Liberal Democrat Newswire #24 is out: who will chair Lib Dem general election campaign?

Last week edition #24 of Liberal Democrat Newswire came out. You can now also read it in full below.

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Mark Pack

Who will chair Lib Dem general election campaign?

Welcome to the 24th edition of my monthly newsletter about the Liberal Democrats. 24 is also the atomic number for chromium.

Thanks for reading,


Who will chair Lib Dem general election campaign?

Nick HarveyWith the government reshuffle done, the Liberal Democrat ministerial team for the second half of the Parliament is now in place. There is, however, one key appointment yet to be made: chair of the party’s general election campaign.

Traditionally the role has been filled around this time in the Parliament, and with the party facing tough electoral battles now would not be a good Parliament to decide trying out leaving the appointment until late in the day. No wonder then that senior party figures have started work on who it might be.

John Sharkey, last time’s chair, is very unlikely to want to do it again, especially given the AV referendum experience. The previous arguments in favour of giving the role to the party’s Chief Exec founder on the fact that although highly praised for his work in the post, Tim Gordon’s campaign experience is thin. Tim Razzall used to combine chairing the party’s Campaigns and Communications Committee (CCC) with being general election chair. The current CCC chair, James Gurling, has done some impressive work, and handled a post-local elections feedback session very skillfully, but is rather a low profile figure for the post.

The party’s emphasis on fighting the general election campaign as if it were 75 Parliamentary by-elections sounds like a job description perfect for the party’s campaign guru Chris Rennard. I’ve heard very positive comments about this idea – always with the added caveat that it is one Parliamentary cycle too soon for a return to a frontline role such as this.

Courtesy of the reshuffle, there is one new contender: Nick Harvey. He knows all about fighting a tough marginal seat contest, he is well respected and well liked across the party, his connections with the party’s Liberator magazine mean he is a reassuring figure for those party members nervous about the political direction of the party – and he has previous experience on the CCC too. One senior MP close to Clegg recently ruled him out, saying that he couldn’t combine being campaign chair with being a Minister. Now that the cruel reshuffle fates have left him without a ministerial post, perhaps he is the answer the party is looking for…?

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Which non-MPs best promote the party?

Lib Dem Voice logoThe last Liberal Democrat Voice survey of party members included this new question:

Which prominent Lib Dems who are NOT MPs (eg, peers, campaigners) are doing an effective job of promoting the party to the public? Please write-in.

Here are the top ten names given:

1. Lord (Matthew) Oakeshott
2. Lord (Paddy) Ashdown
3. Mark Pack
4. Evan Harris
5. Baroness (Shirley) Williams
6. Lord (Chris) Rennard
7. Caroline Pidgeon AM
8. Willie Rennie MSP
9. Baroness (Susan) Kramer
10.= Stephen Tall
10.= Kirsty Williams AM

(For answers to some of the common questions about how accurate, or not, Lib Dem Voice surveys are see this FAQ.)

Duncan Hames set to chair party’s policy committee

Duncan HamesIt’s not official, but there’s only one name in the frame. Duncan Hames, MP for Chippenham, will be the next chair of the party’s Federal Policy Committee (FPC).

He will be following in the footsteps of his wife Jo Swinson, who was previously Nick Clegg’s Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) and FPC Chair. Duncan is now her successor as PPS to Nick Clegg, following Jo’s promotion to a ministerial post, and will shortly be FPC chair too. Technically he first has to be elected to the FPC by the party’s MPs before he can then become its chair, which is why the news is not yet official.

When Duncan takes up the post he will have a key role in a policy-making process which has much more substance and importance that the policy making processes in the other main parties. The ability of the FPC, and indeed its chair, to influence the contents of the party’s 2015 manifesto is very high, for example.

That also means that there will be particular interest in this autumn’s biennial elections to the party’s federal committees, including the FPC. These contests are much less factionalised than similar ones in the Labour Party, yet even so people are quietly being approached and encouraged to run as different groupings, including the party leadership, seek to ensure that the committees end up with a balance they like. The voting is done by the party’s federal conference representatives and is a contest in which name recognition is a massive factor – so getting the right names to stand is a major part of these softly spoken maneuverings.

The reshuffle secret: there are now MORE Lib Dem ministers

Here is the scorecard:

Foreign & Commonwealth Office: -1 Minister of State
Ministry of Defence: -1 Minister of State
Home Office: -1 junior minister

Home Office: +1 Minister of State
Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs: +1 Minister of State
International Development: +1 junior minister
Welsh Office: +1 junior minister

Net effect? Plus one minister. Something that the huge volume of reshuffle coverage has curiously missed.

