Monday, March 26, 2007

LDYS: Return Of The Readership

A funny thing happened to this blog last October, as reader numbers soared for three particular entries about the state of LDYS following its Autumn Conference in Colchester. In the spirit of giving the people what they want, I shall hope to provide the same service for LDYS Spring Conference 2007, held in Bristol on the weekend.

In terms of the actual business of the weekend, we had a diverse range of speakers, including Stephen Williams MP, Tony Vickers (ALTER), John Bridges (ALDC) and Martin Tod (Wired Group), plus a Manifesto consultation session with Steve Webb MP (who, perhaps scarily, recognises me from Facebook…)

The policy debates were fruitful, the headline being a commitment to Land Value Taxation as a replacement for Council Tax (and yes, Tony Vickers did speak immediately before that motion was discussed but that was entirely coincidental!). Topical motions denouncing Robert Mugabe, Gordon Brown and Rupert Murdoch were also carried; indeed, the only motion to fail was a proposal for short-term renationalisation of train operating companies to facilitate future systemic reforms (and I’m sure regular readers will have no trouble working out who wrote that motion ;)

At this point, I’m painfully aware of the now-legendary warning LDYS once received from Lord Shutt of Greetland, namely “beware those who use constitutions as a substitute for sex”. Nevertheless, the most important piece of news from conference is that LDYS adopted a new constitution. But while we must savour the joy of passing a motion that includes the section;

Conference Resolves:
1. To delete the Standing Orders
2. To delete the Constitution and replace

The true importance of this constitution is not what it is, but what it is not…

To explain, at Spring Conference 2006 LDYS’s executive brought proposals, with essentially zero notice, to reform the constitutional amendment procedure so as to facilitate a complete review. Although the measure succeeded, the plan on which it was based (which included calling two special conferences to occur consecutively on the same day!) failed to materialise.

At Autumn Conference 2006, another proposal was brought at no notice, this time by way of a policy motion giving a mandate to the Executive to investigate and execute certain changes to LDYS’s systems and strategy. Although that motion failed, a desire to effect substantial change was clearly stated.

Soon after, LDYS VP Adam Killeya noticed that, having changed our procedures, the only difference between the Constitution and the Standing Orders was their name. As one of the most experienced users of the document, he embarked on a complete rewrite, to combine the two and tighten the package as a whole. A team including Merryn Pearce, Chris Nelson and myself weighed in, and the new document was published for consultation in January and passed nem con at Bristol.

None of that delivers the structural reform that many are calling for. But until we have firm proposals from them, nothing can deliver those. I understand that there are some valid reasons for that at this stage, and I’m sure those involved are acting in good faith, but I think two comments must be placed on record. First, governing is done by those who show up; if things fail to happen, the credibility of the reform efforts will be shot to hell.

More importantly, however, the proposals must be concrete. My experience of LDYS has very much been that there is a cultural fear of professionalism and of organisation; those elected to lead seem very much to want to be given carte blanche to do fluffy things and be trusted to do them. I have no objection to people wanting to do fluffy things, but I also want a guarantee that those functions that LDYS is duty-bound to fulfil are being fulfilled.

Ultimately, LDYS is a significant component in both membership and finances of the Federal Party and has responsibilities with significant legal repercussions to the Federal Party; you cannot manage an organisation of that size from the back of a fag packet. I want to see reform, I want to see us improve, but that has to be done in a manageable, accountable fashion. I truly hope that the process that is to follow will be thorough and inclusive, as we have been let down too often in the past.

PS As I’m certain it will appear nowhere else on the web, I’d like to give credit to those who did so much to deliver conference. At the host end, Nigel Smith, Jon Massey, Dan Aylen, Matt Wilkes and many other whose names I forget; from the LDYS office, Paul Pettinger; and from Conference and Steering Committees, Amanda Crane, Mark Mills, Adam Killeya, Merryn Pearce and the legend that is Simon Drage.

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