Monday, September 21, 2015

Two cheers for OMOV

I have always been a bit of a One Member, One Vote sceptic when it comes to Liberal Democrat Conference.

My major worry about it - that the press would have too much influence on Conference votes if it were brought in - no longer applies. The press now has many better things to do with its time.

But the pro-OMOV arguments still seem a bit weak to me. The main one runs something like: "OMOV is democracy so if you are against it, you are against democracy."

This will not do. Democracy takes many forms, and the representative democracy we have had in the party until now is a perfectly legitimate form of it.

I even saw someone saying today that we have to support OMOV "because we are Liberal Democrat". Well, we have been Liberal Democrats for 27 years without it, so I didn't find that argument as clinching as I was meant to.

But today Conference voted to bring in OMOV, and I think on the whole they were right to do so.

Yet this move has not done all that some of its proponents claim for it.

The reality is that, because of their personal circumstances, many Liberal Democrat members are not able to attend Conference.

I now fall into this category because I have caring responsibilities and money and time away from home is suddenly in shorter supply than it used to be.

Others have jobs where they cannot easily get time off in Conference week, are poor or live a long way from most Conference venues.

When I raised this point on Twitter, a couple of people told me that I could not now make Conference under the present rules.

I have to say I found that of limited comfort.

My problem with the pro OMOV people is that they sound remarkably pleased with themselves. Someone suggested to me that this because they have overthrown a "vested interest" - the current voting representatives.

Those representatives were democratically elected. Policy will now be made by anyone who turns up to Conference, and I suspect that the young, wealthy and footloose will be overrepresented among them. The danger is that they really will from a vested interest.

Having voted for OMOV Conference now has to make it a reality and open up voting to all party members by electronic means.

I still worry that this will mean people who have not followed the debates will get to vote, but I see no alternative to this move. The sooner it is done the better.


Mark Pack said...

You raise some good points, and the question of remote voting is now going to be looked at.

It's not a straightforward issue, not only for technical reasons but also for reasons such as 'should we have conference debates in the evening so people who work are more likely to be able to watch them remotely?'.

That all makes remote voting a fairly big and complicated decision, which is why I was happy with going for OMOV now and then turning to that next. Otherwise we'd have got too bogged down into trying to do something so big at all once we never get it.

Nick said...

Generally in agreement with what you say, but I think the solution needs to be something less conference-focused. We need a system that can allow longer and wider debates at all times, not just at a couple of times a year.

My only quibble is with remote voters missing the debate. So many conference debates are settled by people coming in to vote at the last minute (indeed, I saw OMOV advocates on Twitter urging people to come and vote today) that fairness would involve no one at conference being allowed into the conference hall after a debate started.