Chris Fox writes: Changing the way we support campaigning

After three days of consultations with staff and discussions with people such as Regional Chairs I am now able to update you regarding the way we hope to take our campaigning forward.

Some of you will have seen or heard rumours about major changes in the way we support campaigning – some accurate and a lot less so.

It is my responsibility as Chief Executive to ensure that our professional organisation remains as effective as possible and makes best use of the resources available to us. The changes we have made at Cowley Street since the last General Election are already well known, as is our ambition to move to more appropriate office space in the medium term. It is of course of most critical importance to the party that our campaigns team is able to continue its reputation at the very cutting edge of electioneering in the period to 2015.

The need for structural change within the Campaigns team has been recognised over some time and the process underway now should not be seen as a reaction to last week’s elections – because it isn’t. We are lucky to have the very best staff, and no criticism is implied by this process. However, the inflexibility in our current structure is not sustainable when seeking to meet the challenges of state of the art campaigning and the fast response times that we now need to successfully compete in modern elections  – particularly with the extra pressure of being in government.

Let me be clear, this is not a cost cutting exercise and (having now spoken with all regional chairs) I am confident that the party will end up with at least same number of campaigns staff as now, when the new regional roles are added to the new Federal team.

What Hilary Stephenson (our Director of Elections and Skills) and I are looking at is investing in federal campaign resources in a different way. Final decisions have not yet been made, but the plan around which we are currently consulting proposes the creation of a centrally funded team of around twelve people that will enable us to drive innovation and improve the connection and uptake of messages, materials and organisational input into seats. We are then working with the regions, with the aim of moving them on from part funded regional posts to fully funded staff, who can be more tailored to specific regional needs and who will become the conduit for training and passing on best practice.

There is never a good time to restructure an organisation, especially one such as ours which is constantly working on new projects and towards the next set of elections. However, at the beginning of a new electoral cycle and early on in a fixed term parliament is clearly a better time than most for the task underway.

Restructuring processes are never easy for those involved and no reward for staff who have given so much to the party. Please be assured that we have taken every step to ensure that the process is conducted correctly and in line with HR best practice, and that we will be able to provide certainty and outcomes for those involved as soon as reasonably possible.

Chris Fox is Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats

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18 Comments

  • Tony Dawson 13th May '11 - 7:54pm

    This matter is related to the workings of the Liberal Democrats. It is therefore relevant to Lib Dem Party members Why is it in a public part of the Forum?

  • Tony Greaves 13th May '11 - 11:10pm

    I have two questions. (1) Is this public website the place to post this?

    (2) What does it mean anyway? I have read it three times and am none the wiser.

    The most important question is – whether anyone at Cowley Street understands what real campaigning is all about. (As opposed to fighting elections). I have seen no evidence in the recent times that they do. I will watch with interest but no optimism.

    Tony Greaves

  • mark Wilson 14th May '11 - 7:55am

    Organisational change along any lines is linked in part to the political fortunes of the party as well as the finances. On behalf of the paid staff of the Lib Dems it is time for some new political thinking at the top of the party which would aid the fortunes of the party. I will elaborate further on this in future comments/articles.

  • “Some of you will have seen or heard rumours about major changes in the way we support campaigning – some accurate and a lot less so.”

    Could you take this opportunity to dispel some of those rumours then:
    1) That the first the staff involved knew about this was when they were given the details a few days ago.
    2) That at least one member of staff involved only found this out through a posting on a friends facebook page.
    3) Did conducting this process “correctly and in line with best HR practice” include having regard to ACAS guidance which includes:
    “The consultation process should precede any public announcement of the redundancy programme and the issue of notices of termination. Such notices should not be issued until the consultation process has been completed.”

  • Chris Keating 14th May '11 - 10:23am

    Am I right in thinking the decision to restructure the department has been taken, and the consultation is limited to the details of the new roles?

  • @Matthew – it’s not about the changes, about which detail is rather absent, its about how the party treats its employees

    It doesn’t matter what the structure is, if our staff are demotivated then we will be buggered. Imagine running a by-election where all the paid campaigns officers went home at 5pm and didn’t come in at weekends.

