An ambitious plan for the party
At our worst, there’s a weird form of inertia in the Liberal Democrats. Whatever we’re talking about, people forcefully demand that something else is more important. Policy, strategy, organisation, leadership – whenever you talk about one of these, some people object that one of the others is more important and is the one you should be talking about instead.
It’s a bureaucratic form of Escher’s famous staircases. Every step is always preceded by another step, until you’ve gone round in a circle and ended up back where you started.
(Newswire readers being the lovely group you are, I’m banking on at least 10 replies saying, “Actually, they are Penrose stairs”.)
One way to crack that is to tackle them all at once.
Ambitious, yes. But ambitious is what any plans for the Liberal Democrats need to be.
And ambitious is what the party’s plans for the summer and autumn are.
Leadership? Our leadership election starts next month. It won’t be just another election either. We’ll be making use of the enforced change of circumstances to have our best ever and most testing campaign and hustings program. We’ll put candidates through their paces, so members can see who has what it takes.
Policy? We’ll shortly be rolling out a new mass member policy engagement platform. It will help us put together the Liberal Democrat answer to what the world should look like after coronavirus. Readers will know my take on that – how we need to show that a fair society is a resilient society. But it will be up to party members to decide. Members who will get an online conference in the autumn too, involving far more people than our big showcase event normally reaches.
Strategy? Yes, we’ll have one of those too. The leadership election is a key opportunity to debate for members to choose between different visions for the party. The party will be following up with creating the strategy to underpin the vision that members choose. We need to avoid the previous mistakes where our political strategy and organisational capacity pointed in different directions. That happened even under such otherwise successful leaders as Jo Grimond. Instead, we will have one joined-up plan.
Organisation? That most definitely needs sorting too, as the independent election review starkly shows. It makes for difficult reading. It also makes for very necessary reading.
We need to improve the way we’re organised in a way we never have before. Here’s one simple example. The review says, “The Federal Board was often a ‘rubber-stamp’ and is too large a group to be a realistic decision-making body.” That point about its size is not a new one. It’s been a regular complaint over the years and featured in previous reviews.
Yet In 1989 the Federal Executive – as the Board was then called – had 27 voting members and 2 non-voting members.
By 2020, after several large reviews, it has grown in size by 12, up to 35 voting members and 6 non-voting members.
(You may have noticed that 35 + 6 = 41 but I’ve talked before about the Board having 43 people. That’s because there are also two other members of staff who attend but are not formally members.)
So while many of the recommendations in the election review may appear obvious, we shouldn’t underestimate how much enacting them requires over-coming entrenched habits.
It’s also why my strong inclination at the moment is not to repeat our previous approaches of going for another big top down governance review. They’ve still left us with the problems documented by the review. Instead, we should instead pick off the key issues separately.
All the above will much easier if we improve the party’s technology. The Board has agreed a significant investment in our tech capability, focused first on improving the main party website. If that phase one goes well, phase two will involve expanding to look at other issues. All through, consulting with the users of our technology will be a big part of the approach.
(Prioritising the website makes sense for this new approach as it is the easier first step. Besides, a better website will mean better finances due to improvements such as with the donations process.)
The elections review puts me on the spot for delivering a major set of improvements. That’s how it should be – and one I’m expecting to be held to account for. As the review rightly sets out, people across the party need to be held to account for how they are doing their roles.
So please keep this email safe. Use it check in on progress in the months to come. Hold me and my colleagues to account for these plans to transform our party.
What do you think? Do let me know direct or join the conversation on Facebook.