Replacing the single manifesto

© Sarah Bresee

Last night at the Pro Liberty Social I repeatedly promoted an idea I had a long time ago about how to handle policy decision making in a libertarian party. There was more interest in this there, than I remember the original article getting. It was a long and rambling tour of issues current at the time, but not widely appealing, so I will save you the bother of reading the whole thing.

Here is the specific section I had in mind:

if it is wrong to impose a coherent manifesto on the membership, then should the Party continue to have a manifesto at all? Such documents are traditional but are they actually useful? They are not subject to “reasonable expectation” like a contract, they can and must vary according to circumstances, but they do serve the purpose of informing voters about policies. Can we publish something else – anything else – that tells the public what our policies are, without also claiming every member supports it and exactly the same policies will be adopted in power? Of course that is possible, it’s just odd.

To replace the manifesto I suggest a process of submitting categorised statements, initially to the membership, and polling members to establish the genuine level of support. Extremely unpopular policies (with less than, say, 5% of members’ endorsement) will remain private to the Party to prevent the creation of straw-men. To deal with the evolution of policy and ensure consistency it will be possible for members to withdraw their endorsement and force the removal of a policy statement from the public list. If this fails to occur then we can tune the process, perhaps by adding a cap to the number of statements a member can simultaneously endorse within a category.

If the Party is schizophrenic on one issue, or the top-polling policy lacks majority support then it will be clear that what happens in power (assuming it ever becomes an issue) is still up for discussion and may vary. This is mature and honest, and reasonably simple to understand as a voter. It is in effect an extra degree of transparency on top of what happens anyway within parties. The body of policies that do enjoy strong support will organically become part of the identity of the Party as it campaigns in the media and on the streets. Individual candidates should then disclose – in their own literature – which of the policies they support, so that the voters can make informed choices.

There is a section following, about how to build a system architecture to apply the concept to a federal party structure. I am a computer programmer, you have been warned.


  1. It’s an idea with some merit. I’m just not convinced it’s an idea for now. Perhaps if there are 10,000 members of a party like Pro Liberty, it could work. Clearly the party would need to be happy to robustly defend the “your party is hopelessly split on this issue” accusation.

    My preferred option is not to have a party manifesto for an election, but for each candidate to have his or her personal libertarian manifesto. The party could provide a template with ideas, but then each candidate could tailor or rewrite it for their area and based on their own position on the libertarian spectrum. This avoids the issue of people elected to office having to vote against their principles or conscience. This strengthens the candidate’s bond with their electorate – there’s no third person in the room telling the elected candidate what they can and can’t say or do.



  2. There is an internal side and an external side to this issue. Internally, the question is; what mechanisms do we want to have in place for people to bring forward proposals, discuss them and what status such proposals should have. Should they be endorsed as official party policy? What does this mean to any dissenters? Etc.

    Externally, the issue is; what does one say when asked; ‘what does the party stand for?’ or ‘what is the party’s view on such and such?’. Everyone has a view of what a political party is, and many of them would deny a ‘proper’ party could exist without policies.

    In the case of someone seeking election, it seems obvious that they must put forward a statement of intent, their pledge to the electors, and this could easily be called their manifesto. Anyone wanting to stand under the party name would need to be officially endorsed by the party, and for this purpose the party would need to be clear on what they are endorsing, i.e., what this person was standing for, otherwise how could the party encourage people to support the candidate?

    Also, I think it is important to distinguish between; a) things a libertarian party in government would do; b) things a libertarian party supports or opposes; c) things which a libertarian party should concentrate upon.

    Now, a) and b) are overlapping, but of the two, I would say the priority is to think in terms of b), as these are things we can campaign for now, whilst a) is something we need not worry about for a long time, or better still are captured in the over-arching principles of the party. As for c), if the party, for instance, wished to target a particular section of society, e.g., students, this would, in an operational sense, be a party policy,

    In summary, I would say there should definitely be a forum for libertarians to put forward policy proposals, and to organise campaigning activities in pursuance of particular political aims, but that the party must avoid setting down ‘party lines’, which would add further stipulations to being a member, over and above simple agreement with the principles of liberty, as outlined in the constitution.

    As for the party being accused of being hopelessly divided on particular issues, I think we should wear it as a badge of honour! As libertarians, we agree to differ, without the desire to enforce agreement through violence 🙂



  3. The challenge of having individual policies voted on is to ensure there is internal consistency.

    To use the systems analogy, continuous integration and full regression testing is needed for each proposal. I hope this can be resolved by very clear, transparent alerts as to the impact before a policy is integrated.



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