Liberal Democrat General Election Team announced

Nick Clegg has announced today the team that will advise him on strategy, resources and communications, as well as the planning and delivery of the Lib Dems’ General Election strategy.

From the Liberal Democrats’ website:

Nick Clegg said:

“I am delighted to announce the team that will lead the planning and delivery of our General Election campaign.

“I have asked John Sharkey, my adviser on Strategic Communications and the former MD of Saatchi’s, to Chair the Campaign, supported by Andrew Stunell MP as Vice Chair.

“John’s extensive experience managing major communications businesses combined with Andrew’s campaigning expertise will be a formidable combination steering the Campaign. Danny Alexander MP, my Chief-of-Staff, will play a key role in the Campaign Team responsible for manifesto development.

“Chief Executive, Chris Fox, will lead on strategy and the air war and head up the executive team. Campaigns & Elections Director, Hilary Stephenson, will lead the ground war.

“In addition I am very pleased to announce that Jonny Oates will be returning to the Liberal Democrats in the autumn and will join the Campaign Team as Director of General Election Communications. Jonny will lead communications strategy, planning and delivery and will report to the Chief Executive.

“As the General Election approaches, it’s clear that Labour’s time is up and the Conservatives simply think it’s their turn. But this election demands something different. We need a fresh start to fix the unprecedented problems the country now faces.

“I am convinced our General Election team announced today will deliver a successful and winning campaign.”

Jonny Oates is returning to work for the party a year after leaving to work for PR group Bell Pottinger.

From PR Week:

Oates said the lure of being involved in a Liberal Democrats’ election campaign was too strong to turn down. ‘Nick asked me if I would like to go back. When I left I always regretted I hadn’t been there for an election. Peter Bingle [Oates’ boss at Bell Pottinger] is a political junkie himself and he completely understands my decision’.

Oates said he intended to stay until two months after the election, which has to be held by the first week in June next year. He said he hadn’t discussed the possibility of returning to Bell Pottinger but added: ‘We’re intending it to be a very successful election campaign, so opportunities may open up in that regard.’

Bell Pottinger Public Affairs chairman Peter Bingle said: ‘I regard Jonny as the best strategic communications professional in the business. He has been a friend and colleague for many years. I understand why the lure of returning to front-line politics was too strong. Our loss is Nick Clegg’s gain’.

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This entry was posted in General Election and News.


  • I’m particularly thrilled that Jonny is back. This is very good news!

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Aug '09 - 9:15am

    Looks to me like a load of people from a professional PR background who will try and sell the party like a consumer brand and will fail because gaining long-term enthusiastic support just doesn’t work like that. Our party has done best when its publicity is organised by people who have real on-the-ground experience of campaigning at local level. We should have learnt this in the 1980s when it was the Liberals with bottom-up publicity using campaigning techniques organised by ALC who were winning the votes, and the SDP who came along with all this “we’ll show you how to win elections” top-down stuff who were a brief flash-in-the-pan and who failed.

  • Matthew, like it or not (and I don’t particularly) it’s easier to “brand” the party in a 5 minute election broadcast or on a poster than get into a great long policy discussion. Jonny Oates has certainly been around the party for many years and has got that on-the-ground experience you talk about, as of course does Andrew Stunnell and Danny Alexander. On paper, this should be a good team.

  • Chris Keating 6th Aug '09 - 9:58am

    KL – it’s actually far, far more difficult to “brand the Party in a 5 minute election broadcast” than it is to have a “great long policy discussion”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Aug '09 - 12:54pm

    KL, I am not calling for a great long policy discussion. I am expressing a concern that professional PR people have fixed attitudes on how to promote the party which come from their commercial background, and what they think will work just doesn’t. Somehow we need to get across the point that we are not some big organisation selling ourselves to the people, we are an active organisation of the people. We, and the other mainstream politicians are failing completely at that. And part of that is because we insist on using people from a background where they are selling the services and products of big organisations.

    The Liberal Party sort of understood this when it developed what it called “community politics” – that WASN’T done by professional PR people, but it worked. Unfortunately however, it wasn’t developed further (partly because at the time it was being developed the SDP came along) and got stuck at a stage where it was just (mis)used as a local election fighting technique. That is what we saw in the Norwich North by-election campaign – the old techniques were used but by people who didn’t understand their original radical aim and the theory behind it and didn’t have the experience to know what really works on the ground. I knew when I saw that material that we would do badly in that election, I said why.

    We need to develop a language and an imagery which works with the people and explains to them in simple terms how rotten our society is and how they can change it by working with us. This requires people with fresh new ideas and ABOVE ALL people who know what it is like to be at the bottom or in the middle of society, who have come from an average background, who have been brought up to know what it is like not to be part of the smart set. Because Nick Clegg is not one of those is why he’s always getting it wrong, and he has again in what is reported as his action here. When I saw this announcement I despaired because I knew from it we’d have a rubbishy general election campaign which once again would embarrass me as a party activist.

  • The notion of community politics alone may well have worked in the early 1980s, but then we didn’t have short, packaged soundbites or 24 hour news then – and regardless what you think of it this is the era we have to work in. Anders is right – community politics is important, but if that hasn’t already been happening then you’re not going to win the seat. Likewise, community politics doesn’t work where you have swathes of the country where we don’t have an active local party, such as central Scotland, and the media becomes the main, if not only, source of our message.

    Chris, I understand what you mean about “branding” being more difficult, but if we try and have a great long policy discussion then it will either be cut to a 10 second soundbite by some junior editor, or we’ll lose even more of the tiny audience that PEBs attract. There’s an argument that the “branding” should be done over a steady period of time (that’s the crossover with the community politics) but it can be done through high-impact campaigning over a shorter period, along with the better media coverage we get.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Aug '09 - 3:12pm

    KL, you really don’t get it. I am not calling for community politics as it was in the 1980s, I am calling for something which captures what we were trying to do then and how we were doing it, but is updated for today’s political environment. My point is that in the 1980s something that was done locally and not by professionals actually worked better than what was done centrally by professionals who thought they knew how to play the political game.

    Anders, again, it’s not necessarily community politics as it was, but I am looking for radically new ways of working WITH the people rather then old-fashioned ways of selling ourselves TO them. I do fear that people who have come up through the professional PR route really don’t understand that and do end up producing disappointing campaigns that fail because they can’t break away from the sort of thinking which is about selling a commercial product. That is my experience with a lot of what has been done centrally by the political parties, and I feel strongly that the domination of their campaigning by professional PR people at the top has led to the current sorry state of politics where most ordinary people feel extremely dissatisfied by it and feel all politicians are some brand of alien remote from real life. If professional PR people are such good things, how come now there are so many of them running political campaigns people hate politicians more than ever?

    I don’t think Norwich North as a good result – the literature, at least from what I say displayed by Nich Starling was really bad, I knew it wouldn’t work and I said in his blog why. If that’s what professional PR people can come up with, they’re rubbish, sack them.

    Now, to be honest I’m a simple party member who for years was busy being a councillor hardly bothering with what was happening at national level. So if I have got it wrong about the people Nick Clegg mentions so be it, I do recognise Andrew Stunnell as having an ALDC background, but I don’t know whether he has as much recent local campaigning experience as I’d like to see in the team. I did read from Nick Clegg’s announcement, with its mention right at the start of someone from Saatchis and later Bell Pottinger, the idea that this was going to be an ad-man run campaign. I’m not inspired by this to give any money to the national party, because I fear it will be thrown down the drain as ad-man run campaigns have done in the past.

    Our party has had such an opportunity with the economic crisis, New Labour collapsing and the Tories offering nothing but contradictory whiffle-whaffle, but we have thrown it away because we’ve lost that radical “on the side of the people against the establishment” edge we used to have. We NEED to do something different, and we WON’T do that if our national campaign is run by the ad-men.

  • Yellow Peril 6th Aug '09 - 3:57pm

    Matthew – By my count of the people named in the article three, Chris Fox, Andrew Stunell and Jonny Oates, have been local councillors. Only one has an ‘ad-man’ background, John Sharkey, (Bell Pottinger isn’t actually an ad agency) – ie it would make more sense, at least in terms of fact rather than prejudice, to claim the campaign was being run by a ‘local government cabal’ than it does to say it is ‘run by ad-men.’ As Anders said, it looks like a good blend of talent to me; which is surely what we need at the top of the campaign.

  • Herbert Brown 6th Aug '09 - 4:05pm

    “Our party has had such an opportunity with the economic crisis, New Labour collapsing and the Tories offering nothing but contradictory whiffle-whaffle, but we have thrown it away …”

    Well, quite. In Norwich North, people really were looking for an alternative to the two main parties – they attracted less than 60% of the vote between them – but the Lib Dems were supported by less than a third of the non-Tory, non-Labour voters.

  • Matthew: you’ve confused you me. You said in your first comment that, “Our party has done best when its publicity is organised by people who have real on-the-ground experience of campaigning at local level.”

    Well, of the people names in the article, Danny Alexander, Andrew Stunell, Chris Fox, Hilary Stephenson and Jonny Oates all do. Only one person, John Sharkey, doesn’t (at least as far as I know in his case). If 5 out of 6 meet your criteria, shouldn’t that be a cause for happiness on your part?

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Aug '09 - 11:37pm

    Mark, I’m going on Nick Clegg’s quoted comments, which seem to centre very much on ad-man and professional PR background of the campaign team rather than deeper and more hands-on experience with ordinary people of the sort that can be gained by (but not necessarily only by) experience as a local councillor. Having looked up the record of these people, I see that Chris Fox has “had some big corporate comms jobs” and Danny Alexander seems to have gone straight from Oxford to a variety of professional communications jobs. Hilary Stephenson works in some sort of professional PR role, I gather, and Jonny Oates’s Bell Pottinger is a “public affairs consultancy”.

    Yes, of course we need some people running our campaign team from that sort of background. I’m not suggesting we hand it entirely over to a team of amateurs. But I am concerned by its total dominance by that sort of person. We need the fresh ideas that can come from people who have different backgrounds. Professional PR people just haven’t done a good job for us in the past, they do tend to have a particular mind-set, stuck in certain ways of doing things which I don’t think necessarily work in generating party political enthusiasm.

