Big changes are afoot in the Liberal Democrat Campaigns Department.
Firstly, the network of Campaigns Officers around the country, currently mostly funded by a mix of central and regional monies, is being moved over to a purely regionally-funded system. That will save the federal party money, but will also cede control over the network to regional (and Welsh/Scottish) parties. The previous joint funding arrangements often took up huge amounts of time to negotiate and also resulted in many tensions over what the people in post should be prioritising in their work (e.g. should a regional campaigns officer be sent to work on a Parliamentary by-election in another region?).
So although the regional (and Welsh/Scottish) parties are going to be stretched to keep the full network in place, they will have control over what the staff do and be able to shape the jobs to fit their own needs, e.g. mixing training, key seat support and regional media work as they wish.
My initial guesstimate is that although in theory the full number of regional campaigns staff could stay the same, in practice the number is likely to fall by at least two – and given the number of regions that have to decide what to do, even if the numbers stay much the same, there’s huge uncertainty for people in the meantime. There’s also the chance the numbers could fall significantly if more regions end up not funding posts.
Second, a new set of nine posts with particular specialist skills are being created centrally to complement the generalist regional campaigning posts. This partly replaces existing specialist posts and also will subsume some of those roles which are the moment mix providing some specialist services centrally with also providing some local campaigning supporting to different parts of the country.
Again, in theory the head count overall should end up much the same and given the extra specialist roles, but less central funding for regional campaigns officers, overall it also looks as if the costs will be not much changed. In other words, this isn’t a cost cutting exercise but instead a big restructuring.
It would make the Campaigns Department rather similar to the structure it had when I joined, albeit now on a much, much larger scale – regionally funded campaigns posts and centrally funded specialist skills (such as my post working on the internet and communications). Within the specialist central teams there is also likely to be rather more of a career structure and progression available than in the current much flatter structure.
But that’s for the future. For the moment there’s a lot of chatter about the process, it’s timing and how it is being handled.
Two final thoughts. First, along with the party’s decision to move out of Cowley Street and to look for a new database to support campaigning, this is the sort of big decision that if it is going to be made really needs to be done early in a Parliament. It’s good that all the other stresses and strains are not resulting in big decisions simply being put on ice, with the result that no big decisions get made at all for five years.
Second, whatever the pros and cons of the plan on paper, it involves a large amount of uncertainty for a group of hard-working under-paid staff who are exhausted after a gruelling round of elections. I hope they are treated with the consideration they very rightly deserve.