Sunday, May 20, 2007

Scrap LDYS's policy committee

I fail to see why LDYS needs a policy committee. Its members are volunteers doing the job in their spare time, and they don't receive any special training - in other words they are just regular party members with a fancy title.

When committees are created they disenfranchise normal members. They take the power of things away from the people and give them to a minority of interested people (who often have an agenda). It discourages people from getting involved - they are instead encouraged to rely on others to handle their issues for them. They might not formally do this, but it is a matter of perception. If a committee is formed to handle an issue, it gives the impression that only the committee members are the appropriate people to handle the issue. It means people avoid taking ownership of LDYS's policy by delegating: "that's up to the policy committee to do".

Committees do have their uses. For a volunteer group, as LDYS's policy committee is, those advantages do not exist. A policy committee does not determine the governance of the organisation, it doesn't manage anything, and it doesn't really coordinate anything. The only thing a policy committee should do is research issues and report on them - and as a volunteer group of five or so people our policy committee does not exactly have the resources to do such a thing. Ad hoc working groups with funds would be appropriate. A standing policy committee with no resources is a pointless exercise in bureaucracy.

If LDYS sees part of its role as ensuring that the Liberal Democrats include the wishes of young people in their manifesto, then it must have an open and effective way to do so. It should encourage all party members to write policies of their own andto discuss them amongst all party members. LDYS members come from all walks of life and encouraging them not just to come forward with their own policies but to debate and discuss other members' policies will be far more beneficial to the organisation. Scrap the policy committee and get members taking ownership of their suggestions.


James Graham said...

I'm no longer involved with LDYS, but having been one of the people who helped draft the existing constitution (which for all its flaws is a lot better than the one we had before!), I can see virtue in your argument.

When we drafted that constitution, we scrapped several committees, and most of the 'named' officerships. If I could have my time again, I'd scrap all the directly elected committees and one of the conferences in favour of a single, larger 'council' (which could form sub-committees on an ad hoc basis) and scrap every last directly elected office: specifically the Chair and Vice Chairs.

Crazy? No, as it would create a leveller playing field. You'd still have to indirectly elect chairs of committees (including council) and other officers from time to time, but they would be more immediately accountable to the council.

Council meetings, which could be held 3-4 times a year and all members would be welcome to attend, could become mini-conferences in themselves, with speaker meetings, forums and training wrapped around them. The organisation, in its smaller state, could concentrate on trying to make one conference work a year instead of two and have more infrequent meetings happening throughout the year.

Just my tuppence worth.

Auberius said...

A committee is only as good as its terms of reference and how people treat those terms; given that I wrote the current terms of reference, hopefully I can help in this matter...

The committee actually has two fundamental functions; development of new policy and management of existing policy. On the management side (things like preparing policy for Federal Conferences), we work on the principle that LDYS' democratic procedures have already approved these actions and that we are therefore constrained to their mandate.

On the development side, I'll admit the ball has been dropped in recent years. But I should point out that Policy Committee has no power to actively prevent policy motions being brought forward, and neither should it have.

More generally, on the philosophical point, committees exist for insurance; it's not that the membership couldn't do it, it's that you can't require them to. When people are elected, itis on the understanding that they will guarantee to perform the job as described. Could we do a better job of the accountability? Yes. Does that mean we should chuck the whole process away? No.

dynamite said...

I am very much in sympathy with the sentiments of your post.