Austin Rathe, the Lib Dem Head of Members and Supporters, is off to pastures new in the near future.
That’s a big loss not only for Lib Dem HQ but the party more generally as Austin has been one of the key masterminds behind the fact that the Lib Dems are about to hit our 11th consecutive quarter of membership growth, most of which have occurred under very challenging circumstances and which has turned round a long-term decline in party membership that was falling even in years of high polling ratings and Parliamentary by-election victories.
It’s also a tribute to Austin’s willingness to engage with party members, especially online, that he’s consistently been one of the most popular members of HQ staff even though any mistakes he or his team make are usually very visible to many activists. Hence the running joke about how many apologies people have received from Austin. (Can I have one more before you go, please?)
It’s a good example of how listening, responding and learning makes for a better operation and a better reputation for staff.
That is also something that – I very much hope – other parts of HQ can learn from as there is a noticeable difference in quality in communications sent out to members from Austin’s team and those from others.
The recent email I received, for example, explaining a problem with my direct debit could have annoyed me – something involving my own money being messed up – but it was well-written, and included answers to the obvious follow-up questions all in the original communication.
By contrast, the norm in emails from some of Austin’s colleagues is that they too prompt obvious questions – but the answers are not only not in the original email but also pretty hard to subsequently get even if you repeatedly ask.HQ could do with more people like Austin. Post-general election and with an HQ restructure under way, Austin’s departure almost certainly won’t be the last from HQ. The risk for the party as a whole is that it is the good people who leave and, as with the restructures in the last Parliament, a generation of talent departs.
But that’s for another time. For today, best of luck with your next role, Austin.