Financial transparency & accountability
The proposals contained in this document illustrate the need for more disciplined oversight by the NCC – and in particular by the Leader and Chair – of how the party is run. One notable area for improvement is that of how the party deals with its finances, including membership subscriptions, donations, monies raised through fundraising, and spending on election campaigns.
In keeping with the ethos of devolution, it is proposed that each local party, if they are a formal accounting unit, must have a Treasurer, and that each local party is responsible for the management of funds generated at that level, including membership subscriptions, donations and monies raised from fundraising. This devolved approach will mean that each local party must adhere to Electoral Commission regulations. The NCC, in its enabling role, will ensure that local parties receive the training required to undertake these responsibilities.
It is also proposed that most of the monies raised at the local party level will remain with the local party, with only 50% of membership subscriptions being requested by the UK party for national administration and campaigning purposes. Of course, this percentage can be reviewed at another time, but at this stage this is the proposal.
As well as this devolved approach, it is proposed the party will publish a statement of accounts on a quarterly basis. The party will attempt to be a open and transparent as it possibly can be, in accordance with all relevant legal requirements, including data protection. This requirement will apply to both the UK party and any local party that has become an accounting unit. Quarterly publication, as opposed to monthly, has been proposed in recognition that individuals taking on the role of Treasurer do so on a voluntary basis.
On the matter of expenses, the author believes it is entirely reasonable to expect officers at both the NCC and local party level not to be out of pocket. Officers may wish to make donations to the party, which should of course be recorded, but that is a matter for them. Should they have to purchase stationery to keep the membership informed, they should be able to as long as the expenditure is known about, and that receipts are logged for accounting purposes.
Dealing with the media
New media, although growing, is not the only medium from which people get their daily information and news. It remains the case that newspapers, radio and TV play a major part in informing the masses. The party needs to make concerted efforts to access these to promote Libertarian Party policies, messages and principles.
Some media is more difficult to access than others. Newspapers and radio is easier than TV; local is easier than national. On this basis, local parties and activists have an important role to play in building a database of media contacts which they will share with the UK party.
Identifying local newspaper and radio journalists and providing them with good quality, credible content, activists will be working to build positive, long-term relations with some of the community’s most important opinion-makers. The ‘them and us’ mentality that exists amongst some libertarian circles has no place in a confident and bold Libertarian Party.
The author is aware that there are possibly other areas within the party structure and management that could benefit from reform, but in the interests of presenting a document that can be read in reasonable time, he hopes this set of proposals at least give members and friends of the party an idea of what direction – if the will exists – the party could travel.
The proposals argue for structure, discipline, accountability, and most of all, trust. The latter, which is the most important factor of any relationship, is the one thing that needs to be worked on the most. These proposals in themselves will help rebuild trust, give individuals the opportunity to influence, get involved and be active.
The Libertarian Party can have a bright, confident and strong future if that is the desire of its members, activists and friends. Let’s move on, put the bad-feeling behind us. Let’s get down to work. Let’s have a fresh start.
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 – http://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.
The second area of the Webb-Andronichuk proposal up for discussion is perhaps the most controversial section of the proposal, it describes the supporters base and internal party structure.
Membership & supporters
At present, an individual can sign up to become a member of the party by paying £10 or £15 membership subscription. This gives them the ability to attend and vote at Conferences. It also allows them the opportunity to stand for election to the NCC, and also stand at a council or national election under the Libertarian Party banner.
However, more should be done to encourage Supporters to get on board. When he was a councillor, the author had represented residents of wards ranging in size from 1,500 properties to 6,500 properties. To deliver leaflets to these wards would obviously be time consuming, so it was important to get supporters on board.
Supporters are not party members, but they eventually might be. They would help deliver leaflets – say 200-250 each – which helps lighten the load. At one point, the author when representing a ward of around 6,000 properties had eighteen supporters who were prepared to deliver leaflets in his ward; that’s as many as 4,500 leaflets from a 6,000 run that the author didn’t have to deliver himself. What’s more, most were not members of his political party, and some were in fact supporters – at the national level – of other political parties. They were happy with the work that the author was doing in their community and wanted to offer their support. There are other benefits of having a supporter network in place.
Skills and experience is one, for example, a supporter might be a teacher who can give advice on education related matters. Receiving donations is another – it costs money to produce leaflets throughout the year. Community is another – there is nothing better than a dozen or so people getting together, supporting a local pub or restaurant, to have a good time.
