Author Archives: Mark Pack

Mark was the Liberal Democrat Head of Innovations until June 2009 and is now at Blue Rubicon. He also lectures at City University and is co-author of 101 Ways To Win An Election. He blogs at www.markpack.org.uk and is on Twitter as @markpack. He likes chocolate. Lots of it.

Liberal Democrats launch innovative – but controversial – online fundraising plan

News reaches me of a potentially very effective but highly controversial fundraising move planned by Liberal Democrat HQ for the general election.

Back when I worked at party HQ, I was involved in trademarking the party’s logo so that the party was in a stronger legal position when dealing with cyber-squatters or producers of fake literature.

Now the party is planning to go one step further, trademarking the party’s name and starting to enforce the trademark, charging royalties for its use.

photo by: by claire
Posted in News | Tagged | 11 Comments

Opinion: the politics of the reshuffle

Lynne featherstone by paul walterNorman BakerThere has been a consistent thread running through Nick Clegg’s most recent government reshuffles: get good campaigners into posts where they can run successful high profile campaigns, implementing liberal policies and winning Liberal Democrat votes.

Put like that, it sounds uncontroversial, but when it has involved the departure of Jeremy Browne from government and swapping out from posts in the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence, it has been rather more controversial.

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 8 Comments

Opinion: David Cameron – the Conservative Party’s answer to Harold Wilson

More and more, David Cameron reminds me of Harold Wilson.

Both became leaders of their party when a sequence of election defeats forced change upon it. Both briefly were the young leader with a new purpose for their political tradition; the white heat of technology in the 20th century, huskies in the 21st.

Both struggled to win over the public, with neither getting an overall majority at their first attempt. Both turned out to be heavily beholden to their party’s traditional, backward-looking wing.

Wilson’s opportunities to be a dominating figure who reshaped society and rejuvenated the economy were wrecked on the Labour …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 18 Comments

Opinion: Lessons from 1979

Leaving through some kindly donated old copies of Liberator from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, there is a distinct sense of déjà vu. Calls to revive Community Politics. Urgent pleas to reinvent liberalism for a modern age. Complaints about how the English Party is run. Provocative comments from Simon McGrath triggering hostile rejoinders. (Although it did amuse me to find that one passionate argument against the party ending up a centre-right pro-capitalism outfit came from one Gavin Grant.)

Some of the issues covered have been lost in the gaps of history. Others are still very …

Posted in Op-eds | 30 Comments

Opinion: Leaderless parties don’t make for good partners in hung Parliaments

Ed-Balls-and-Ed-Miliband-006The recent Twitter-flirtation between Nick Clegg and Ed Balls was in itself not hugely significant, even if it was a welcome burst of public banter taking the place of off-the-record briefings.

Politicians, after all, manage to be polite to each other far more often than Prime Minister’s Questions might suggest, and the ability to behave (occasionally) like a well-mannered, polite adult is part of what makes them politicians who get insulted in the comments on blogs rather than commenters who insult politicians  in the comments on blogs.

However it is symptomatic also …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 16 Comments

Opinion: My Liberal Democrat star of 2013

Ahead of both the 2005 and 2015 general elections there was a key Liberal Democrat Parliamentary by-election win which massively altered the political atmosphere ahead of that general election – motivating activists, persuading media commentators and influencing the public. One was Brent East in 2003, the other Eastleigh in 2013.

The impact of both is all the clearer if you consider what the impact of missing out on the gain in 2003 or slumping to defeat in 2013 would have meant.

Ten years apart, the first showed how the party could gain urban seats off Labour, with some huge Labour majorities actually …

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Opinion: e-voting coming back to life?

The announcement last month by House of Commons Speaker John Bercow of a commission on digital democracy has kicked the debate over e-voting back to life in the UK.

For many years it has been a rather odd debate in the UK because, all too rarely, this is an area where (back when Labour was in power) large sums of money were spent on extensive pilot schemes before, based on the evidence gathered, the idea was dropped. It is how policymaking should work: have an idea, test it and then make a decision based on the evidence.

Yet the

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 16 Comments

Opinion: California Governor’s success is a promising sign for Nick Clegg’s political approach

Jerry Brown, American pioneer of small-donor funded, technologically innovative, grassroots Presidential campaigns (see 1992 and his use of freephone numbers), three times failed Presidential candidate and former Governor of California, has had a remarkably successful last few years – thanks to be re-elected as Governor nearly thirty years after he last left the post.

