Thursday, February 18, 2010

An open letter to Luke Richards, a.k.a. 'Hypnotic Monkey'

Dear Luke,

Thank you for your comments. Whilst I understand the points that you make, I have to disagree as to their import. Taking your first post;

Assume for a moment:

Gordon Brown called the GE and it is taking place in 2 weeks. Every moment is vital and Liberal Youth own a printer, folder and stuffing machine that works at light speed. It would be a waste of time to open every request for a ballot and return them in dribs and drabs, so the exec decide to just print all the ballots and post them out to every member, for expediency. Rule that unconstitutional, would you?

I don't have to rule it as unconstitutional because it still is. Producing endless variations on the circumstances doesn't actually change what the Constitution says, and the Constitution is as members of Liberal Youth have chosen it to be. However, your example is flawed.

There is a minimum period in which an General Election can take place. It's rather longer than two weeks and the de minimis schedule can be found here. However, in the event that a General Election had been called, would you seriously expect a Liberal Youth election to proceed? As Returning Officer, I would consult senior figures in the Party and, in all likelihood, postpone any election until afterwards. And yes, I understand that such an act would be unconstitutional, which is kind of ironic, isn't it? But you know something, I don't think that anyone would complain, at least nobody with the interests of the Party at heart.

At the end of the day, 9.7 is there to ensure a basic minimum - that those who can't attend conference can still vote.

The 19th Ammendment to the US constitution reads:

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

This doesn't mean it's unconstitutional for a specific state to pass a law to have universal automatic voter registration, it just provides a basic minimum right.

No, Article 9.7 was designed for an organisation where Officers and General Executive members didn't resign at a rate of one every three weeks (I believe that that is the average period of time between resignations since 1 July 2008 but am happy to stand corrected). And whilst your quotation of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is entirely accurate, nobody is being denied the right to vote, merely that they will have to take an action to allow them to do so.

In short, your argument implies that members are being denied the right to vote. That argument, carried to its logical conclusion, means that all elections held in this country are invalid, as people have to either apply for a postal vote in advance, or go to a polling station. Indeed, if they have not registered to vote, they don't get to take part at all. If you are suggesting that, you have a campaign to run, because this country is, on that measure, not a democracy.

So, Luke, I'm sorry, but I didn't sit up until three in the morning, making sure that my position is a secure one, only to be dissuaded from it by someone who has a gut feeling that they would rather have things differently but cannot express it in a way that reflects the Constitution of Liberal Youth. Of course, you can always change that Constitution...


hypnoticmonkey said...

I've given a full response to some of the detailed points here:

But I'll respond to a couple of points briefly here.

You said in your previous post that you don't apply, as RO, your world view to an election, yet I contend this is what you're doing here and you've clearly admitted it yourself too:

"And yes, I understand that such an act would be unconstitutional, which is kind of ironic, isn't it? But you know something, I don't think that anyone would complain, at least nobody with the interests of the Party at heart."

I have the interests of the Party at heart too. I certainly don't have any personal interests, as I definitely won't be standing in these elections. I believe the executive does not currently and will not, after this by-election, have the mandate to run the organisation and I think the best thing for the organisation, given the ridiculous nature of the fact that 2/3 of the executive are up at once, is to have a full-member ballot to give them a shred of legitimacy. (moral, democratic not constitutional as they will have constitutional legitimacy under the election as planned, that's not in dispute)

By not permitting an All-Member-Ballot to the election, in light of a petition requesting it from groups that represent significant numbers or positions within Liberal Youth, you're applying your own world view of what is 'with the best interests of the party' in mind. From people I've spoken to within the party, but not in Liberal Youth, they find it obscure that one has to request a ballot for a by-election. Now, I don't want this to happen for every by election because the costs would be crippling, but this isn't every by election. This is 2/3 of the executive being elected after a very bitter period for the organisation. As I say in my post on FB, I don't think there is a need to create the constitutional need for an all-member postal ballot for all by-elections, and therefore would not want a constitutional amendment to require it. As I pointed out on facebook, we definitely don't need a constitutional amendment to implement it, if the organisation wanted it.