The author doesn’t agree with the notion of dual-membership. If an individual wishes to have voting rights, they should become a full member of the party. However, there should be some provision to allow for individuals to become Associate Members if they wish.
Associate Members would be required to pay the same subscription as full members to illustrate their support. This would give them all of the same rights as a full member except that they will not have any voting rights, they wouldn’t be permitted to seek election to party committee positions at the UK or local levels, and nor would they be permitted to stand as Libertarian Party candidates at elections. They would of course be excluded from ‘sensitive’ meeting, for example, pertaining to election strategy. Supporters of the party would of course be free to donate and support the party how they saw fit, be invited to socials, and could even offer advice, but there will no membership rights.
The full membership subscription should remain in place as this rightly illustrates commitment to the party and helps fund the day-to-day running of the party, and if funds allow, campaigns and candidates.
On one final note regarding membership, the party should introduce membership cards. Such a card would show the membership status of the individual (full or associate), their membership renewal date, their membership number, and perhaps even the Region or Local Authority they’re in.
Devolution of responsibilities
Under these proposals, there is still an element of central direction from the UK party. However, many of the functions that currently fall within the remit of the UK party could be devolved to legally responsible local parties – or Accounting Units. It is proposed the party adopts a federal structure, giving greater autonomy and responsibility to local groups. Applications to the NCC to become a local accounting unit will be determined on the basis that the given local area had ten members, and the basis of a committee, notably a Chair, Secretary and Treasurer.
The diagram on the next page is not meant to show a hierarchy; nor is it meant to illustrate an authoritarian, ‘Führer principle’ approach. It shows how the UK party and local parties can work in partnership, with some responsibilities resting with the NCC, and others resting with the local parties.
It also shows how devolution of grassroots functions will allow the NCC to reduce its membership to five, those being: Leader, Chair, Treasurer, Campaigns & Communication, and Policy. The one caveat is regards the post of Campaigns and Communications. It is possible that this post could be split into two roles, but this can be reviewed at a later date.
It is proposed there is still an element of central direction in the following areas:
- The local party constitution that governs the conduct of all new formal local Accounting Units will be drawn up by the NCC, having consulted the membership; and this will come into force after being ratified by a meeting of the Conference.
- Candidate selection rules for selecting candidates at the local authority level will be drawn up by the NCC, having consulted the membership, and this will come into force after being ratified by a meeting of the Conference.
- Procedures to submit policy motions to Conferences for consideration and the vote of the members as a whole.
- Oversight of Accounting Units to ensure they are dealing with their financial responsibilities in accordance with legislation. The primary officer charged with this role will be the NCC Treasurer.
The NCC will take on a more enabling and supporting role to the local parties, but ultimately, the NCC – and in particular the Leader and Chair – will be responsible for oversight on how well the party is functioning and performing. It may be appropriate for other functions to be dealt with at the NCC level in addition to the four bullet points above with a view to creating consistency across the board to enable local parties to function well and within the law.
In a part of my pitch yesterday I promised an opportunity to discuss, openly, the merits of the Webb-Andronichuk fresh-start proposal. The document details a set of reforms that promise to “make The Libertarian Party fit for purpose”. The proposal was published on a snazzy new site and a great deal more work went into presenting this nicely than any of the rival proposals published on LPUK.org. If this were a beauty contest, then the proposals would win hands-down, but what of the merits?
Gavin has set up a contact form on the showcase site in which you can send him your feedback, and this may very well help to make the reforms agreeable, but it may not. The membership has no way of knowing if the proposal have support from a consensus and no way of exchanging ideas or pointing out to each the pros and cons.
I fear that when members finally get to meet and vote on them, some nerdy character will put up his hand and share an insight that completely undermines the motion and we may be deprived of a reform that is useful in practice. Alternatively, the time-limited nature of that meeting and the will to move on from recent trouble might help the proposals to pass without some serious flaw being discussed before voting takes place. An open, protracted, detailed and inclusive debate will help to ensure the right thing happens, one way or another.
The proposals outlined in this document will, the author hopes, provide an illustration of how the party can move forward in a way that is both coordinated and structured, and that also gives members a real opportunity to shape and grow the party from the grassroots up.
It is true that members are the lifeblood of any political party – be that through membership subscriptions, donations of time and money, activism, or the contribution of policy ideas.
