Liberal Democrat Newswire #47 is out: do big name overseas signings make a difference?

Edition #47 of Liberal Democrat Newswire came out last week, looking at the signing up of foreign big names by British political parties, the reaction to Jeremy Browne’s recent book and more. You can read it in full below.

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Mark Pack

Liberal Democrat Newswire #47: do big name overseas signings make a difference?

Welcome to the 47th edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire, which includes a look at the signing up of foreign big names by British political parties, the reaction to Jeremy Browne’s recent book and more.

If you like this newsletter, the chances are other people you know would like it too, so please do share it.

Thanks for reading and, as ever, do please let me know your views.


The lure of the foreign star signing

Labour’s signing up of David Axelrod to join their 2015 general election campaign as a part-time consultant adds a touch of soap opera style rivalry to British politics given that his Obama campaign colleague Jim Messina was already signed up to help the Conservatives.

But will either of them make much of a difference?

Rather as with company takeovers and big name striker signings in football, the high profile overseas political foray certainly grabs the headlines. Yet when you poke through the historical records, the odds of that foray making a substantial positive different look rather less promising.

Labour’s own experience with previous big name digital campaigning signings from the US over several general elections is decidedly mixed. Although the Liberal Democrats have had some success with US experts such as Rick Ridder, their experience of British politics and work with the party stretches over decades.

Hence my caution when talking to ITV about Axelrod’s signing:

It’s no coincidence that two of the most successful recent overseas signings by political parties came from other Parliamentary democracies rather than from the US with its Presidential system.

Australia’s Lynton Crosby (for the Conservatives) and South Africa’s Ryan Coetzee (for the Liberal Democrats) both came from political systems that are similar to the UK’s, whilst US politics is very different from ours.

Overseas signings may be the one form of immigration politicians of all parties are happy to boast about (even UKIP previously with American Dick Morris), but when they are signings from the US, they are signings from a different sport.

The Race Plan has been run

Race Plan by Jeremy BrowneMost political books never sell that many copies in the first instance and fade fairly quickly into obscurity. Sales of political books are sufficiently low that I’m actually pretty pleased to see my now two-year-old co-authored book on winning elections still ticking along at around two copies sold per day. (If you are one of today’s two purchasers, hello and thank you!)

So it’s no slight to point out that after a launch flurry Jeremy Browne’s recent book Race Plan has quickly slipped down the bookselling ranks (bubbling along at a level a little higher than mine).

Of more significance, however, is the rather lukewarm reaction its policy content has had across the party, both from those temperamentally warmer to Jeremy Browne’s version of Liberal Democracy and (less surprisingly) from those in the party instinctively nervous of it.

In part that’s because, as Nick Clegg’s former Special Advisor Sean Kemp, put it, he’s much better at diagnosing problems or spotting challenges than coming up solutions.

In part also it’s because the sort of solutions Browne lays out in the book run into the problem I outlined in my review of it:

The overall policy mix he proposes would have been imaginative, innovative and even politically exciting if made 35 years ago at the cusp of Britain trying to come out of the struggles of the 1970s.

Yet in the 35 years since then most of the policies he proposes have either been consistent political poison or notable by their failure. To take two examples: education vouchers have been controversial vote losers, whilst big and fast infrastructure investment is something politicians regularly call for and then, nearly as regularly, fail to deliver.

So how would Browne overcome that mix of policy failure and political disaster? I was hoping for an interesting answer to this, especially as Jeremy Browne is one of the leading proponents of how The Party Must Be Serious About Power, shedding what such people see as esoteric or unpopular policies.

Yet no real answers are provided in the book as to how Browne would make his policies effective or popular. Not even his experience of being a Liberal Democrat minster seems to have informed any new thought on how to resolve this question for the policies he promotes.

Browne isn’t the only one with ideas

Two other leading Liberal Democrats have recently taken to the media to float their own policy ideas, with contrasting fortunes.

Steve Webb took to the Daily Mail (a paper unpopular with party activists but popular with its voters) to float the idea of a 30% flat rate tax relief on pension contributions for everyone.

