Running an election campaign, a local party or indeed a larger part of the Liberal Democrats has much in common with running a small or medium size business up against bigger, richer competitors and with disaster looming if you run out of your key currency (money or votes). In the year before a general election polling day, for example, a typical Parliamentary campaign will have a turnover in six figures, a small handful of staff and tens of thousands of voters (customers) to keep happy.During his leadership bid, Norman Lamb talked about wanting a ‘start up’ mentality for the rebuilding of the Liberal Democrats, pointing out too how quickly start ups can grow. Yet that campaign slogan aside, discussions about how the party can or should operate only rarely reference lessons from the business world except when we’re talking about diversity issues.
So what else can be learnt from advice on how to run a business successfully? Lars Dalgaard has recently written about how to build long-lasting – or in his delightful phrase, ‘weatherproof’ – companies from (near-)scratch.
His full piece is well worth a read, and here’s a selection of his business advice tuned for the Liberal Democrat context:
- Always look to learn how to be better at what you do – and always look outwards for new people to take advice from. (Yet it is strikingly rare, for example, to hear a local party officer talk about the great idea for recruiting members they’ve adopted from a trade union or campaign group.)
- Understand that as an organisation grows, it has to change the way it works. (Yet the model for a local party structure is the same whether it has 30 members and hopes to stand at least one candidate in the next local elections or 600 members and set to have a chance at winning the MP’s seat.)
- Solicit and share constant feedback. (Yet think, for example, how rarely we do anything like that when it comes to councillors – and for Parliamentary candidates it only usually happens once per Parliament.)
- Regularly discuss the development and churn amongst your team and drive your meetings by serious consideration of hard evidence. (Yet I wonder how many local party executives really systematically track measures such as churn rate amongst local deliverers or canvassers and the reasons for it.)
There are, of course, wonderful positive exceptions to all my brackets examples, and also many other areas of the party’s operations which they examples could be applied to, perhaps even better applied to.
The point of them however is simply to illustrate how what passes for wise and uncontroversial advice outside politics is often not applied within the party. Sometimes that’s right, because politics is different from other activities. But perhaps it’s also sometimes because that’s just not the way we’re used to doing things. So do give the full piece a read – it’s packed full of interesting ideas which could be applied to the Liberal Democrats.