Why the Leadership Academy shouldn’t just train the leaders

I joined the party in 1991. But I only really got involved at grassroots level after I started working in the party in 2000. And like many other enthusiastic people who start helping at local level I rapidly found myself as chair of my local party.

And like many other people in my position I had strengths and weaknesses. I was pretty good at raising money, and we shortly had a RISO and a lot of cash in the bank. But I didn’t have much of a plan for how we were going to turn supporters into members and activists without the support of our councillors (who were understandably preoccupied with running a council that had been left in a mess by Labour).

And that’s where the Leadership Academy comes in. Existing training at regional conferences is often excellent, but is limited to a fairly small number of topics and very specific times.

The proposed Leadership Academy is a massive opportunity for the party to create a much larger group of activist Liberals who will help us win seats at every level for years to come, by broadening the subjects which are trained, broadening the base of people who are trained and making training more accessible.

But this will only happen if we offer training on the basis of enthusiasm and not where you live.

The party at the moment quite rightly targets money on seats that are winnable at the next election. Wrongly though, outside Conference, we don’t give much moral or training support to seats that are currently unwinnable.

Fundamentally we can’t double our seats over the next two elections without winning in some places that aren’t far off black holes at the moment.

We also can’t double our seats unless we retain almost all the new enthusiastic people who start helping us – regardless of where they live. Lack of support (mainly advice and training) drives people out of the party and out of activism.

Conversely, as seats like Hornsey & Wood Green have shown, it only really needs a small number of activists to start the virtuous circle that ends in us winning the Parliamentary seat.

The Leadership Academy is a great opportunity to take Conference style training to activists all year round if we do two things:

Firstly we should train anyone enthusiastic. At worst they’ll grow to love the party more and deliver more leaflets and donate more money in years to come. At best they’ll be the next generation of MPs like Lynne Featherstone who have turned black holes into Liberal Democrat strongholds.

Secondly nobody should be too important or too unimportant to deserve training. None of us are perfect at all the skills we need, and all of us can learn.

Neither of these are expensive. For instance we can probably fill as many media training slots as we need to fill with volunteers from party groups like Lib Dems in PR. But if we don’t make this one of our top priorities for the Academy then we’re missing a great opportunity.

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13 Comments

  • my understanding is that the idea is for something that is open to activists and others not just target seat ppcs. seems eminently sensible.

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 26th Sep '08 - 12:18pm

    “This is so that members don’t automatically choose the candidate who’s been hanging around the longest etc, etc.”

    But would instead tend to choose a candidate based on their accreditation by the party centrally?

  • No simply the best trained and therefore probably the most competent candidate (although admittedly not necessarily)

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 26th Sep '08 - 12:52pm

    “No simply the best trained and therefore probably the most competent candidate (although admittedly not necessarily)”

    But they would decide which one that was based on accreditation by the party centrally?

  • Liberal Neil 26th Sep '08 - 1:28pm

    I agree with Rob’s main point that we need to improve training for keen activists at all levels.

    That is not necessarily the same thing as is envisaged by the ‘Leadership Academy’ proposal but is a good objective nonetheless.

    As someone who has spent a large chunk of weekends and evenings training other party activists I am a firm beleiver that the party should invest more in training at all levels.

    I wel remember the first LDYS ‘Activate’ weekend which included amongst its number one (very young) Jo Swinson and also Katt Price, both of whom went on to serve the party in different ways.

    As a party we will be as successful as the people we’ve got, and investing in their skills and abilities should be a no-brainer.

    Currently there is a lot of effort put into training at various levels in the party but the coordination of it is poorly resoruced leading to much duplication and a lack of sharing of best practice and ideas.

    But james is also right. There’s no point having these aspirations unless we identify a budget to pay for them and provide training in a way that our over-stretched activists can find the time to do.

    I very much hope the section in the Bones report will be taken seriously and will rseult in improvement in training across the board.

  • Hywel Morgan 26th Sep '08 - 1:50pm

    “I wel remember the first LDYS ‘Activate’ weekend which included amongst its number one (very young) Jo Swinson and also Katt Price, both of whom went on to serve the party in different ways.”

    Several other people from that event are still involved in the party in varying degrees – there’s a guy I run into occasionally in Wakefield. However Activate was expensive – 4 trainers for a weekend, accomodation, paying nearly all the expenses of the attendees were all an investment in the medium to long term.

    One concern is over the name “Leadership Academy” – whilst leadership skills are something we lack I wonder if it will put people who don’t have any aspirations of leadership off attending.

    A lot of our training is very heavily “event” focussed – which is fine if you can attend but means we don’t reach everyone we could. That could be addressed through distance learning which is something I was keen on when at ALDC but never really had the competency to develop the materials.

    Neil is right about co-ordination (though it’s better than it has been). One good point about a dedicated training unit is it would mean training was removed from the turf wars which go on between different organisations within the party about who does what sort of training.

  • Steve Travis 26th Sep '08 - 3:45pm

    I think this would be great. As someone in a constituency* that punches above its weight in terms of activists vs council seats, we don’t have the time or energy to seek new members. Any help for this would be brilliant.

    * Which I won’t name, but the current MP likes cigars and fedoras

  • This is an excellent idea, cogently argued. Like Rob I soon became local party chair in a development seat, and like Rob I raised enough money to buy Riso. And like Rob, I was rubbish at motivating new people and potential cllrs. Again, like Rob I was in London, and some evening training sessions at Cowley St (no travel or accom expenses for anyone to pay) could have paid real dividends. I realise that evening training like this won’t work everywhere, but it could work in many places. Let’s go for it!

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