Over the summer I wrote a pair of posts on what next for the Liberal Democrats, covering policy and organisation. Since then the party has done rather better on that scorecard on the policy front, especially the dropping of the bank shares policy, than the organisation front (due in small – but by no means exclusive – part to me being on the Federal Policy Committee and so able to more directly influence that side of things).
So with both the Party President and the Federal Executive up for election in a few weeks time, it’s time to dust off the most important of those organisation ideas:
The Leadership Programme has had a welcome impact on recruiting and training a new and much more diverse generation of candidates. But candidates only get elected in tandem with great organisers and there are far too few new stars coming through. Most (though not all – there are some fabulous exceptions!) of the best election results have been secured by people who learnt their trade literally in the last century.
We need more new talent coming through – and a similar Organiser Programme to nurture the most talented newcomers.
To expand on the logic of why we need an Organiser Programme to develop our campaign organisers talent better and further – the old joke about candidates being only a legal necessity is wrong but reveals an important truth about how just how important a good campaign organiser is.
That campaign organiser can come in many forms. They may be an employee or a volunteer. They may or may not be the legal agent. They do need good candidates to work with. And it’s a bloody hard job to do well, especially as even in areas with annual local elections, other elections only come around every four or five years. Even for something as commonplace as fighting local elections on the same day as a general election, it takes many years just to have experienced that twice.
Yet it’s also hard to get that many years of experience, as so often the organiser is a young, low-paid person who – quite understandably – doesn’t stay in the job for that long. If they’re really good at running election campaigns, they’re usually pretty good at other jobs too – and the idea of a better salary takes them away often after just one general election.
It’s therefore not a surprise that so many of the places with consistent long-term electoral success have a key campaign management role played by someone from the voluntary party rather than an employee – and that it’s a person with many years of experience behind them. Often a councillor, their long-term involvement in the party brings the experience that even the best of employees rarely acquire due to the high turnover rates.
Well though this model can work, when it does it’s not really thanks to the wider party as those volunteer stars often get much less training and support from the party than employed constituency organisers and the like. Of course they can tap into the general training that is available to everyone (and it’s always a little nerve-inducing to see some of them slip into a training session I’m about to do, knowing how good they are!), but we could and should do better for both groups of organisers, the employed and the voluntary.
There’s lots of general training as a basic to moderate level available. What’s missing is the more intensive coaching of individuals to help turn the most talented into stars.
Just as the Leadership Programme is nurturing the talents of a mix of people of varying levels of experience to help improve the diversity of our candidate list in future, we should have an Organiser Programme to help improve the range of skills and experience our organisers have in future. Whether it’s talented new employees or long-standing key volunteers, there’s a huge wealth of potential out there – and the party should deliberately set out to enhance it.
So if you’re standing for FE or Party President, my question when it comes to the elections will be: will you make this happen?