  • This letter is an example for the meaningless nonsense which emanates from HQ and campaigns dept. If this was a commercial organisation, failure to mount meaningful last week campaign in the general election, a disgraceful YES and local election campaign (national messages) and the utter failure of party leadership to address what grass roots have been shouting at the top of their lungs, namely the maintenance of vigorous and independent liberal democrat party – ought to lead to the wholescale removal of party leadership and utter renewal of the campaigns department starting with its head. What do we get – corporate speak saying nothing and failing to address the key issues. Embarrassing at best….

  • Given the results at both the General Election, where we lost seats but by a freak of our electoral system ended up in coalition, and the dreadful results this year, did the Chief Executive and Director of Campaigns conduct this review, or, where they subject to it themselves?

  • Steve Comer 15th May '11 - 9:37am

    Hywel is right, if the rumours are true this has been handled appallingly, and we could see a number of former staff filing ET1s in the next few days. This could prove both costly and embarrassing. We are though “….assured that we have taken every step to ensure that the process is conducted correctly and in line with HR best practice.” Lets hope so, we don’t want a lot of hard working staff just drifting away demoralised do we?

    We can and should re-organise what we do, and focus much more on how to build infrastructure, but I’m unclear these changes are moving us in that direction.

  • I hear what Mark says, regarding the ‘publication elsewhere’ of staff members’ views etc on this matter. I am still not convinced that there should have been any item placed on this public forum for debate in a public forum.

    It is natural, since the resources of Liberal Democrats have been severely-tested by the demands of the Coalition, to have put the inquest into the poor Lib Dem 2010 General Election Campaign onto the back burner’. That campaign was only saved from tmajor disaster by the sizeable ‘blip’ of ‘Cleggmania’ not disappearing totally before polling day. What concerns me is that major changes in how we do things appear to have been put forward as if they were an organisational issue, not (as it is) intimately-connected with the political function of the Party as a whole.

    One might expect a disastrous local/Scottish elections (incorporating an even more disastrous ‘YES’ campaign) following a poor General Election campaign which was only saved by the randomness of electoral arithmetic under FPTP and our leader’s brilliant TV debating performance, might be the prompting for a serious and widespread consultation on how we should apply our meagre resources and who is best-fitted to take key roles. Instead, it would appear to have been the trigger for a reasonably seismic change promoted by a small group of people, the consideration of whose own function would be an important part of any serious review.

    Yet another reason why this public column should be closed-off and discussion should continue in private.

  • “It is natural, since the resources of Liberal Democrats have been severely-tested by the demands of the Coalition, to have put the inquest into the poor Lib Dem 2010 General Election Campaign onto the back burner’. ”

    Why? You could have got a team of experienced volunteers to do this with some staff support? LIke the way we do our policy papers or the way the Party Reform Commission was set up.

    In 2010 we spent millions for next to no return – and the lessons are all still in people’s heads.

  • Tony Dawson 16th May '11 - 4:04pm

    I have achieved my lifelong ambition of being criticised by Hywel for being a tool of the establishment!

    What I meant, Hywel, by ‘natural’ was that it was human nature, especially among those most responsible for the campaign who seemed to overlap considerably with those most involved in the Coalition, to avoid raking over the past and to move on to new frontiers. Not that it was right!

    None of us have forgotten. Just as none of us have forgotten the huge sums poured into the poster campaign in 2005.

  • There are some important points above which have gone unanswered – I’ve just emailed Chris to draw his attention to these comments.

  • A very very simple message, no matter how much crap you shove through them, letters-boxes don’t vote!!!

  • There was no way the party could announce major changes to campaign staff a week after the local election results without everyone thinking it was because of the results. Whatever official statements say, most people, including party members, will put their own Interpretation on this.

    Hywel is of course correct in his concerns about the way we handle staff. Central to being a professional organisation is the need to treat staff professionally.

    However, what concerns me most is the fact that, once again, Cowley Street has not taken the time to consult people out in the constituencies. Before reshaping our campaigning staff Chris should talk to some of those who lost and, crucially, to some of us who won. It may be that there are some difficult questions to be answered on the effectiveness of our central organisation.

    For the record Portsmouth won 9 out of 14 seats up, our best ever score. Labour held their one seat but gained nothing.Over in our near neighbour Eastleigh the last labour councillor lost to us, one of three LD gains. While Winchester, next to both of us, narrowly missed regaining control of the council. The results last year were also good in these seats.

    As this is an open forum I won’t say more butwould be happy to discuss this issue privately.

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