Up for debate at the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth is a motion to change the party’s Deputy Leader from being just the Deputy Leader of the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons, elected by and from the party’s MPs, to being a Deputy Leader of the whole party, open to all members and elected by all members.
This is compatible with some of the reforms calls there have already been in the party, such as the support expressed by both Tim Farron and Norman Lamb during the leadership contest for changing the rules so that the Deputy Leader in this Parliament can be someone other than a white man, helping to improve the party’s diversity at senior levels.
It would also work with what David Howarth and I argued for in our pamphlet on a new strategy for the Liberal Democrats:
The Deputy Leader post should be that of a national party campaigns chair – elected by all members, and with a role therefore that is separate from, and compatible with, that of the elected Party President. An elected Deputy Leader can be the person responsible for coordinating all three pillars [local government, Westminster and devolved institutions, and national thematic campaigns and PR list elections] and with specific oversight for that neglected third pillar – the national thematic and PR campaigns.
With an elected Deputy Leader chairing in future the party’s Campaigns and Communications Committee (CCC) that would give the CCC a meaningful role, party campaigning a clear accountability structure with a democratic element, and as a bonus avoid the need for contentious one-off separate structures to be created especially for different elections.
It will also provide a leadership figure to kickstart a refresh of the party’s campaign tactics based on grassroots experimentation to see what works. Testing out different campaign tactics, such as different survey designs to randomly selected voters and comparing response rates, is a well-established part of American politics that both Labour and the Tories have been quicker than the Lib Dems to embrace too. Indeed, too much of Lib Dem tactics in the offline world is rooted in long in the tooth conventional wisdom or old research dating back to the mid-1990s.
Just as the party believes in evidence-based policy making, and just as evidence-based campaign tactics are increasingly the norm for online campaigning where testing is so much easier, we need the same approach to our offline tactics as we move into a new world of deliberately setting out to create a large core vote.
So, do you think moving to a Deputy Leader for the whole party, elected by and from the membership is the right move?
For thoughts on who the Deputy Leader should be, see the many comments on my previous post on just that subject.