It seems that what remains of the Uk Libertarian Party is making a serious attempt to move on from the carnage, destruction and eventual insolvency of the Andrew Withers era. With that in mind, Ken Ferguson, for whom I have always had enormous respect, posted this - http://lpuk.org/2011/05/ideas-and-suggestions-for-reform/ on the party's official site. The invitation to all members and supporters to recommend ways in which LPUK can move forward is indeed welcome, and itself makes a refreshing change from the top-down fuhrer principle that has appeared to consume the party recently.
As a former member who remains a supporter, I have a few strategic and structural changes that would in my view benefit the party's fortunes greatly. Here are eight moves that LPUK could make that would represent a shift in the right direction:-
1 - Monthly Online Publication of the Party's Accounts
The root cause of much of the recent dissent within LPUK has been the feeling amongst a great many party members that it was time to be completely open and transparent about the way in which the money coming in was being spent. The divide over the whether or not the accounts should or should not be audited would have been completely avoided had a culture of openness already been in place. Of course, the names of the donors and recipients of money would be excluded from what was published, and any non-member of the party wishing to donate money would have this 'open declaration' policy explained to them before they parted with their hard-earned cash. Members would have no such concerns as they would be voting on the policy, which would only come into effect if a majority supported it.
We would also have an account for each region as opposed to one national LPUK account (see point 7)
2 - A Realistic Manifesto - Not a set of Pipe Dreams
Reading LPUK's current manifesto is akin to scanning through a Utopian shopping list of the features of the ideal society. It always struck me as odd, as if those shaping policy did not quite understand what a manifesto was. LPUK need to agree some realistic mid-term aims and accept that zero income tax, universal private healthcare and education, along with many other current policies are light years away. By all means keep some of them (see point 3) as long-term aspirations, but on a separate page to the plan for government in the next four years or so. The manifesto should be a simple document, detailing some fairly radical changes that we genuinely believe we can implement within a single parliamentary term.
3 - Abolish the 'Abolish Income Tax' Policy - the sums do not add up
None of us like paying income tax, so the pledge to abolish it may well be the most eye-catching and appealing policy currently on LPUK's books. But then it prompts the predictable questions of how you're going to pay for even the significantly smaller state that remains after a term of a Libertarian government? Candidates will get asked a variant of that question on the doorstep and would currently have to scramble around desparately for an answer. The reality is that as long as there are functions of the state that we are all agreed upon (namely law and order and defence from invasion), then there will be the need for at least some level of direct taxation to meet the costs of these requirements.
The party's focus should therefore be on opposing 'brain drain' taxes, gradually cutting public spending and taking the least well off out of income tax altogether, which will enable an unravelling of the bureaucratic minefield that is the tax credits system. Eliminating the 'churn' in terms of tax and benefits should also be a high-priority economic aim.
4 - Re-Establish Social and Constitutional Liberalism as Key Policy Themes
Over the last year or so, LPUK has become something of an 'economics party'. This is understandable given the fiscal problems faced by the current government, but then Libertarians tend to believe in so much more than this. The danger of focussing on monetary matters is that of being perceived as a slightly more radical alternative to the Conservative Party or UKIP. The Tories in particular believe strongly in using the tax system to promote 'correct' lifestyle choices. They want to retain the status quo on drug control, are anti-immigration and vehemently support the monarchy.
LPUK needs to make its distinction from the Tories and UKIP absolutely clear so it does not end up being lumped in the same bucket as them by the uninformed voter. Doing so will also dissuade illiberal people who happen to believe in lower taxes from concluding that LPUK is a party they should join and look to influence. In practical terms. this involves promoting social, constitutional and economic liberalism with equal vigour, and adopting republicanism as a policy at the earliest opportunity.
5 - Ditch the Fuhrer Principle
LPUK believes (or at least is supposed to) in moving decision-making down to the lowest level. This means that any national leader of the party ought to be there only to fulfil an administrative role and face the media if and when necessary. The more power one loads at the top of any organisation, the less empowered, enabled and involved those at the grass roots will feel by definition. LPUK needs to build its base from the bottom up, and a top-down structure will not enable such a structure to flourish. Internal debate of policy, direction and where the party is going should be encouraged, not stifled, with the young, keen and talented given opportunities to develop themselves and the party as a result.
6 - Ongoing Review of Policy and the LPUK Manifesto
There is no reason why the manifesto cannot be a fluid document, with members free to recommend policies that should be added, removed or amended. The best way to encourage people into a political party is to give them a sense that they will be personally involved in decison-making. For example, LPUK could adopt a system that allows a member to propose a policy or change to an existing one, seconded by another member and then some sort of online poll to be announced and conducted. We have the technology now to get around issues such as duplicate voting, so why not enable a massive, completely clean break from the past and make LPUK the most internally democratic party out there?
7 - A Regional Structure to Support Candidates
The libertarian attitude of shifting power down to the most local level of course means moving responsiblity with it. Local branches of LPUK should be in charge of their own finances and fund-raising, paying the deposits of candidates and encouraging members and supporters from that region to back those candidates with time, money or whatever skill they bring to the table. This will have three positive effects. Firstly, members of a branch will have the ability to use their own initiative and work in a way that suits the strengths and weaknesses of active members within that region. Secondly, candidates will get support more specific to their needs, so no LPUK member should feel the urge to stand as an independent.
Most importantly, it will mean that any dishonesty or misuse of LPUK monies in the future will damage the party only on a regional level as opposed to a national one. Concentrating all of the dough in one pair of hands appears to have been at the root of many of the party's recent difficulties.
8 - A Shorter and more Concise Constitution
Libertarians believe strongly in having as few rules as possible. They also aspire to have those rules written in such a way so that even a complete moron can understand them. However LPUK, a party whose membership has never passed 1,000, currently has a constution which resembles that of a mid-sized European country. We need to move towards a document which has a small number of clauses, all of which should be crystal clear and leave absolutely no wriggle-room for personal interpretation. What is 'unconstitutional' in party terms should be beyond doubt and not the subject of a tedious debate as was the case recently when Mal offered to stand in as temporary treasurer. We preach simplicity to the wider world and should also practice such principles internally.
That means, in the words of Edwyn Collins, "rip it up and start again."
I will of course be sending this 'action plan' via e-mail to LPUK with a view to them posting it online. It will be interesting to see if they run this, and whether or not it helps to spark some the serious internal debate that it must be said is overdue. If the discussion of the party's direction, policy and structure takes place in the manner that I know Ken would wish it to, then there is a glimmer of some hopeful phoenix rising from the flames of the inferno of the last month or so.
As a supporter of LPUK and liberalism as a whole, I sincerely hope that this happens, because amid the current statist monopoly in Uk Politics, a party with consistently liberal instincts spanning all issues is needed more than it has ever been.