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Radical Bulletin 350 – January 2012
14 December 2011 (23:18:32)

ALRIGHT, LET’S NOT BE ’AVIN’ YOU

The Federal Executive, English party and possibly Nick Clegg have combined to create the most appalling shambles over next year’s police commissioner elections in England. It will, entirely deservedly, leave the Liberal Democrats looking both cowardly and a laughing stock.

As things stand, the party has pressed successfully for the supplementary vote, instead of first-past-the-post, for a set of elections it will not now contest, and has successfully shifted them from a clash with the May 2012 local elections so that it can fail to contest them even more effectively.

Possibly for the first time since the Liberal Party was nearly bankrupt and defunct in 1951, there will be a ‘strong presumption against’ fighting a class of public elections.

This at least is a slight improvement from deciding not to fight them at all, the position the FE was originally invited to take.

‘Invited’ by whom is not entirely clear, but it is hard to see who other than Clegg would have had the clout to force through such a stance, or that anyone else would have persisted with it without his support.

The FE resolution states: “The party at a Federal level will not actively contest the Police and Crime Commissioners elections; and that at a local level we will have a strong presumption against standing Liberal Democrat candidates.”

Why? It’s true such elections would be hard to fight and win across such vast constituencies, but that was true of European elections before 1999, of most elected mayoralties, and until comparatively recently of many parliamentary constituencies.

It might be reasonable that no federal funding is available for elections that will be held at local (or arguably regional) level but, if that is so, there should not have been a federal level decision on whether or not local and regional parties can run candidates.

Since the party opposed the creation of police commissioners, and went along with them only as part of the coalition agreement, there might at least have been some intellectual consistency in calling for a voter boycott of them.

But the FE did not even do that. Instead it said: “Individual Liberal Democrats, including parliamentarians, will be able to add their support to candidates who do not stand on party political tickets.”

No mechanism exists to allow local parties to choose between independent candidates – are such candidates supposed to submit themselves to something like a selection meeting if they want Liberal Democrat endorsement?

If parliamentarians endorse a non-party candidate, how will they do that and carry their local supporters with them, especially if there is a choice of more than one such person?

Since endorsement by a Liberal Democrat parliamentarian will be seen as endorsement by the party, does anyone other than the parliamentarian concerned get a say in the matter? If not, why should they support the independent concerned?

How will the party ensure that it is not subsequently embarrassed by the actions of someone endorsed by prominent party members but over whom they have no control?

The FE resolution does not actually prohibit party members from standing under a party label, though it does not make that easy. It requires “A mechanism and criteria for how such appropriate Liberal Democrat candidates can be approved and selected must be agreed at the State Party level.”

Into this morass stepped the self-perpetuating elite that is the English party executive. In a move of questionable validity, it has gone beyond even the FE’s obstructionism. An e-mail from chair Jonathan Davies says: “The English Party has agreed a procedure for this to be discussed by all the local parties in each police authority area. If there is not agreement amongst all the local parties in a police authority area, then the relevant regional party will have to mediate or impose a decision.”

That means that all local parties in an area must agree, otherwise the English party will take a decision for them.

It already has a record of impeding these elections by decreeing that candidates must be Westminster approved for what are local, or at most regional, polls.

Thus the English party says the elections are not local, the FE says they are, but have ‘strongly presumed’ what local parties can and cannot do.

This has provoked fury in both the Local Government Association’s Liberal Democrat group and the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors, with the former under a lot of grassroots pressure to ignore the FE.

There has already been a revolt by the party’s South Central region, whose executive passed a motion stating that it would “aim to put up candidates in both of our police authority areas and will actively search for suitable candidates” and “encourage local parties to promote the campaign”.

An attempt was made at the English Council to amend the executive’s motion so that party members would be encouraged to support non-party candidates only if local parties decided not to run a candidate.

Can we expect for the first time ever that party HQ will send out e-mails urging members not to campaign in a public election?

Also in Radical Bulletin 350:

  • YES, AND NO
  • YES, MINISTER
  • PRETTY POLLY, PRETTY POLLY
  • ANIMAL MAGIC
  • SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT
  • DON’T DO AS WE DO
  • A BETTER YESTERDAY

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