Friday, July 28, 2006

You know, we have rules for a reason!

I've noticed that it appears to be open season on the system by which the Party approves and selects Prospective Parliamentary Candidates. "Too complex, too bureaucratic, too time consuming, too expensive...", the arguments flow seamlessly. "We don't approve/select enough women/ethnic minorities/aliens," comes the cry from other quarters.

So let's remember how we got here from the 'good old days' when it was all so much simpler. Ah yes, the days of the 'interview in the pub', whereby the local 'good ol' boy' was invited to meet the local worthies over a pint or two and, as long as they didn't throw up over anyone, they were the candidate. There weren't many women, even less minorities, but it was easy, and cheap, and quick...

But we wanted better candidates, ones who could make a speech, who weren't an embarrassment on television, might actually resemble a credible government in waiting. So we needed to test them for the obvious skills, teamworking, media presence, campaigning, policy, public speaking. It was kind of like applying for a job, after all.

So we developed an assessment day to do that. A small number of experienced members were trained up to do the assessing, most of whom gave up what limited spare time wasn't already dedicated to the Party in order to do it. Gratitude? You have to be kidding, don't you? But it worked pretty well, and that was all that was important.

And with greater credibility, came greater competition for selection. You see, these people might actually get elected, and get a big salary, and power (after a fashion...). We had some pretty basic rules by which selections were run but ambition led a minority to do things that we hadn't really imagined they would try. "But we're very nice people, we wouldn't do that, would we?". You bet we would. The fat salary alone attracted some not quite so nice people, competitive types who would do whatever it took to win.

So we amended the rules. We were always one step behind because we were terribly reasonable people who thought in straight, curiously honourable, lines. We wanted everyone to have a chance, so we changed the rules a bit more. Best of all, we left the management of the process in the hands of the same sort of very busy people as the assessors were. Even better, none of them had the sort of cynicism required because, for the most part, they were doing it because they believed in the internal democracy of the party. So selfless, so naive!

The rulebook got bigger... and bigger, and more complex, as a minority of candidates grew more and more devious. We had to have an appeals procedure so that breaches could be prevented. Yet we couldn't rule out what many might have seen as frivolous appeals, because that wouldn't be very liberal, would it?

And then, the very groups who had never really liked the process, actively tried to undermine it because, after all, this democracy process is such a bore. It's such hard work so why not put the decision in the hands of a small group of local worthies? Abolish appeals and give Returning Officers dictatorial powers, that's the job. Quick, efficient and cheap. Liberal principles? You can check them at the door on your way out...

Frankly, when we strangle the last Federal Executive apparatchik with the small intestine of the last member of the Parliamentary Candidates Association, I for one will open a bottle of champagne and drink a toast to a healthier democracy...

3 comments:

peter said...

I deliver focusis, canvass and write for our PPC. I'm a Joe party member and from where I work the process looks poor. It gave the right result in the end but for us paying for two adverts in Lib Dem News is no laughing matter, it translates into a lack of funds for campaigning. As does the internal energy spent on reselection. I'm not asking for a negation of party democracy, just some common sense and the chance for a bit of continuity.

Mark Valladares said...

Peter,

If it's any consolation, I'm a Local Party Chair, a Returning Officer and a member of the English Candidates Committee. I know exactly how expensive it is, as I have to administer the process from every angle.

There are some reforms which might help, for example, creating a means of advertising vacancies that doesn't involve Liberal Democrat News. After all, you can only run if you're approved, so therefore your details are held by Candidates Office. Why not e-mail approved candidates instead? Besides, should we be forcing Local Parties to cross-subsidise Liberal Democrat News?

Indeed, why not allow members to participate by e-ballot? I vote my shares at AGMs by e-mail, why not have a registration system for those members who choose to do so?

So I accept your concerns, but the structure is there for a very good reason, and has developed over years of (very) painful experience. Sadly, rules become complex because people cheat...

Liberal Legend said...

Mark,

Having gone through two processes, the old pre-1992 one and the current one I have to say that there has been a massive improvement. Yes, it can mean that the process takes a bit longer than it used to and you perhaps miss out on unexpected opportunities but it does at least mean that you can do the job of a PPC with a modicum of ability.

Given the level of training our opponents in the Tory and Labour Parties get we really should be very careful and wary of watering down our procedures.

I'm also with you over the rulebook. It's there for a reason.