July Board Report

We’re putting the party back on track so we can achieve the sort of successes in future that we all so desperately want, and that our country needs.

Problems with the current way of doing things make it harder for us to win elections and to give members a real say in what happens. This was one of the major conclusions from the Dorothy Thornhill election review, which called for major improvements in how the party runs its own affairs.

At our meeting this weekend, the Federal Board (FB) therefore agreed three major steps forward.

First, we agreed a dozen projects to tackle specific issues highlighted by the review and other experiences. These cover everything from fixing the problems with how our general election campaigns are chaired, through to strengthening our audit function so that problems can’t be swept under the carpet.

One project is to improve the accountability of the President. For example, if I was to go off the rails and completely lose the confidence of Board members, should they have the power to trigger a recall vote by party members? (I believe so, as it’s important that those in power can be properly held to account for their performance.)

Second, the Thornhill Review says we need to define much more clearly the roles of Leader, President and CEO. We’ve agreed a draft, which also sets out who else needs to be involved in key decisions, such as any future electoral pacts or major party messaging decisions.

The draft needs more work, especially to ensure the key roles of state parties are properly reflected. It will make sense to involve our new leader in discussions before we finalise it. But progress is encouraging.

Third, we’ve agreed to pilot until at least the end of this year a new, smaller Steering Group of around 14, to which the Board has delegated a significant batch of powers. At 43 in size, the Board is much larger than those in many other organisations we’re all familiar with. It’s not a great size to – for example – have detailed scrutiny discussions that stretch in a supportive way our CEO and the director team.

The new group will report back regularly to the full Board, who will also be able to call in any issue for its full consideration. I’ll also report back to all members on the new group’s meetings through this site.

There are lots of details to be ironed out – and refinements to make as we see what works. There are long-standing provisions in our rule book which mean we can run a pilot without needing rule changes at this stage. So we can start straight away without having to wait until a conference next spring at the earliest. We can be more flexible in that experimenting to find out what works best – before then encasing what we learn in less flexible rules.

If this new approach works, I’m sure we will want to make some formal rule changes in due course. For example, the federal party has many posts which are currently indirectly elected, some of which are on the Steering Group. There’s a good case that some could move over to direct election by party members, strengthening our democratic processes.

As we make all these changes to how your party is, we will be consulting with members, including in a session at our autumn virtual conference.

There’s also a webinar coming up in August with me and CEO Mike Dixon. We’ll be happy to take questions about this topic along with anything else that’s going on in the federal party.

Or you can send in feedback right now, by emailing me on president@libdems.org.uk.