In the two months since my last report, the election campaign has started in all but name.
After a phenomenal amount of work by the manifesto team – led by Danny Alexander, the party’s policy unit headed by Christian Moon, and the Federal Policy Committee – we have now established the broad outlines of our campaign:
- Reform of the tax system to create a fairer base,
- introducing the pupil premium to give all children a fairer start in life,
- creating sustainable housing and jobs and
- political reform to bring in a fairer voting system, and the power for citizens to recall an MP.
Our poll ratings are good for this stage of the electoral cycle, and Nick’s personal ratings are better than Cameron’s or Brown’s despite being newer into the job. And in real elections, namely, council by-elections, we ended the year 17 seats up and the Tories 25 seats down, as well Dave Hodgson’s magnificent mayoral win in Bedford.
I’m confident that we have an excellent staff team in Cowley Street and out in the field, backing up a first rate team of candidates – and not just in our key seats. Preparations for all elements of the campaigns are underway and in some considerable depth – I know because I’ve been to many of the meetings!
In recent weeks I’ve visited Market Harborough, Swansea & Gower, Leamington Spa, Milton Keynes, Hastings & Rye, Tower Hamlets, Durham and York.
Federal Executive met in December and in January. In December we agreed the business plan and the budget for the forthcoming year, noting that it was very much “a year of two halves” with the General Election being a watershed in the business planning process.
In both months, the main focus has been on General Election planning and debate on the current political situation being led by Nick Clegg and John Sharkey. I’m delighted to report that in 2009 the recent decline in membership was halted and showed a slight increase. Jonathan Fryer was elected to the Liberal International Executive, to replace Robert Woodthorp Browne who is there in another capacity.
Both Federal Executive and the Chief Officers’ Group were updated on progress against the recommendations of the Party Reform Commission noting that many had been achieved: notably, the establishment of the Chief Officers Group and the Party Advisory Boards; the recruitment of a dedicated fund-raiser; the complete revamp of the Party website; and the creation of a social networking site, ACT. It was noted that certain recommendations were within the purview of state parties and that others would be looked at after the General Election. The Chief Executive, Chris Fox, wrote a piece for Lib Dem News to update members on progress.
On a sad note, we expressed our sadness at the death of Roy Thompson who had represented Scotland so effectively at the Federal Executive, even when he was seriously ill. All of us were shocked to hear of the death of Anna Werrin, former head of office of Charles Kennedy, at the early age of 50. Condolences were sent to both Roy and Anna’s family.
Finally, may I just wish you all the very best of luck in your efforts over the coming weeks, and look forward to seeing you on the campaign trail.
* Baroness Ros Scott is President of the Liberal Democrats.