Paying suitable deference to the party’s democratic policy making processes, he stressed the idea was his own proposal rather than an attempt to pre-empt party policy:

Most people get 20 per cent relief, some people get it at 40 per cent. But the people who get it at 40 per cent get shed loads. If you gave everybody 30 per cent then that spreads it much more evenly.

Clearly that is not government policy, it is not even Lib Dem policy yet – but I’m working on that. Personally I can’t see why we don’t have a much simpler system. And in that world, you probably don’t need a lifetime allowance.

The result? A large piece of positive coverage for the party, stressing its interest in making the tax system fairer.

Danny Alexander, however, ran into some hot water over his proposals for turning the party’s Mansion Tax policy into a form of national council tax bands at the top end.

Although as a former chair of Federal Policy Committee he knows the ins and outs of how party members like to see policy made, his speech didn’t have the sort of caveats that Steve Webb deployed so successfully.

Instead only a Lib Dem constitutionalist pedant could spot the subtle implied meaning that it wasn’t an official party policy – with the result that coverage of the speech included a round of complaints from aggrieved activists pointing out the party had just had the chance to debate this issue at length in its tax policy working group and had decided not to adopt it.

What have the Lib Dems achieved in government?

Infographic previewMy ever-popular infographic/poster highlighting the main achievements of the Liberal Democrats in government since 2010 has had a fresh update (including, of course, same sex marriage now being a reality). You can view the latest version here.

Its companion poster – on what the Liberal Democrats believe – is a little more timeless as Gladstone tends not to do things that require updates these days. You can view that too online.

And if posters aren’t your thing, there’s also a newly updated version of What The Hell Have The Lib Dems Done? website for your idle moments, er…, serious research: www.whatthehellhavethelibdemsdone.com

Links to all of these and other online resources for Liberal Democrat campaigners are collated on my website.

President election news: a four-way all-female race?

Last time I reported how two people were in the running to replace term-limited Tim Farron as the Liberal Democrat President in a ballot later this year.

Now Baroness Sal Brinton and the ‘Hackney Heroine’ Pauline Pearce have been joined by former Parliamentary candidate Linda Jack.

She is best known in the party for being one of the few people to speak against entering coalition at the party’s special post-general election conference in May 2010.

With former MP and MEP Liz Lynne’s name also being floated, the party may be set for an all-female four-way race.

The election will be carried out via an all-member postal ballot in the autumn.

Long-standing Clegg aide departs

Tim Snowball, who has worked for Nick Clegg since Nick Clegg was Shadow Home Secretary and most recently as Director of Political Operations, is off to the PR firm PHA Media.

It’s the firm that Jo Foster, Clegg’s former Deputy Chief of Staff, joined in late 2013.

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101 Ways To Win An Election

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

101 Ways To Win An Election is available from Amazon (paperback and Kindle editions).

For Apple fans it is available on iTunes as an iBook for iPad, iPhone and iPod.

Users of Kobo readers are also catered for with the Kobo ebook version.

The public dislikes Lib Dem politicians less than those of other parties (just)

Remember of course all the margin of error caveats as you digest this finding from polling firm YouGov, who recently gave people a list of politicians from each party and then asked them who they disliked the most.

The possible answers offered to the public included the names of various national politicians and also the option, “Not applicable. I do not dislike any [party name] politician”.

Here are the results for that last option:

  • 20% – I do not dislike any Lib Dem politician
  • 19% – I do not dislike any Labour politician
  • 13% – I do not dislike any Conservative politician

Third quarter in a row of growth in party membership

It’s not just the economy that is now regularly reporting quarter after quarter of growth. So too the Liberal Democrat party’s membership figures.

After starting to grow again in the third quarter of 2013, membership grew further in the last quarter of 2013 and now in the first quarter of 2014 too.

Overall, membership is now around 1,500 higher than it was at the start of 2013, going back up to 44,003.

That Lib Dem vs Tory education spat in full

Former Conservative education adviser Dominic Cummings dislikes the Liberal Democrats and likes Malcolm Tucker.

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