However, it must also be acknowledged that the organisation that is the Libertarian Party is as important as the members that make it up. The Libertarian Party would not be a libertarian party if it allowed the bulk of its membership to be intolerant towards certain ethnic groups, or pro-war, or pro-tax. Such members would undermine the very being of the Libertarian Party, and the project will die.
The Libertarian Party was founded as a small government party, not a no government party. Though theory of pure libertarianism is of interest and entertainment to a great to many libertarians – including the author, the real world just isn’t ready for it. To reach a society in which there is no nation state, no government (as we know it now), no man-made rules (as we know them now) will take generations to achieve.
As such, everything the party does, be it the formation of policy, transparency of party finances, the party structure itself, has to take this fact into consideration. There are constraints to what the party can and cannot do, whether they be constraints imposed on the organisation by laws, or by how the public perceive it.
Please read through these proposals, and if you would like to offer any feedback, please get in touch.
The party brand
The brand that is the ‘Libertarian Party’ is an important one, and it should be pushed at every opportunity, be that online or in print.
Since March 2010, the Libertarian Party has had access to the domain name http://www.libertarianparty.org.uk. This was registered by the author when he was then Communications Director. In fact, from that date and prior to the publication of these proposals, if anyone typed this domain name into their browser they have been redirected to the current website, http://www.lpuk.org, a fact that was promoted to members in the members’ newsletters.
Readers will have noticed that the author, for the time being, is using this domain to showcase these proposals.
It was the hope of the author in 2010 that the party dump its LPUK tag in acknowledgement of the importance of brand identity and the need to plug the ‘Libertarian Party’. This fact was promoted in the members’ newsletters.
As part of the renewal of the party, members and activists should proudly announce their membership of or work for the ‘Libertarian Party’, be that on leaflets, online or letters to the editor in local papers. The more people who get to know that a party called the Libertarian Party exists – as opposed to ‘LPUK’ – the better.
However, it’s not just about the party name or URL, its also about the party emblem and its slogans. These are registered with the Electoral Commission, and it was the author’s intention, when Communications Director, that these be revisited to make them more clear to the electorate when they received election material, or turned out to vote and see the party on the ballot paper.
The brand also relies on the calibre of party activists. This will be discussed later.
Campaigning & activism
Organising a successful campaign doesn’t happen organically. It requires individuals to be charged with certain responsibilities and tasks. It also needs individuals to have the necessary skills and knowledge to implement the tasks they are given.
A key role of the party is to ensure that it activists are up to speed with what they need to know to ensure success in their campaigning endeavours. There is no need to re-invent the wheel; there are clear rules and guidelines that if followed will help improve the effectiveness of any campaign. For example, the process of designing a leaflet – straight-forward one might think, but as with any aspect of publishing, including certain elements on a leaflet will improve its effectiveness. Indeed, a guide on how to produce an effective leaflet was produced by the author and distributed to members when he was Communications Director.
The author of these proposals has many years of campaigns experience, and indeed when a member of the Liberal Democrats, worked for and on behalf of that party to inform and educate its members to win elections and serve as councillors.
Training is essential in aiding Libertarian Party activist success, which is why the author has consistently argued that each activist who is responsible for artworking literature, do so using party-endorsed desktop publishing software. Using one piece of software will not only allow for training to be consistent across the whole of the party, but also allows activists the ability to share their examples of artwork and their skills with fellow activists. This illustrates a more grassroots approach to campaigning and activism.
It is also a given that as a political party, the Libertarian Party should encourage its activists to stand for election to their local councils, either as just names on the ballot paper, or as contenders for the seats. For those elections where Libertarian Party activists are putting up a serious contest, they will be funded primarily at the local level as part of a later proposal to devolve much of the financial management of the party. The NCC will, as part of its enabling role, look to introduce a scheme to target resources at the best performing areas to ensure greater success at the ballot box.
It is also worth mentioning that the belief that emanates from some libertarians that ‘those who seek political power have no right to call themselves libertarian’ has no place in a mature Libertarian Party. To repeat, one of the key reasons for the party to exist is to stand at elections, elect councillors and have influence. It is a fact of real life that the Libertarian Party operates in the UK’s 21st century democracy, and despite it many flaws and imperfections – of which there are many – the party and any Libertarian Party councillor has a fighting chance of having some influence with voters, the media and representatives of the multitude of agencies that exist.
Tomorrow, I will post an additional section of the proposal, dealing with the internal structure of of the supporter/activist base and the Party itself. Until then, over to you: