Hilary Stephenson is to step down from her role as Director of Elections at Lib Dem HQ shortly after the party’s spring conference in York.
Prior to taking up the role at HQ, Hilary had a fearsome record of success in shepherding constituency campaign teams to victory, including playing a key role in Tim Farron’s original victories in Westmorland.Without Hilary there may well not have been a Tim Farron MP to bid to be party leader. Hence Tim Farron’s words on her departure:
Without Hilary there may well not have been a Tim Farron MP to bid to be party leader. Hence Tim Farron’s words on her departure:
I would not be an MP at all without Hilary and neither would we have a majority on South Lakeland council. Her understanding of how voters and communities think is exceptional, as is her common sense and unpretentious approach to, well, everything! She is a very good friend and I am personally I immensely grateful to her.
As Ed Fordham used to put it, “Success has an uncanny habit of following Hilary around”. Amongst many other roles, she was also author of the party’s election law manual, which I subsequently then joined her as a co-author on.
Inevitably the election results in 2010 and 2015, although often driven by events outside of a Director of Elections’s control, mean her more recent record has been more controversial. Particularly debated has been the extent to which traditional campaign methods still work and how much central control of targeting strategies is wise. One thing however no-one can doubt is her fearsome hard work in the role. (To set those debates into a wider context, see my in-depth history of the party’s campaigning: The Liberal Democrat approach to campaigning.)
Hilary’s departure, along with that of other experienced campaigners such as Victoria Marsom, Steve Jolly, Austin Rathe in the HQ restructure, means the party is, largely unplanned, in the midst of a huge change in generation on the campaigns side. (Update: also leaving is Tom Smithard, who is off to work on BBC programmes.)
That comes with some very real downsides in terms of some of the skills lost. It is also an opportunity to look afresh and what worked (and some things did) and what didn’t. It should also be an opportunity to embed a much more fulsome adoption of integrated digital and non-digital campaigning, alongside a culture of testing and experimentation.
Of course, successful tactics need the right strategy to work – something you can read more about in the proposed strategy David Howarth and I set out in our Lib Dem core vote pamphlet.