People react in many ways to defeat. A desire to blame individuals is a frequent, if often inglorious, human trait in such circumstances. The wise approach is to be sure you really know who did what before deciding on who you think is blame for what – and even then, there should be no place for adopting an attitude that makes the Tory ‘fire at will’ policy seem generous.
That’s why it is important for the Liberal Democrat general election review to take a cool, considered look at staffing when trying to divine what can be learnt from the general election.
In particular, it should take another look at the rather bizarre staffing structure party HQ ended up with by the end of the Parliament. The answer far too often to ‘what’s the point of that bit of the structure?’ was ‘because W doesn’t get on with X’ or ‘because Y and Z are battling over internal politics’.
A degree of flexibility to cater for such personal disagreement is wise, and in at least one case carving out a different role for one W who didn’t get on with one X turned out brilliantly well, with some of HQ’s best work resulting.
Only a degree, however. Which is why the review being conducted by the Campaign and Communications Committee (CCC) should take a long, hard look at the way the final staff structure ended up. With a likely much reduced HQ headcount over this Parliament, the exact structure generally matters less than the lessons over how such structural decisions were made and how best to make such future decisions.
Given how acrimonious the switch away from a geographically-based emphasis for party campaigns staff towards a much more specialism-based structure was – and that the years following the switch saw a gradual, piecemeal return to geographically-based staff – it’s hard to believe there aren’t many lessons to learn (and I say that even as someone who in principle rather liked the reasoning behind the specialism-based structure).
Those considerations should include looking at the CCC’s own role, and in particular its 2014 post-election review. In many ways the subsequent events justify the conclusions of that review, which was never fully implemented. Hindsight certainly adds further lessons to the 2014 review, but overall it still reads as a rather solid set of conclusions – save that it didn’t address some of the thorniest staffing questions.
Perhaps by the summer of last year that was too late, but that’s a perhaps that should be pondered, mostly in private given the inevitable need to attach individual staff names at some point in the discussion.
It’s also why, unlike in 2014, staff at all levels should be given the opportunity, and positively encouraged, to contribute to the review confidentially rather than having everything filtered through a small number of senior staff.
Or in other words: are there staffing lessons from the Lib Dem general election campaign? Yes. Should those be based on evidence? Yes again.