The Liberal Democrats have today published a public summary of the internal review carried out into the party’s 2017 general election performance.As Chief Exec Nick Harvey has explained on Lib Dem Voice, the 2017 review was a rather different beast from the systematic review carried out after 2015. This time, the review was a heavy burst of intensive interviews with key people but without the wider research carried out after 2015. That made sense as there were various delays (outside the control of those who did the review in the end) in the review happening. As a result, the Federal Board – myself included – pushed for a review that could be carried out quickly and so produce lessons in time for the party to be able to learn from them even if this Parliament too does not go to its full term.
As Nick Harvey says of the review, “It does not purport to be a comprehensive analysis of the sort conducted after 2015, and was always designed to sit alongside the earlier report in providing a route map for future campaigns.” In that, it is a useful report for which thanks should go to the people who voluntary put in extra work to make it happen, led by Gerald Vernon-Jackson.
One area in which the report echoes what is often said elsewhere in the party but which I disagree with is the habitual use of the refrain – ‘X is important, therefore Liberal Democrat HQ in London should do Y’. What party HQ does is definitely important. But it isn’t always the best body to be the solution. What party HQ is very good at is being heavily focused on general election campaigns at the national level and in held and target seats. It is good for the party overall that we have a part of our organisation which has this focus.
It is also a very understandable focus for an office whose budgets and staffing levels so heavily focus on general elections. If you have an office whose staffing levels rise in the run-up to a general election, with many people on contracts that expire soon after one, and then both fall away after, it is hardly a surprise that the office ends up being general election-centric.
The gravitational-like pull of this focus on federal HQ means, however, that the further a task is away from general elections in held and target seats, the more federal HQ struggles to keep any sustained focus on that task. Smart organisations play to the strengths of different parts of their make-up. We need to get better at doing this ourselves, and follow up ‘X is important’ with ‘and which part of the organisation is best suited to addressing this?’Liberal-Democrat-2017-general-election-review-executive-summary