On a range of progressive issues, such as climate change and immigration reform, Brown has been using his power as the Governor of a state whose economy would be the 12th largest in the world if it were an independent country. Progress on them may be stalled …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 1 Comment

Opinion: Secrecy, federal committees and a lack of democracy

meetingNearly all the debates about Liberal Democrat federal committees and democracy hinge on who the electorate for committee elections should be – conference reps or all party members?

However these debates miss a big problem, which is simply that the electorate, whoever it is, knows very little about the performance of incumbents. Democracy isn’t just about the right people having the vote, it’s about them being able to cast their votes in a meaningful way.

If you don’t know what people have done, it is hard to hold them to account.

Currently there …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 8 Comments

Opinion: About those low Conference voting figures…

When 444 votes were cast in the 50p top tax rate debate and 413 in the nuclear power vote, some comments were made about these appearing to be low figures compared to past conferences.
However the rush to judgement on them were flawed for three reasons.
First, there were rather more votes cast in the Trident debate (550 – thanks to the get out the vote operation by the party leadership not misfiring that time.)
Second, attendance at federal conferences is always lower in Scotland than when it is in southern England, reflecting the relative travel distances for the bulk of the

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 34 Comments

Opinion: Regulate more lobbying and less campaigning: how to improve The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill

Neither the current rules regulating lobbying nor those controlling so-called ‘third party’ campaigning (i.e. by someone other than candidates or their parties) are extensive enough. Both need improving.

With lobbying, the case for better regulation is easy to make: pick a scandal, any scandal.

With third party campaigning, the loopholes and relaxed existing rules are less obvious because, so far, they have either been largely under-exploited or have been made use of by ‘good guys’ such as Hope Not Hate. Yet the very same generous rules that let Hope Not Hate explicitly campaigning for people not to vote for the BNP could …

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Interim Peers Panel reform – missing the main question?

Nestling near the top of the second page of the Federal Executive’s consultation paper about how the party’s new members of the House of Lords are appointed (pdf) is a little three letter word which is central to the issue.

It talks about the party’s current Interim Peers Panel system, whereby conference representatives elect a group of names – of which I was one last time round – and to which are added a group of people by dint of previous offices they have held, such as former MPs.

That little word is “can”, as in this is …

Posted in Party policy and internal matters | Tagged | 3 Comments

Opinion: Syria – I know what’s wrong; working out what’s right is rather harder

It is easy to work out what I disagree with on Syria.

The absurd politics of those on the left who have never lifted the smallest placard in protest again Assad’s wide scale murders but break out a garage-full the moment there is a whiff of US involvement in something.

Or those who talk about Syria with reference to Iraq but without references too to countries such as the Ivory Coast or Sierra Leone, where military intervention worked. Or without reference to countries such as the former Yugoslavia where the problem was not that military intervention took place but that it took …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 22 Comments

Opinion: Typing – an important skill that we neither teach nor require

Recently I was sat in a GP’s surgery waiting for him to type out a prescription for me. Until that point I had been nothing but impressed with his patience and knowledge. Then I saw how painfully slowly he attacked the keyboard, poking at it with a few select fingers as if it was too hot to touch, swiftly withdrawing his fingers to safe distance after each quick poke at a key.

The prescription that rolled off the computer was accurate, so what was the problem save for a few extra seconds passed in chit chat whilst he did the fingers …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 35 Comments

Labour’s MP for Tottenham tells residents: ‘wait till September for help’

Some MPs rightly get annoyed when the press and public talk about Parliamentary recess being “holiday” for they continue to work hard in their constituencies during recess.

Labour’s MP for Tottenham David Lammy (aka the man who got away over his expenses thanks to his second home claims coming out before the media got interested in the topic), however, is just the sort of MP who gives those others a bad name.

Here is what he emailed residents on 12th July:

Due to the parliamentary recess, my next advice surgery will be on Friday 13th September.

If you want to see your MP …

Posted in News | Tagged | 17 Comments

Opinion: 20 years of going nowhere, Liberal Democrat gender balance in council elections

Twenty years of progress, followed by twenty years of stalling. That’s the overall picture of Liberal Democrat (and before that Alliance / Liberal Party) progress towards gender equality at local government elections, whether measured in terms of candidates or people elected.