  • Libdem Guru 7th Aug '09 - 1:10am

    how long has the pr guy from saatchi’s been working withy nick? and what is his strategy for getting more voters and turning the party around?

    is he just taking the money for not doing very much?

    time is going very quickly and i for one cannot see any evidence of increased public confidence in the libdem machine. there is so much good to be said, and far too many party personnel that are all talk.

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Aug '09 - 10:31pm


    Why only pick out one part of their backgrounds rather than view their overall backgrounds?

    Because that is the background Nick Clegg chose to pick out and use in his piece. The emphasis in the piece certainly was on commercial PR background. Nick Clegg did not choose to mention the practical on-the-ground campaigning experience or other human-touch elements of these people in his announcement. You only mention those other things which you say contradict my concerns because I prompted you. The emphasis that was put by the people at the top of our party on this says enough – we are meant to feel commercial PR exeprience is the way to sell our party. I think this is indicative of a wrong-headedness at the top of our party.

    Now, in recent years the political parties have moved much more to using commercial PR and ad-man techniques, and away from basing their campaigning primarily on political zeal and the wish to inform and build real involved support rather than support gained by consumer sales techniques. So, has this worked? Has it created a politics which is much more close top the people, which people in the country feel much happier about and feel is in touch with them and does the job they want from government more than in the old days? No. Politics and politicians are despised more than ever. This is the BIG problem we are facing and need to tackle. So does the tone of this announcement indicate any understanding of this problem and feeling of a need to do things differently so that we might tackle this problem? No. It indicates a complacency, all the old top-down big man from the elite class using big business commercial techniques attitude which has turned people off politics and made them feel politicans are some class of aliens, who have no idea what real life is like, whose only desire is to fool us.

  • Herbert Brown 9th Aug '09 - 12:22am

    “Now, in recent years the political parties have moved much more to using commercial PR and ad-man techniques, and away from basing their campaigning primarily on political zeal and the wish to inform and build real involved support rather than support gained by consumer sales techniques.”

    Does anything you have ever read from Mark Pack lead you to believe he would consider that to be a bad thing??

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Aug '09 - 10:37pm

    Mark – Nick could have chosen to mention the practical experience of the people involved in order to show how grounded they were in real life, but he didn’t. In this key announcement he said nothing to inspire me, and the person who was made the chair of the team then similarly put out an announcement here which was yawn-worthy. It’s all led me to feel YOU JUST DON’T GET IT, DO YOU? You just don’t get how angry people are with politics, how they feel all they were told by both the other two parties about the non-stop economic success of this country was so wrong, how they feel they have been cheated of their inheritance as Britons with power and control of this country put into unaccountable hands living high lives of luxury while ordinary types suffer.

    I was talking to an acquaintance just this morning, someone who knows me as a former LibDem councillor, someone who was once a keen Labour activist. A working-class man, but with a keen political sense. Over the years I’ve been chatting to him occasionally where we meet, I’ve seen him turn from someone a bit concerned about where Labour was going but still basically in support, to being apathetic and wondering why he bothered with them, to feeling he really didn’t like them and probably wouldn’t vote for them next time, to fierce anger at what he sees as treachery to him and his type, once the backbone of the Labour Party. Yet though he knows where I come from and respects my personal views (which used to be mainstream Liberal Party but, particularly from what I get in LibDem bloggery, now seem to be regarded in the party as extreme left-wing) he never even mentions the Liberal Democrats as a possible alternative because nothing our party is doing nationally says anything to him. There must be millions like him and they see NOTHING in current British politics which speaks for them.

    Why can’t this party be doing that? What is wrong with it? Why do these recent announcements by Nick Clegg and John Sharkey seem so uninspiring and so failing to capture the real opportunities we could have?

  • Mark, it’s all about listening to and DEALING with these points, from obviously intelligent rational party members. These expensive PR ‘tours’ of the UK, and hiring of supposedly PR savvy party supporters seem pretty pointless otherwise.

    Lots of money spent…not a lot to show for it.

  • Libdem Guru 11th Aug '09 - 9:33pm

    As paid up party members; who fund these activities, maybe we should know exactly how much is being spent in all avenues.

    Transparency is key don’t you think?

  • Dave McCullough 12th Aug '09 - 10:39am

    Does anyone know why or how Ed Davey, as the Chair of the CCC, has fallen by the wayside in this shake up? it seems a shame as he is a top class operator

  • Well Mark; can you give us the exact cost of the last PR tour by Nick, which was filmed (by a large tv crew) and also us; how many extra voters we got from it. Then we can tell you what the point is.

    Can you also advise how much money per year is spent on pr/marketing consultants/managers at present?

    Can you also advise how much money is spent on marketing communications?

    I have evidence but I think in terms of transparency (and it is our money and our party) we should all be given these figures without too much fuss.

    Thanks in advance Mark

  • Yes…and to be honest this is another case of political non-transparency. A lot of money is being wasted on bad PR.

    We are over £500, 000 in debt and we don’t know at all what the full cost of the wastage is.

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