Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Are the Lib Dems too London-centric organisationally?

I have recently been made aware that there is a potential problem with the way the Lib Dems organise their Federal Policy Committee. Apparently the meetings of this group are largely held in London.

I know that there are some people who live far outside London who would like to put themselves forward for election to the body but because of the travelling involved would struggle to travel the distance regularly for various reasons.

I can understand the logic behind holding the meetings in London. There are facilities available in the form of Cowley Street. It is near parliament which makes it easier for the parliamentarians to be involved. Also, if you live in the South East, the most populated part of the country then it is fairly central.

But what about all those members who do not live in the South East and although able to spare the time for the meetings could not spare the time to travel for several hours there and back to London?

I think there is a real risk here of excluding people who would be very good on the FPC purely for geographical reasons. I also think that as a party we are risking our policy making process being too dominated by people from London and the South East and hence there being a London-centric bias in the way decisions are taken.

I should make it clear that this is just based on concerns of mine. I do not have direct evidence of what I have outlined above in terms of bias and unbalance. It just seems like ensuring that the focus is so London based is taking a bit of a risk. Especially for a party that is so committed to devolving power.

I don't have a specific solution to this but here are a few suggestions:

1) The meetings could sometimes be held in different places. Perhaps every other meeting could be held somewhere else, e.g. Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow etc. That way it would be easier for people outside of London to attend some of them and hence make it more likely that they would feel able to run in the first place. It would also mean those living the the South East would have to do more of the leg-work.

2) Use technology to help ease the problem. Skype can be used to do video-conferences nowadays. We use it in our business and it works very well. It can only be used for free between two locations but that could potentially mean that say some of the meeting participants could be say in Newcastle and some in London. If there were big enough screens being used on a decent fast connection then this could actually work well. It is also possible to pay for better technological solutions which would allow more than two locations to be used in this way although I can understand that cost issues may militate against these

3) This one will be controversial but an option might be to base the FPC in another place altogether which is more central. Perhaps somewhere in Derbyshire would fit this sort of bill as I think the "most central place in the UK" is in that county. The BBC has moved a good chunk of its production to Manchester, perhaps we could be in the vanguard of doing this for a political party?

It could also be a combination of all three of these things.

I expect there will be objections to all of these suggestions, some of them will be fair ones no doubt. But I think we need to ask ourselves what sort of party we want to be. I am uncomfortable with the idea that we may be excluding people from our policy making process who would be very good but cannot do so because they live too far away from London.

I think we should at least be trying to make it easier for people to get involved to ensure that the process has the best chance of reflecting the diversity of people within our party.


Anonymous said...

From a campaigning tactics point of view also, there does seem to be the view that what works in one part of the country should work in another, seemingly without regard for regional differences in education, social class,etc. Only the

Andrew Hickey said...

Agreed. I'd argue against Derbyshire, as the public transport to it isn't great, but any of the major cities in the counties bordering it would be obvious places - Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Leicester.

Or even alternate meetings between London, Cardiff and Edinburgh - after all, it's the Federal Policy Committee, not the English Policy Committee...

Anders said...

In principle, as a Northerner, I would agree. But I know from the point of view of someone who sits on a party committee, that whenever they have moved meetings to other bits of the country the attendance usually goes down. For example, English Council used to alternate between Birmingham and London, but it is now only held in London as more people went (in fact, more people from the West Midlands attended the London meeting than the Birmingham one).

For most people outside of London, it is often easier to get to London than it is to get to another part of the North or Midlands.

Andrew Hickey said...

"For most people outside of London, it is often easier to get to London than it is to get to another part of the North or Midlands."

What 'most people' would those be? I live in Manchester, and just had a look at train costs. Assuming I wanted to get to London by 6PM on the 27th - an arbitrarily-chosen time - and return the same day, the cheapest I could do that is £51 and the total travelling time (not counting time to and from train stations at each end) 4 hours 16 minutes.

The other three towns I listed in my comment (other than Manchester - total cost 0, total travelling time 0) break down as Sheffield - £12/under 2 hrs, Leeds - £13.50/under 2 hrs, Leicester - £31/4h 47. All but one would be quicker, and all are cheaper (which does make a difference as while the FPC pays expenses, many other organisations within the party don't)

MatGB said...

I think we should take adnatage of the other offices a party organisation has, that's very central, with very good communication links, close to several motorways and railways.

I refer, of course, to the ALDC offices in Hebden Bridge. Not been to the offices yet, but I'm told they're quite nice.

That they happen to be ten minutes drive from my current house is random chance, naturally.

There's also the Edinburgh option, but that'd be really harsh on the SW members.

Yorkshire is as easy to get to as London for most of the country, and a lot easier for Scotland and the north and midlands. In fact, I'd wager Hebden Bridge is easier to get to than Cowley St for some Londoners...

(and what has Blogger done to make their comments login section unworkable recently, really annoying me)

Andrew Hickey said...

Actually Hebden would be a very good choice. It'd be nice to have some stuff in a rural area rather than a city, but at the same time being on the major East-West railway lines means at worst someone would have to change at Leeds or something to get there from anywhere.