, which tends to cause problems) and so we've all probably broken the charter already. This renders it meaningless, and so, what's to say that you wouldn't brief against a colleague, because there isn't likely to be any backlash.

As a party, we rely very often on the good will of normal people. We rely on the fact that Councillors aren't going to start active warfare against eachother, or that MPs aren't going to act in a dishonourable way. But, let's realise that sometimes, that doesn't happen. Sometimes, things get a bit nasty.

I'm a massive fan of Cllr Abi Bell from Hull, who runs things in a very different way. Council candidates are made fully aware of the party's expectations, they are given targets regarding canvassing or leaflet delivery and they are held to account by a strong and stable party. I'm quite sure that this doesn't happen in most local parties, and it doesn't seem to have happened in our own National Party, where it appears that a lot of brushing things under the rug has taken place over a long period of time.

If we're to look to build our party on a strong base, and move toward taking actual power in the House of Commons, and in Council chambers up and down the country, then we need a strong, fair and enforced party model to allow it to happen.

I'm not entirely confident that it exists yet, but I am absolutely supportive of Helena Morrisey's work into this very problem. Whilst I'm not a proponent of political naval gazing, I think that might be what is needed. We need to have a long hard look at how we deal with complaints, arguments, bullying - all sorts - because we need to be a Party ready to take on challenges and ready for the future.

More power to Helena's elbows.

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