Today Nick Clegg made a public speech on Lords reform. As the BBC puts it:
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has delivered a speech on Lords reform to an audience of young people from a soapbox in Victoria Gardens.Now, if you watch the video of the speech it's quite clear that the "young people" in question are fairly bored looking Lib Dem staffers and researchrs as well as a few passing members of the public who were walking past and stopped to watch. It is, quite transparently, a media stunt.
I don't take issue with that though. You need media stunts to get attention for your views and a public speech is a fairly good thing to do even if the audience is mostly people who are only there because it's their job to be there.
What I do take issue with, however, is that the first Lib Dem members knew about it was when it appeared on the BBC website. As one Lib Dem member I know pointed out, they were in the area and would have quite liked to have gone to the speech to listen but had absolutely no idea it was taking place.
See, here's the thing. I'd like to think that, given that we're meant to be a democratic party run by the members, those of us who actually pay our membership subscriptions and actually do the legwork which gets MPs and councillors elected could at least have had an email the day before letting us know about the speech so that we could go and listen to it if we were in the area.
Admittedly most members probably wouldn't have been able to, or wanted to, go to a five minute speech in the middle of London but, given that it's a supposedly public speech, which took place in a public place, and that it would only have taken five minutes to send out an email to the membership, it really would have been nice to at least had the option of attending a public speech by our leader.
This isn't so much a problem in and of itself as the fact that this kind of thing keeps happening. Clegg, for example, is going on a national tour to do townhall question and answer sessions with the public - a very good way of connecting with the electorate. But, once again, Lib Dem members found out about this from the news rather than from Lib Dem HQ.
And Danny Alexander gave a very good speech on Lords Reform and other matters to the Electoral Reform Society conference during the week but, once again, Lib Dem members were only told about it after it had taken place and the only way I knew about it in advance is because I'm a member of the ERS and they did let their members know about it in advance.
To me, this illustrates the way that our current leadership and most of the people working in HQ seem to view the membership as an afterthought - if they even remember that we exist at all.
Time and time again they completely ignore us and even as something as simple as letting us know in advance of public speeches by our leader so that we can attend is something they just can't seem bothered to do.
We now have the optimistic sounding Grassroots to Government website which aims at restoring communication between MPs and members (and who exactly was it who decided to climb into ivory towers and mostly ignore us in the first place?) but, aside from an automated welcome message when I joined, has sent out exactly zero emails to the members who have signed up since. How's that for improving communication?
And, after two years of arm twisting by the wonderful Helen Duffet we are now getting the occasional online Q&A with senior MPs - though these are normally in the middle of the working week where normal people can't participate.
Except that, even with these, though we get plenty of emails in advance, for those members who can't watch online (those who, for example, don't have a broadband internet connection) there's absolutely no way they can participate. One longstanding member politely emailed HQ and asked whether there was any chance that she could come and watch the Q&A in person at HQ but was told she couldn't. I mean, it's not like us members who actually pay for the HQ should be allowed inside it should we?
And this grouchiness from me is without even mentioning the persistent tendency of our MPs to ignore conference, the democratic policy making body of the party, and to assume that any discontent amongst the membership is simply either troublemakers or us failing on our part to properly understand and appreciate the wonderful work that our MPs are doing.
Look, we're meant to be a democratically run, membership-led organisation. So could our HQ please at least have the decency to remember that we exist when our leader is giving a public speech?