Saturday, July 21, 2018

Vince Cable's bright new ideas from Canada remind me of the old Liberal Party

Given how unwilling Vince Cable's office has been to account for his absence from the Commons the other evening, it comes as no surprise that the Sunday Times is reporting that he was in discussions about the launch of a new centre party.

Let's park out outrage on that until we know more about what it proposed.

Meanwhile I have  thinking about yesterday's report from Business Insider that 
"Tom Pitfield, a data analytics expert and childhood friend of Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, is helping Cable with party reforms which will be unveiled at the Lib Dem autumn conference."
I am all for learning from abroad, even if the ghost of Ryan Coetzee flaps ineffectually over the idea after our recent experiences.

But what struck me about the new approach Cable revealed:
"Essentially, they decided it was about opening the doors, ceasing to be an inward-looking, membership club and broadening out. Tom Pitfield is currently advising me on how best to use their ideas."
was that I had seen it somewhere before.

And the place I had seen it was the old Liberal Party.

Where we had active local parties there was typically a wider circle of supporters who were not members of the party. They might come to social events or deliver Focus in their street.

Here in Harborough we even had someone who had become disaffected from the local branch but would still appear from nowhere and run the committee room on polling day for a candidate he liked.

And I have read - it may have been in his memoirs - that when Paddy Ashdown was starting out in Yeovil the meetings of the local party were great because all sorts of interesting people would turn up.

All that sounds to me just what a political party should be like.

Then came merger with SDP. We were told that the Liberal approach was hopelessly old fashioned and that what the new party needed was a centralised membership.

The Liberal Democrats have been operating with that model ever since.

Merger was a long time ago, but then I suppose one of the compensations of getting older is that you can smile at irony or feel a comforting sense of familiarity as debates you remember eventually come round again.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
So maybe the old Liberal model had something to be said for it after all?

1 comment:

Laurence Cox said...

Centralised membership systems make it much more difficult to rig local party memberships for the purpose of getting selected (e.g. as a PPC). I know from personal experience of membership rigging in the old Liberal Party. A PPC, who shall remain nameless, signed up a large number of members as "family members", that is one membership fee was paid for the entire family but they had a vote each in the selection. The following year they all disappeared again but Liberal Party HQ wanted payment for the total number of members, even though the local Party had received much less money than they were being asked to pay out. A close friend of mine, now sadly deceased, had to go up to HQ to sort it out, but no action was taken against the PPC concerned by the Liberal Party.