Looking at local elections in England, a mere 20% of the Liberal Party’s candidates were female in 1973 and the figure was even lower, 18%, amongst those elected. By 1991 both figures had risen to 34%. Since then, however, the figures have bounced up and down around a long-term flat trend, with both hitting 30% in the latest figures for …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 18 Comments

Would-be Labour candidate attacks Unite’s “autocratic monopoly” and role in Lewisham and Haringey selections

Last night a would-be Labour Parliamentary candidate, who contested the Hornsey & Wood Green selection, hit out on Twitter at the “autocratic monopoly” produced by Unite’s influence on selections. Mandy Richards singled out selections in Hornsey & Wood Green and Lewisham, arguing that they have not been getting the media attention they deserve and that Unite’s influence is blocking a “progressive Labour agenda”.

Twitter - Mandy4PPC_2015- complaint about Unite

Twitter - Mandy4PPC_2015- Unite autrocratic monopoly

In Hornsey & Wood Green the selection was won by …

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Have you got the new Lib Dem poster?

There’s a good reason why time and again people who produce really successful campaigning literature talk about the importance of having good photos. It’s because communicating a message visually can be extremely effective. Yet when it comes to what the party is achieving in government, the answer used to be produce slabs of text or highly inconsistent leaflets.

That’s why last year I produced an infographic instead (and kudos to the party, and the policy team in particular, for starting to use infographics themselves more widely since, partly inspired by mine).

Now there’s a 2013 version, put into …

Posted in News | Tagged | 3 Comments

Opinion: The best government team you’ve not heard of

Switch_off_internet_in_case_of_political_dissentThe best performing team in government is also one you’ve probably not heard of. It’s the Government Digital Service, who have been revolutionising central government’s use of the internet – providing the sort of excellent and reliable new systems that have countries round the world scrambling to copy them, whilst managing to hit timescales, keep to budgets and avoid bugs in a way that puts most government IT projects to shame. Better services and lower costs – it’s a winning combination that whoever is in power after 2015 will need to …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 4 Comments

Opinion: Adonis’s complaint – Ashdown was not mind-numbingly stupid with the memory span of a goldfish

Andrew Adonis’s account of the days after the public voted in a hung Parliament in 2010 have already received a rightful savaging by Andrew Stunell. Given that we already know the Mandelson/Balls preparation for coalition talks with the Liberal Democrats was a quick cup of tea, you might think that not even Andrew Adonis’s account could make Labour’s preparation for a hung Parliament look even more amateurish or non-existent. Yet his 5 Days In May manages that.

His book kicks off with a complaint from Peter Mandelson that his attempt to sound out Paddy Ashdown on a

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An open letter to Jeremy Browne MP…Part 2: Problems at the Home Office

Dear Jeremy,

In part 1 I explained why the Interception of Communications Commissioner is a failed regulator and one the Home Office should be fixing, yet your civil servants have been reluctant to do so. That should give a pause for thought about the proposals Home Office civil servants keep on pushing to extend the ability of the government to snoop on what we do online.

So too should the way in which the Home Office regularly changes its views of what counts as being in the national interest or vital for the fight against crime, and indeed makes outlandish claims …

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An open letter to Jeremy Browne MP on civil liberties… Part 1: The failed regulator

Dear Jeremy

I doubt that in amongst all the ludicrously large number of issues that pass across the desk of a minister, and a Home Office one no less, you will have noticed a small victory I scored over the Home Office recently.

But I hope you’ll give a pause for thought to the implications of the ruling the Information Commissioner made in my favour over the Home Office (decision notice reference FS50469527).

Partly it’s because of what it says about the never-quite-dead proposals for a huge expansion of monitoring of our online activity. Partly it’s because of what the case reveals …

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Opinion: A radical approach to welfare – forget changing benefits

The word ‘radical’ is to welfare reform what a pot of paint is to a wall full of cracks. The less you really know what to do to fix things, the more you slap it about all over the place in the hope that it will cover up things.

When you peer carefully at the detail of what is said after the roaring demand for radical reforms, you see what usually follows is either an absence of quite what form the radical action should take (‘radical, radical, we must be radical; just please don’t ask me how’) or simply by a …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 19 Comments

What the Liberal Democrats believe

“Tell me more about what the Liberal Democrats believe”. Whether it’s a possible new member, a potential council candidate or a new office volunteer asking, I’ve always found over the years that one of the trickier questions to answer. Not because of the inherent question, but rather because of the paucity of materials available to conveniently answer it.