As for the second point, I feel I perhaps chose an unfortunate example, in that the one I used was about elections and therefore it has been taken to assume (not just by you) that I was trying to apply an elections-based-point to the current election. I wasn't, I was applying a point about unenumerated rights in constitutions.

That said, you've also misunderstood or maybe misrepresented my point I'm afraid. I didn't say that we have a right to automatic voter-registration. I said if a state passed a law that did require automatic voter representation it wouldn't be unconstitutional for women* just because the constitution only requires women not to be DENIED the right to vote.

You could easily have applied my example to any non-election based constitutional right/obligation/duty etc.

Many thanks again for your response. I hope there are no hard feelings. I have the greatest sympathy for anyone who has to oversee a Liberal Youth election, not least because you have to put up with people like me but often you have had to put up with troublesome candidates and, of course, a sieve-like constitution. I have full respect and thanks for the job you do.

*I didn't say women in my original post, but that's what I meant.

Mark Valladares said...


I'll take up a few of your points now.

If your friends in the Party find it odd that one has to request a ballot paper for a by-election, they haven't been involved in a PPC selection, which seems unlikely. If ou don't come to the hustings, you approach the Returning Officer for a ballot paper. That's been the case since the Party was formed, and I don't expect it to change soon.

I accept that the circumstances are unusual, although that in itself is not a reason to ride roughshod over the Constitution. However, if the organisation wants an all-member postal ballot, it can't just decide to have one, it must change its Constitution. The Constitution is not something you can choose to accept or reject as you see fit, it is the framework upon which the organisation is based. Mess with it at your peril. The reason that a two-thirds majority is needed to change it is to ensure that change has genuine support.

Your call for an all-member ballot this time, someone else's call when the Executive suits you. Which is it to be? If one part of the Constitution is to be set aside when it suits, what about the rest of it? It simply won't do.

I'm not sure that I misrepresented your second point. I did, I admit, extend your argument towards its breaking point, but then I've been a Returning Officer since before you were born (1984 saw my first Student Union election as Returning Officer), I'm a member of the Management Board of 'Unlock Democracy', and a senior RO for the Party. In short, I've had a very long time to rehearse the arguments. That isn't enough to justify a claim that I'm right and you're wrong, it's just that I've had to dwell on the ethical, practical and organisational aspects of our democracy more often than I'd care to mention.

Liberal Youth has a problem which was exposed during the last Chair election. Too many people seem to be unable to grasp that a little courtesy goes a long, long way, and I was frustrated by the inability of key individuals to bite their tongues and avoid the cheap personal jibes and offensive remarks that only served to keep hostility levels high. I will not go into detail, as I would be guilty of the same offence, but let's just say that it gave an impression that was unhelpful to Liberal Youth.

The organisation's reputation for difficult elections goes before it. I was warned off of the job by a number of fellow RO's, and am constantly encouraged to hand in my notice. However, LY deserves an RO who cares enough to stand up for the processes that LY itself created, indeed who cares for the organisation itself. For good, or ill, I appear to be that person for the time being...

And no, there are no hard feelings. You care enough to speak out, which means that you have the interests of Liberal Youth at heart. So do I. On that basis, we can agree to disagree.

Keep well...

hypnoticmonkey said...

Just read all that very quickly and I think I agree with all of it except "The Constitution is not something you can choose to accept or reject as you see fit"

Could you point out where I'm suggesting doing that, in light of my comments on the Facebook note? Preferably mentioning something about how you're reading into the constitution a restriction to not allow an AMB in this or any case other than the end of term elections. A restriction that really isn't there at all, without applying a personal 'world view' to the situation.

Mark Valladares said...


The Constitution specifies an all-member ballot for the annual elections. It states that members may request a ballot for by-elections held at Conference. Therefore, it is clear that the drafters of the Constitution did not envisage all-member ballots for by-elections.

That's not a sign of my personal 'world view', unless you're implying that my world view is to restrict the franchise. That's fighting talk, young man...