Another day, another new party:
A new political party will be launched this week and aims to persuade residents in its first electoral battle that it can tackle poor governance at Kensington and Chelsea council.
The party, Advance, hopes to capture the spirit of the En Marche movement in France which helped to propel Emmanuel Macron to the presidency this year.
Advance plans to field candidates in all 18 wards of the borough in May’s council elections, and has recruited a dozen potential candidates.
They will be led by Annabel Mullin, a former Liberal Democrat, with the aim of agitating for greater transparency and accountability within the council.
Annabel Mullin was a new Liberal Democrat member who stood for Parliament in the 2017 general election, contesting Kensington. Her departure from the party followed a dispute over how she performed in that role, a dispute about which I’d make third observations.
First, the events at the heart of the dispute were over how much she, a candidate in a non-target seat, did or didn’t support the party’s campaign in target seats. A particular cause of friction has been activities on polling day. The exact facts of what happened, especially on polling day, are not easy to establish, with the first version of this post generating a batch of messages from party members to me with on some points conflicting versions of events.*
What seems to be consistent across those messages is that there was not the wholesale shifting of campaign efforts to target seats on polling day in the way that happened in many other non-target seats around London and the country more generally. Similarly, the emails I received during the campaign from the local party seemed to show much less interest in and enthusiasm for supporting target seat campaigns than those I received from other local parties during the election. (Quite a few different local parties have me on their general member and supporter email lists.)
This is perhaps the most straight forward element of the dispute as it’s a straight forward case of bad judgement. Focusing efforts in target seats, especially on polling day, maximises the number of seats the party wins, and is quite compatible with building up a larger core vote so that other seats become targets in future too.
However, second, part of the dispute is over how well – or rather, how badly – the party communicated to candidates and others how and why they should support targeting efforts. In particular, what seems a basic perspective for old hands – that the best candidates are team builders and with good leadership you can build a team that wants to work locally and to help win MPs in target seats – ended up being something some (not all, but some) new candidates felt was being forced on them, unexpectedly and rudely.
Similarly, deciding to stop campaigning at 7pm may make experienced campaigners apply their heads to their desks, but for a newer member or even candidate, that’s not magical knowledge you somehow imbibe. Training and communication should convey it effectively. Too often during the election that didn’t happen, and the breadth of complaints from candidates around the country that communications with them over targeting were lacking in tact shows that the party got things wrong too.
The third observation is perhaps the trickiest. It’s that the party has seen a sequence of very active new members run into a major reverse (such as being treated rudely by other members or not securing an outcome they wished for from a party decision) and then leave the party in response.
Being a successful candidate, or political leader of any sort, is inevitably going to mean facing serious reverses at times – and so to be successful it also means responding to them by finding ways to keep going rather than to exit the stage.
The sequence of people who facing their first major reverse in the party have decided to leave it suggests to me that between them and the party something is going wrong: expectations are not being properly set about the sort of personal characteristics which are required for the job of political leadership. (To emphasise, I’m not talking here about cases of sexual harassment or assault. In those cases the problem is almost the opposite: far too often the party has got it wrong by in effect expecting people to put up with it rather than by ensuring justice.)
In some cases, I’m sure, the party could and should have done better at explaining the role of leadership and supporting would be new leaders through it. In addition (and this is, of course, the most sensitive point) we should be frank with such would be new leaders that if such resilience isn’t their thing, then the role may well not be for them either.
* Hence I’ve removed the references to specific events as the point of this post is about some more general points rather than a forensic attempt to document one particular moment in the campaign.