There’s always been a simple short 1 or 2 sentence answer to hand (such as the slogan of the day or an extract from the preamble to the party’s constitution) or a really long answer available, such as Conrad Russell’s superb An

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 40 Comments

Opinion: Are you a man?

menAre you a man? Have you been or might you be on a fringe meeting panel at Liberal Democrat conference? If the answer to both is yes, I’d like your help…

At the Spring conference just gone in Brighton, I nearly ended up being a speaker on an all-male panel – and one taking place on International Women’s Day no less. The subject – technology and politics – is one where there are a good few female experts in the party, and it was only Olly Grender’s last minute addition which saved my blushes from Mark Thompson’s quite reasonable intention to turn up and put us all on the spot about what was an all-male panel.

Posted in News | Tagged , , and | 16 Comments

Inquiries into Rennard allegations must be as public as possible

The party’s investigations into allegations against its members are traditionally internal, confidential affairs. There are good reasons for this, particularly as confidentiality can be necessary for people to be willing to given evidence and as the simple existence of an allegation can kill someone’s political career, even if the allegations are subsequently found to be groundless.

They are often so confidential, in fact, that the last time I was asked to provide evidence for an inquiry, I did not know what the precise allegations were, who was investigating them, who the range of people being investigated were, whether or not the …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 8 Comments

How Ofsted outperforms the Department for Education in the email stakes

Yesterday I blogged about how only a third of emailed newsletters and circulars sent out by the Department for Education to schools and teachers are read by the recipients.

I also mentioned that you could choose who to blame for the low readership rate:

Who is to blame for this? If nothing else I suspect these figures are a good test of your political instincts: are you already thinking the blame lies with Michael Gove and the Department for Education for not making their messages more compelling or with the teachers who aren’t reading them in greater numbers?

One way of helping …

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Two-thirds of email newsletters sent to teachers and schools by the Department for Education are not read

Email inboxOnly a third of emailed newsletters and circulars sent out by the Department for Education to schools and teachers are read by the recipients according to new figures I have secured following a Freedom of Information request to the Department.

In 2012 the Department sent out 148,182 such emails, with their systems recording 49,504 of them as having  been read at least once (33%).

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 16 Comments

What Google reveals about the current state of play in Eastleigh

The search results thrown up by Google often provide a neat little insight into what angles of a story are dominating coverage and people’s attention. The angles that get the most prominent coverage and the most interaction and responses are the ones that rise to the top of the search results. So what do they tell us about the current state of play in the Eastleigh by-election?

Posted in News and Parliamentary by-elections | Tagged , , , , , and | 7 Comments

The real political battle isn’t Conservative vs Labour or Cameron vs Miliband

Diversion sign - photo courtesy of Michael Casey on Flickr. Some rights reserved, see http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelcasey/2959557643/Skim the political news – or brace yourself and watch some of festival of braying adults that is PMQs – and you could easily think that British politics is primarily a contest between Cameron and Miliband, Conservative and Labour, to be top dog. You could – and you would be wrong. It’s a diversion from where the real action is.

The real political contest is both elsewhere and not one single contest. It is not about Conservative versus Labour, except by incidental outcome.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 13 Comments



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarNonconformistradical 18th Apr - 5:02pm
    "When did the Manchester Guardian become just the Guardian? " According to Wikipedia 1959 . Must have been the 1950 election as tories didn't win...
  • User AvatarPeter Watson 18th Apr - 4:55pm
    As mentioned by Radical Liberal, a poll of students in HE reported in The Independent (http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/exclusive-student-support-for-lib-dems-collapses-to-just-six-per-cent-9267942.html) puts Lib Dems in 4th place with 6% support....
  • User AvatarGraham Evans 18th Apr - 4:35pm
    I think this is a good idea but it doesn't address the anomoly that if the employer makes a pension contribution he avoids paying NI,...
  • User AvatarAndy Wylie 18th Apr - 4:29pm
    When did the Manchester Guardian become just the Guardian? Before the 1964 election ? So my guess is 1950.
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    The Lib Dem message about the EU is out of step with public opinion - but also out of step with Lib Dem policy. Our...
  • User AvatarDavid Evershed 18th Apr - 4:01pm
    Bill le Breton makes the point that one of the distinguishing features of being Lib Dem is that politics should be community based. In the...