With Liberal Youth passing a series of significant motions and amendments and moving towards a clearer stance for campaigns, it would be easy for us to sit around congratulating one another on a job well done. We have adopted policy on five key liberal areas; free trade, welfare, free speech, education funding, and civil liberties, and continue to promote radical policies that are of great importance to young people.
However, as nice as this development is, we mustn’t lose sight of how conference itself is conducted. These motions and amendments could only be voted on by those attending, meaning that they were proposed to an electorate of around thirty people, or around 0.43% of Liberal Youth. While on one hand we must commend the events officers for successfully filling up an entire hostel with Liberal Youthers in a relatively inaccessible part of the country at a time when relatively few people are capable of attending, we must also acknowledge the serious problems with legitimacy that this creates. This is not a mark against any of those in charge – it would be an impossible task to try and get all 7,000, or even a few hundred, LYers access to accommodation and a conference venue for a whole weekend. Rather, the best option we can take to ensure a greater amount of participation is to extend voting rights to non-attendees. It doesn’t even matter if attendance or turnout is particularly high; the current system is negative not just because it has low participation, but because participation is closed. We must address this if we are serious about forming policy based on the views of the membership at large.
We already allow non-attendees to submit motions and amendments, and to give attendees statements to read on their behalf. In practice this means that any member of Liberal Youth has an equal shot of having their views aired at conference, and this can only be seen as a good thing. In addition, we already decide Liberal Youth committee elections electronically, through online voting and with the help of a returning officer. So we already readily accept the principles that the views of non-attendees are just as important as those of attendees, and that online voting is a desirable and legitimate method of collective decision-making in LY.
It’s time to take the logical next step, and allow all LY members to vote on conference motions, regardless of whether they’re attending. We can achieve this by live-streaming conference (something that would help boost LY’s profile in and of itself, by giving us more media to share online) and opening the polls for a fairly short amount of time, say ten or fifteen minutes, for each vote at the conclusion of the motion’s debate. This is just an extension of our already-existing approach to conducting votes in LY, albeit in a much more speedy and temporary fashion.
We may object along the lines that opening online polls for each and every motion, amendment, and constitutional amendment will create too much work for the returning officer, and slow down the running of things at conference, but I feel that this is just quibbling. Yes, having a ten or fifteen minute voting period will slow things down, and could cause motion votes to last longer than necessary, but the trade-off of this is that we extend the franchise to a significantly greater proportion of members. Having a more solid mandate, and a vote that is more representative of LY, is more important than getting votes over and done with quickly.
It’s time for Liberal Youth to take a more pro-active stance in getting the views of its members heard, and to involve everyone in our collective decision making. If we want to spread the liberal message, and effectively function as not just a campaigning organisation, but one run by its ordinary members, then we need to introduce online voting on policy motions. Only through this can we ensure that our policy is representative, and that influence in LY can be fairly and equally exercised by all of us.