Debate, policy formation & the manifesto
The reform of the party is not at this stage about which policies the party adopts, but rather how party policy is determined in the first place. It is entirely appropriate for the Libertarian Party to have a list of policies outlined on its website and in any printed material it is to produce. The list after all gives potential voters an idea of where the party stands on issues that matter to them.
However, the formation of party policy is not the exclusive domain of the NCC, and should start wherever possible at grassroots level. The policy direction of the party is after all a key responsibility of local members; to put their policy motions together, to submit them to consultation, and to submit them to Conferences for consideration and a vote by the membership as a whole.
The party should encourage the healthy debate of the party’s policies and any policy motions being proposed, but this debate should be structured and courteous. It is the view of the author that the party website’s comments sections are not the best place for this to happen.
As such, the author proposes that a new online social network is created whereby full members and associate members are able to meet and discuss any policy they wish, and enable them to put together policy motions for consideration by the wider membership.
Of course, the new social network would have other functions too, including the ability to promote meetups, campaign days, and so on. However, it must be noted that the author is of the view that any new facility would be moderated and discourteous behaviour would be dealt with.
It should be noted that policy formation and the drawing up of policy motions is a bi-directional process between the local parties and their Policy Officer on the one hand, and the NCC Policy Director on the other. For the Libertarian Party to have any credibility, it must ensure that its policies are consistent across the board. It is the role of the NCC Policy Director to make sure this is the case.
Public perception online, in print & in person
Hopefully, readers see that these proposals are about creating a party that is professional and fit-for-purpose. Another element of the reform is to deal with how the public – the casual observer – perceives the Libertarian Party, its members, activists and supporters.
One of the stumbling blocks that libertarians have is the allegation that we operate on the lunatic fringe. We are not taken seriously despite the fact that our principles are very serious indeed. To undermine this allegation, the Libertarian Party and its activists need to present themselves in a more professional manner.
Though there have been some positive developments to the party’s online presence – the redesign of the website, the introduction of a Twitter feed, and the Facebook account – these three elements aren’t linked up to each other in the way they could be. This needs to be remedied.
In addition to this, the author acknowledges the hard-work put into the recent relaunch of the party’s website, but he is of the view that it is in need of a significant overhaul in terms of design and content-management. The design should take into account best practices as illustrated by other parties’ websites and as are highlighted by studies of political websites. Content-management must be strengthened.
The latter is the biggest concern of the author. It is not acceptable for a serious political party wishing to promote itself in a positive light to potential voters, members and supporters to allow comments of the nature that have been seen recently on lpuk.org. Purely from a marketing standpoint, the allegations, counter-allegations, and general negativity posted on the Libertarian Party domain, is nothing short of a disaster. It has served merely to reinforce the lunatic fringe assumption, and the belief that libertarians cannot work together.
The author therefore proposes that a new website – www.libertarianparty.org.uk – is created taking into account best practice in terms of both content-management and design, and that comments are not permitted. As stated above, it is the wish of the author to create a new social network that is open to full members and associate members, and this is where debate and discussion can take place.
Furthermore, it should be noted there are many other blogs and forums available online where members and non-members alike can go to make their comments public. As far as the author is concerned, the party’s website is a tool to promote the party, not the thoughts of individual commentators.
The party’s reputation is not only affected by its online presence. Any printed material that goes out in the name of the Libertarian Party must be of a good standard and must promote the party and its policies in a positive light. To that end, the author reiterates the need for activist training in literature production, and the need to standardise the desktop publishing software that activists use.
Activists themselves have a huge responsibility in ensuring the party is promoted well. Remember, the party is a member-driven organisation and members and activists have the power to enthuse potential voters, activists and supporters. It is the view of the author that activists be given the support and training they need to become confident in engaging with the public on their doorsteps. Only by doing active, public campaigning will activists develop the skills they need to be an effective campaigner, recruit new members and supporters, and possibly win council seats. Indeed, those Libertarian Party candidates who have already been involved in pavement politics have found it to be an invaluable experience.