It was a shocking and sobering sight just a few days ago to wake up and see a photo of Kira Rudyk, the leader of a sister liberal party of ours in Ukraine holding a gun and preparing to fight.
It was also a reminder of the importance of our liberal values - and the need for internationalism to support fellow humans, rather than to try to hide away within our own borders as if the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Viruses, climate change and dictators don’t stop at borders, and nor should our compassion for other people.
The wave of sanctions, both mandatory from governments and voluntary as others too have ceased trade, cancelled events and ended Russian participation, is a reminder of just how much integration there was - economically, socially and culturally - between Russia and the rest of the world.
A frequent hope of liberals is that such extensive links can bring people together and reduce the risk of conflict. What the invasion of Ukraine has shown, however, is that such hope is not enough. We also need strong multinational institutions with the necessary powers to enforce their decisions when required.
Getting that right will help avoid future Ukraines, but we also have to work with where we are in the present. Which is why we’re pressing the government so hard to take effective action against the Russian oligarchs who have secreted so much wealth in London and spent so heavily on British politics, British legal services and British financial services.
Events in Ukraine will come up in multiple ways at our online federal spring conference 11-13 March. (Update: see more about what we discussed here.)
In the light of both the tragedy in Ukraine and recent controversies such as over the Chinese use of money to influence British politics, we’ve been reviewing our rules for checking the international aspects of potential donations to confirm that they have the right safeguards in them.
Improving the way the party is run
Friday night at conference also sees an important debate on how the Federal Board operates.(Update: Board reform was passed.) It’s currently 41 in size - much larger than the sort of bodies which run other parts of the party, and much larger than the sort of bodies many of us are familiar with in charities, businesses and not for profit organisations.
This isn’t just a theoretical issue because as the Thornhill Review, our review into what happened at the 2019 election, concluded: “The Federal Board was often a ‘rubber-stamp’ and is “too large a group to be a realistic decision-making body”.
That hindered us in 2019 and undermined the value we rightly put on our internal democracy. Electing people to a rubber stamp isn’t a real democracy. Electing people to an effective body is.
Which is why we consulted members last year on what reform options they would like to see, and the three most popular - along with the status quo - are going to be put to the vote on Friday. Members overwhelmingly backed reform in that consultation. I hope people will come to the debate on Friday and help make sure conference does too.
As 10 of our recently selected target seat candidates said in an open letter backing Board reform:
We are all determined to win - because we know that’s the way to improve the lives of our constituents, to get more of our policies put into action and to boost our national influence…
But we cannot undertake this massive task effectively unless HQ and our party structures are in a place to support us.
That change has thankfully begun, with the recent by-elections in Chesham & Amersham and North Shropshire paying testament to the scale of change within HQ…
None of us would think for a moment it’s sensible to have a local party executive of 41 people. But that’s just what we have at the federal level with a Board of 41.
That’s why the reform motion at this spring’s conference is so important to get us into fighting shape for the next general election.
Please register for conference, come to the debate - and help us win, for our constituents and for our party.
Record levels of grassroots campaigning
Thank you to everyone who has been out campaigning in the last month. We’ve continued to make gains at council by-elections and our overall level of voter contact so far this year continued to be the highest it has been for at least five years.
Thank you especially to everyone who had stood as a council candidate in the by-elections or is planning to do so in May. Getting the Liberal Democrat name appearing on ballot papers more frequently is part of what we need to do to re-establish ourselves in the eyes of voters as relevant, growing and worth paying attention to. (For more on why this is so important, see my piece on the party website.)
We do a quarterly series of calls with the most active canvassers, so that people at the centre of the party such as our Leader Ed Davey and our Chief Executive Mike Dixon can hear directly from the doorsteps about what is and isn’t working around the country.
One piece of feedback from these calls has been the desire to have a page on the party website that sets out what we believe, suitable for people who are interested in politics and might, say, be thinking of joining the party. It’s now up here.
Thank you to Christine Jardine for her time on the Federal Board, from which she has just stepped down as one of the Parliamentarians. Alistair Carmichael has succeeded her.
Welcome also to Dean Courtney, the new Membership Development Officer at party HQ. He’s part of a newly reorganised membership team, headed up by Sian Waddington in her new role as Director of Membership Operations. Greg Foster, who used to have a key role in the membership team, is now Head of Technology, in our technology and data team that is headed up by Katy Perryment and which reports directly to our CEO.
Keeping up with our technology news
There is a new 'Tech Projects' newsletter to keep activists across the party updated with work to improve our data and tools, such as website platforms. You can sign up for the list here.