Steve Crowther writes on behalf of the NEC
On February 13th 2018, the Leader has published an attractively-presented new Draft Constitution, which has been sent out to all members for whom the party has email addresses. I should point out that this draft and ‘consultation’ has not been discussed with or presented to the NEC, so is an informal process at best.
No doubt there will be an opportunity for members not on email/Internet to examine it shortly, in hard copy, and Henry will let us know how to respond to his three-week ‘consultation’, and to whom. Obviously, no consultation can be valid if a quarter to a third of members have no access to it.
I have had a chance to look through the new Draft Constitution and, as someone who was elected to represent the members’ interests on the NEC (with almost as many votes as Henry got, in a field of 91 candidates, rather than seven), I find the tone of this proposed ‘reform’ quite chilling.
More power for Leader, less for members
As expected, it seeks to remove power from the NEC and give full control of the party to Mr Bolton and a Board of his appointees.
This has been espoused by Nigel in recent years; though his other idea, for a ‘5-Star style’ party in which the members drive policy through direct democracy, is notably absent. I was never sure how these two ideas – the concentration of power away from members and into the hands of the Leader, and the provision of greater member democracy – could be made compatible; and of course, they can’t.
No longer a libertarian party
The first thing that strikes one on reading the draft is that the word ‘libertarian’ has been removed from the party’s definition of itself. Some members may like that; many, I imagine, will be appalled.
Of particular interest is the new para 4.1, which places the Leader, rather than the NEC, in full charge of the organisation of the party and its structures.
In the current draft, Mr Bolton provides himself with a new personal power or veto in paragraphs 4.2, 7.3, 7.4, 9.1, 10.1, 10.5, 11.1, 11.2, 13.2, 13.3, 14.4, 14.6, 16.1, 17.4, 23.11, 28.2, 29.1, 32.1, 34.1, 36.2, 36.7. 36.8, 39.1, 39.2, 43.2, 51.1. (I may have missed one or two, but you get the idea.)
Massive new powers for the Leader
This wholesale power-shift provides the Leader with personal control over who can be a member, the level of subscription, organising the party structure, organising special conferences and EGMs, how much to charge branches for EGMs, appointment of party officers, appointment of ‘interim NEC members’, appointments of the Party Treasurer, Party Secretary, General Secretary, Deputy General Secretary, National Nominating Officer, Deputy Leader (who will automatically become Leader if he is unavailable), sub-committees acting with the delegated authority of the Leader, plus removal of party officers, all aspects of policy and political organisation, appointment of the Party Cabinet, and the power to make any appointment he sees fit (including his new Chief of Staff).
Clamping down on dissent
More concerning, however, is 10.3, in which a new disciplinary offence is created: Activity ‘liable to undermine the cohesion and unity of the Party’. This Stalinist measure will allow the Party Leader to exercise an iron discipline over anyone who dissents; and since dissent is the Ukipper’s raison d’etre – and is surely the point of any political party – I am not sure that is entirely healthy.
Under 13.2, no longer will Party Conference motions be considered by the NEC, but by the Leader-appointed Board.
Under 16.1, the same Leader and Board will be making the Rules, rather than the NEC.
In 46.1, we see that a new Disciplinary Committee is set up (presumably to hear all the cases of Ukippers ‘liable to undermine the cohesion and unity of the party’), comprising two Leader appointees, a member of paid staff (appointed by the Leader or his Board) and – glory be – one NEC member.
But perhaps the most intriguing thing is that under 36.8, the Party Leader may be a full time employee of the Party. Since the employment and management of staff has been removed from the NEC’s authority, and that employment will be controlled by the Leader’s appointees, might some conflict of interest arise there?
Members’ representatives neutered
Overall, this is a fairly simple ‘reform’, aimed at concentrating power in the hands of the Leader. The NEC will be comprised of elected Regional Chairmen, but will have no decision-making power other than ‘ensuring that decisions made by the party are made in a transparent and accountable manner’ – which since it no longer will be making them, may prove difficult.
Members voting for this – if they have had a chance to read it before voting for it in the extremely rapid timescale laid down (in part, not even allowing the minimum time laid down in the current Constitution) – would be turkeys voting for Christmas.
The NEC is imperfect, and in need of reform. It is, however, the only means by which ordinary members exercise control over the party and its Leader.
The NEC was created – by Nigel, ironically – specifically to prevent a Leader having autocratic powers.
Reform the NEC by all means – the current NEC will willingly help you, and consult you properly. But lose it at your peril!