Liberator on the Bones Commission: "Clegg has just effected a power grab"

by Stephen Tall on July 31, 2008

There’s a must-read article in the latest Liberator taking a behind-the-scenes look at the clearly heated internal Lib Dem discussions of the Bones Commission into party reform. You can read it in full here.

Three things stand out:

1. That the report receives a general welcome (albeit some way down the page): “Much of Bones is sensible. Its central thrust seeks to deliver Clegg’s incautious commitment to get 150 MPs by the election after next. Its warning that resources need to be poured into a second tier of 200-odd winnable seats will be widely welcomed, in particular by critics of the current targeting strategy. It also, at least in theory, calls for a substantially greater role for the English regions and has resisted pressure to either abolish the English party or strip local parties of their powers.”

2. That does not mean it’s uncontroversial. Liberator criticises what it describes as the sidelining of the party’s part-elected Federal Executive in favour of an unelected ex officio Chief Officers Group. The article also predicts a row over the proposals when the English party executive meets to discuss them – this meeting has now happened, and I understand the Bones Commission proposals were rejected there.

3. That the party (as distinct from the Commission) has made a mess of sharing the Bones proposals with members: “the way in which Bones has so far been implemented does not bode well. Not even FE members were trusted with copies until it was too late, and the first most party members knew about it was a story in the Times (16 July) that posited a rift between Clegg and Rennard, an unlikely eventuality given that Rennard is treated as semi-divine by most party members.” This echoes a criticism I made on Lib Dem Voice last week. Of course the party has to observe the courtesies of reporting first to the bodies affected, but rumours spread much quicker in the internet age – and funnily enough the internet isn’t a bad place for dispelling those rumours either. That the Commission’s report has been so shrouded in secrecy has added unnecessarily to its mystique.

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Most of what is in the report is very sensible.

I’m not convinced that creating another body composed of Parliamentarians is the answer to much. What we need is a smaller ‘executive’ grouping with responsibility for moving things forward in line with a strategy agreed by the FE and endorsed by the other key party bodies.

The mistake TPTB are making is in how they are promoting the report.

The report is done, and should be put on the agenda for discussion first.

Once ther is a genuine consensus around the way forward (which I think is quite likely) there should be proposals put forwrad to take it forward.

What our party doesn’t take kindly to is being told that they have to do something immediately, which clearly still has major holes in it, and without proper discussion.

This is not about delay, it is about building genuine support for the proposals.

by Liberal Neil on July 31, 2008 at 6:15 pm. Reply #

Evidently not a very successful power-grab.

by Dry Bones on July 31, 2008 at 6:49 pm. Reply #

Your quotation stopped just before the concluding paragraph:
“Next time they [party members] hear Clegg inveigh against secrecy and centralisation, they may though be less inclined to believe his sincerity.”

by Anonymous on July 31, 2008 at 8:24 pm. Reply #

“Its warning that resources need to be poured into a second tier of 200-odd winnable seats will be widely welcomed, in particular by critics of the current targeting strategy.”

The “current” strategy being the one that has produced our largest Parliamentary representation since 1923, I suppose.

I shudder to think quite what the 200th most “winnable” Lib Dem seat is like – almost certainly a huge majority for one of the other parties is involved, together with the Lib Dems being only narrowly in second place, if at all – and I shudder even more to think of scarce resources being “poured” into it.

A pattern seems to be developing here. The party leader plucks a figure out of the air (150 seats in the next-but-one election, 30-40 gains from Labour in 2010). Therefore the party must “pour” resources into 30% more seats than the number Nick Clegg first thought of …

by Anonymous on July 31, 2008 at 11:04 pm. Reply #

“Most of what is in the report is very sensible.”

Quite possibly. However a report which is 97% excellent and sensible and 3% completely bonkers isn’t necessarily a good thing overall.

The fundamental thing we need to address to double our number of seats is to get out poll ratings up by a significant amount on the 2005 level. All the target seat strategy in the world won’t be much good if we poll 17-18% at the next election.

by Hywel Morgan on August 1, 2008 at 12:26 am. Reply #

Well said. One of the things that worries me most is that the Liberal Democrats are very good at discussing what needs to be done but not actually following this up with actions.

What we need are more streamlined structures, like the Bones Commission recommends, so that decisions can be made quicker and then acted upon.

It is only by doing this that we can achieve our stated aim of 150 seats at the General Election after next.

by Richard Whelan on August 1, 2008 at 10:26 am. Reply #

“What we need are more streamlined structures, like the Bones Commission recommends, so that decisions can be made quicker and then acted upon.”

That the federal executive has been pressurised into abdicating its powers without even being allowed to read this report is absolutely astonishing. And for Clegg to react to a suggestion that the proposals should be more fully debated with “near apoplexy” is deeply depressing.

So as far as I’m concerned, it’s the quality of decisions that worries me at the moment, not the speed with which they’re being made.

Nothing I have seen in the last seven months persuades me that the quality of the decisions will be improved by putting more power into the hands of the party leader. Quite the opposite.

by Anonymous on August 1, 2008 at 10:54 am. Reply #

Yet again people talk about “pouring resources” into seats.Are these people in the same party as me.The party hasn’t got the resources to pour.Until people face up to this issue .Lib Dem Activists sound like Hitler in his bunker moving around imaginary armies.Has there been a commission on how we raise 10 million? that might be more useful!

by Peter Chapman on August 1, 2008 at 11:14 am. Reply #

To be honest, does anyone really believe that we will/could have 150 MPs within two elections? My view is that only those who do not have real experience of the years of hard graft that is needed to make a constituency winnable would say such a thing. They certainly can have no knowledge of the difficult years in the 1970s, 60s, 50s etc. Like Gordon Brown who persuaded himself that there was no such thing as bust and now has to face one, I fear that the impressionable young things who think politics is easy will have a rude awakening – the ability to ‘keep your seat when all about you are losing theirs’ could well be much admired in a few years time.

by David Evans on August 1, 2008 at 4:49 pm. Reply #

I really don’t want to comment on a report I haven’t seen. Which begs the question; why haven’t I seen it?

by Martin Land on August 1, 2008 at 6:38 pm. Reply #

I can only echo what Martin said…I have to say I am naturally suspicious of anything so shrouded as this report…we need a full consultation and debate on this and for that debate to be informed by actually seeing the report…

David makes a valid point but it is obvious where the political movement is going to be next election…in Labour seats so we are going to be very much on the defensive in Tory seats…I think 150 seats in two elections is do-able though alot will depend on how well we can hold up in those Tory seats next time out….

by Darrell on August 2, 2008 at 11:31 am. Reply #

David Evans – Do many people believe we will have 150 MPs after two elections? probably not.

Is it possible for us to be in that position – yes, depending on many other factors and whether we get our policies, positioning and organisation right.

Most people didn’t think we would come through the ’97 election with 46 MPs and even fewer that we would go on to make net gains on both 2001 and 2005.

by Liberal Neil on August 2, 2008 at 5:03 pm. Reply #

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