I am reluctant to comment publicly on the rapidly spiralling Chris Rennard affair. It is not that I don’t have a view — quite the contrary — but I don’t think that lots of people expressing their opinion is helping the situation. Particularly those who have been especially crass or hyperbolic.
However, slightly bizarrely, I have this afternoon been explaining to a journalist from The Times the existence of the Regional Parties Committee. I am always happy to
bore people senseless about contribute to a greater understanding of the organisation of the Liberal Democrats. As it seems that recent developments have left many people, including some long-standing and senior party members, scratching their heads I thought I’d post this explanation (as I understand it) of the role of this body.
The Liberal Democrats have a federal structure which is made up of the state parties of England, Scotland and Wales. In England the governing body of the English Party is the, somewhat obscure, English Council. The English Party is also further sub-divided into several regions. In order to help coordinate the work of the regional parties and share best practice the English Council has set up a committee made up of some members of the English Council and officers from each region. This is the, deeply obscure, Regional Parties Committee.
It should also be noted that the Regional Parties Committee has also taken on the role of dealing with some of the trickier disputes and complaints that local and regional parties have struggled to deal with themselves.
Membership of the Liberal Democrats is a state matter. Whilst membership is administered by the Federal party, when you join you actually become a member of the relevant state party. This means that issues of suspension and explusion will be dealt with according to the rules and procedures of that state party. In the case of Chris Rennard this would be the English party. Whilst most membership issues are dealt with at a local party or regional level, I imagine that given the circumstances officers of the English party felt that this particular case needed to be dealt with at more senior level. Hence the sudden prominence of the previously unheard of Regional Parties Committee.
That at least is my understanding of the procedural background to some of today’s events. Do correct me in the comments if I’ve got anything wrong.