The advantages of regional parties

Stuart Heal has caused a stir with his debut contribution concerning the design of a potential new party. Lucian writes:

Why start with a national party? […] I’m not interested in funding a group of five people who want to sit around doing basically nothing except “approving” my local candidate and trying to control my local area.

And this parish’s Richard Carey retorts:

there’s no reason to go so far into localism that you turn your back on the outside world. Stuart, above (correct me if I’m wrong) is writing in Manchester. I am in London. Should we ignore one another? Should I tell him to keep his opinions to himself? Is it not possible that we, in London, can benefit from working together with libertarians around the country, and vice versa? And if so, i.e. if there is no greater benefit in isolation, then why not have some kind of structure to communicate and to work together, to facilitate whatever each local group or particular individual is seeking to achieve?

The first part is true, people are an immense value to each other as long as their goals and incentives are compatible, but the second part does not follow. At least, it does not follow as a reason to have a national party. It is a reason to nationally prepare policy ideas, and ideas for leaflets. It is a reason to debate strategy in national fora and it’s a reason to attend the same protests and events regarding national issues. It is not a reason to have a particular national institution, and if it is, that institution could just as easily be Facebook (or Libertarian Home, or any other bit of the internet) as it could a Party registered with the Electoral Commission.

One good reason to have a central party is that dealing with the Electoral Commission and ensuring good governance of the money are very time-consuming requirements and if time is money then the cost of that national infrastructure might be £40,000. If you have several local parties, then you need to spend the same amount of time (or the same £40,000) several times over. However, what you get for your money is a much looser structure. The local groups are not subject to any authoritity from the center, and by way of the same structural feature, the parts aren’t accountable to each either. The London Objectivists could morph into a clan of baby-eating cannibals or the Clevedon Centre for the Prevention of Kleptocracy could be tainted by financial scandal but the Kent Club for Capital and Liberty would remain largely untainted.

Speaking of Kent, our Andy – a big fan of regional parties – has left his native county for a long holiday. I have a feeling this blog will return to this topic upon his return.

One more thing, is that smaller parties would have the option of registering as minor parties and standing in Parish and Welsh Community Council elections only. If you want to start local, the Parish is as local as it gets. Importantly, the reporting requirements for minor parties are much less onerous and compliance, therefore, considerably cheaper.

Simon Gibbs

Simon is a London based IT contractor and the proprietor of Libertarian Home. Working with logic and cause-and-effect each day he was naturally attracted to nerdy libertarianism and later to the benevolent logic of Objectivism. Find him on Google+ 

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  7 comments for “The advantages of regional parties

  1. Lucian
    May 21, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    Thanks for this article. I have been looking into parish councils and it seems very easy to get involved. Often they don’t have enough candidates to bother with an election, so they ‘co-opt’ their friends. Anyonw who gets ten signatures can force an election, or get elected if no one else runs. Parishes have the power to tax for certain items (the ‘precept’). It would be great if libertarians got on parish councils and implemented a ‘zero-precept’ approach. Maybe parishes could compete on which had the lowest precept. Get several parishes together and they might be able to change the way the borough operated too. This would really raise awareness of libertarian ideas.

  2. Stuart Heal
    May 29, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    The problem with parish councils is that there aren’t very many of them – Manchester only has one (Ringway Parish Council) so most potential candidates won’t have anything to stand for if we’re limited to these. Also people on town councils tend to have a better platform for getting in the local papers (see Gavin’s career as a Lib Dem councillor).

    One important thing we’ve got to remember is that politically active Libertarians are extremely thin on the ground, so getting enough bods together to form a viable self-sufficient local party is extremely unlikely. During my campaign, all my helpers came from outside the area – I had one financial supporter who lived in the same city as me. So having a national party potentially gives us the ability to call on more resources than we’d have otherwise.
    It also allows for a sensible division of labour – one treasurer (with proper ovesite this time), one guy to keep the paperwork straight with the EC, one guy to design leaflet templates, one guy to look after the website etc, instead of trying to find people at local level who are both capable and willing to do the work.

    Really, if local self-sufficient libertarian parties were a practical proposition, I think we’d already have seen them emerging by now. My concern right now is that we may not have the critical mass of willing talent to even get a national party going.

    • May 30, 2012 at 10:54 am

      Then Stuart, perhaps we are not really ready for a Party?

      If so, we could add our mass to that other self-ostracising institution, join UKIP, or act outside of a Party. I don’t think either Party will sort themselves out for at least one more year, so I know what I’m doing and I’m getting on and doing it June 9th.

  3. Stuart Heal
    May 30, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    I’m not sure what you mean by your description of “self-ostracising”, but when it comes to joining other parties, there’s a wider choice than just UKIP. The Liberal Party, LibDems and Conservatives all have elements that make them of interest to libertarians, and those are just the parties that I can think of off the top of my head. One of the reasons I support joint memberships is so that libertarians can get experience of activism within more established parties – that doesn’t mean we can’t also have our own seperate party. My concern here is whether we can get a core team together to take care of the day to day work that’s necessary for the functioning of a party – Gavin can’t do it on his home, but if we can get a couple more experienced councillors and/or people with experience of running a small business or voluntary organisation, that could make all the difference.
    For myself, I’ve been thinking of joining the Liberals, although it’ll be a while before I’m in a position to get active again. I’m waiting to see if Gavin’s able to get the proposed new party before I do anything though.
    So what are you doing on June 9th, anything worthwhile?

    • Jun 1, 2012 at 9:50 am

      By “self-ostracising” I mean LPUK. Moving *rapidly* on, on the 9th five or six of us (hopefully more) will leaflet at an ACTA protest.

  4. James
    Jun 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    It’s something that appeals to me and I note that it is a setup that characterised the Conservative Party back in the days when it was a mixture of political and regional identities (it last held a majority in Scotland when the Unionist Party, National Liberals and Liberal Unionists held the Conservative whip in Westminster, before being subsumed by the Conservative ‘brand’).

    That said, costs and administrative issues are a wholly different issue for a fledgling party. On that basis, the issue at heart must surely be the style of organisation?

    A single legal entity for administrative and legal purposes should see no impediment to a federalised and thus highly-devolved movement that organises along lines of geography or perhaps even political interest.

    Such political parties can register multiple identities and administrative units as a single registration. I would recommend anybody considering the options familiarise themselves with the Electoral Commission’s extensive literature first, to give them an idea of what might be possible.

  5. Lucian
    Jun 5, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    Possibly there would be more support for very local efforts? Busy people who aren’t interested in a ‘hopeless’ or educational campaign elsewhere, might well support a person for the local parish council and – once that person had proven himself – for town council. In a place like Manchester where there aren’t any parishes, maybe there is a local pressure group or another way to show competence beforehand. You have to do the job to get the job.

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