Lib Dems beef up staff support for MPs

Parliamentary Office of the Liberal Democrats logoOn every Liberal Democrats’ list of things to do differently in the next coalition negotiations is ‘sort out Short Money’. On going into government the party lost out on the significant state funding (‘Short Money’) available to help opposition parties do their Parliamentary work. The party did not get equivalent government support to fill the gap. The result was a huge loss of staff, knowledge and capacity for the party just at a point when it needed it the most.

A significant step to help deal with some of the fallout has been taken over the summer with the decision to recruit four new Parliamentary Support Officers to assist the party’s MPs and one to assist its Lords.

The job descriptions for the roles say the key duties of the new staff include:

  1. Providing support for Parliamentary activity including legislative briefs, Government announcements, debates and Parliamentary Questions.
  2. Producing well-written and accurately researched copy and background briefing materials on a wide range of policy issues.
  3. Preparing briefing notes ahead of Parliamentary debates and drafting policy and parliamentary-related correspondence replies to constituents.
  4. Reacting quickly to Members’ requests.

£300 million secured for extra affordable housing

Houses being builtThis week’s news on housing has been the coalition dilemma for the Liberal Democrats in a nutshell: a Conservative headline policy with much worthy Liberal Democrat detail secured at the last moment. No surprise then that the media headlines homed in on the Conservative angle to it, painting it for good or ill as a Tory policy.

That has left the Liberal Democrats battling to secure attention for the significant results secured by some hard negotiating right down to the wire. In particular an extra £300m was secured from the Treasury to pay for up to 15,000 new affordable homes and also to bring back into use 5,000 empty ones.

For more details of the announcements, see the official news release – which includes:

  • New legislation for Government guarantees of up to £40 billion worth of major infrastructure projects and up to £10 billion of new homes. The Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill will include guaranteeing the debt of Housing Associations and private sector developers.
  • Up to 15,000 affordable homes and bring 5,000 empty homes back into use using new capital funding of £300m and the infrastructure guarantee.
  • An additional 5,000 homes built for rent at market rates in line with proposals outlined in Sir Adrian Montague’s report to Government on boosting the private rented sector.
  • 16,500 first-time buyers helped with a £280m extension of the successful ‘FirstBuy’ scheme, which offers aspiring homeowners a much-needed deposit and a crucial first step on the housing ladder.

At the party’s autumn conference plans to go further and build 300,000 homes a year will be debated.

Lib Dem Conference Agenda and Directory

Both the agenda and directory for the Liberal Democrat Autumn conference in Brighton have now been published.

The most likely flash point over the state of the coalition looks likely to be welfare reform. Watch out for my pre-conference special later in the month previewing conference in full.

Elsewhere from me…

Local Liberal Heroes: Flick Rea

Camden councillor Flick Rea is the latest person to feature in my Local Liberal Heroes series:

Flick Rea “I can’t stop a war but I can get your dustbins emptied.”

That sort of cheerful understanding of the limit – and also the power – of local political activity has been a hallmark of Flick Rea’s political career.

Always good for a chat about wider issues and impressively effective at getting the small things done in her ward which foolish people belittle and wise people cherish for their cumulative impact on people’s lives…

Talk to Flick about any part of her ward and the chances are she can regale you with tales about its history and the history of its road names, where they came from and the reasons for any changes.

You can read the full profile of Flick Rea here and you can see all the profiles in the Local Liberal Heroes series here.

101 Ways To Win An Election: now on Kindle

101 Ways To Win An Election - book cover

Its 308 pacy pages cheerfully zig-zag between marketing manual, self-help book, and campaigning A-Z — with dollops of political history, pop-psychology, and behavioural economics thrown in for good measure – Stephen Tall

Now available as both a paperback and a Kindle e-book, 101 Ways to Win An Election is packed full of the latest and best advice, culled from winning elections from around the world. Be amongst the very first to benefit from the book, and get 30% off the cover price*, by ordering it now from Amazon.

* At time of writing. Amazon have rather a habit of changing the discount just after I send a message mentioning it.

Wealth taxes become the in thing

First Nick Clegg revived the traditional Liberal demand for more wealth taxes and now Labour is warming to the idea too:

Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, says that Labour is considering a mansion tax on Britain’s biggest homes, a policy previously associated with the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Balls’s flirting with the idea of a wealth tax suggests the party is prepared to target the rich to help meet its social objectives.

And in other news…

Arts Council funding: another Yes Prime Minister gem

Budgeting by breadsticks – another gem from the Yes, Prime Minster archives:

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