Major restructuring in the Campaigns Department

Big changes are afoot in the Liberal Democrat Campaigns Department.

Firstly, the network of Campaigns Officers around the country, currently mostly funded by a mix of central and regional monies, is being moved over to a purely regionally-funded system. That will save the federal party money, but will also cede control over the network to regional (and Welsh/Scottish) parties. The previous joint funding arrangements often took up huge amounts of time to negotiate and also resulted in many tensions over what the people in post should be prioritising in their work (e.g. should a regional campaigns officer be sent to work on a Parliamentary by-election in another region?).

So although the regional (and Welsh/Scottish) parties are going to be stretched to keep the full network in place, they will have control over what the staff do and be able to shape the jobs to fit their own needs, e.g. mixing training, key seat support and regional media work as they wish.

My initial guesstimate is that although in theory the full number of regional campaigns staff could stay the same, in practice the number is likely to fall by at least two – and given the number of regions that have to decide what to do, even if the numbers stay much the same, there’s huge uncertainty for people in the meantime. There’s also the chance the numbers could fall significantly if more regions end up not funding posts.

Second, a new set of nine posts with particular specialist skills are being created centrally to complement the generalist regional campaigning posts. This partly replaces existing specialist posts and also will subsume some of those roles which are the moment mix providing some specialist services centrally with also providing some local campaigning supporting to different parts of the country.

Again, in theory the head count overall should end up much the same and given the extra specialist roles, but less central funding for regional campaigns officers, overall it also looks as if the costs will be not much changed. In other words, this isn’t a cost cutting exercise but instead a big restructuring.

It would make the Campaigns Department rather similar to the structure it had when I joined, albeit now on a much, much larger scale – regionally funded campaigns posts and centrally funded specialist skills (such as my post working on the internet and communications). Within the specialist central teams there is also likely to be rather more of a career structure and progression available than in the current much flatter structure.

But that’s for the future. For the moment there’s a lot of chatter about the process, it’s timing and how it is being handled.

Two final thoughts. First, along with the party’s decision to move out of Cowley Street and to look for a new database to support campaigning, this is the sort of big decision that if it is going to be made really needs to be done early in a Parliament. It’s good that all the other stresses and strains are not resulting in big decisions simply being put on ice, with the result that no big decisions get made at all for five years.

Second, whatever the pros and cons of the plan on paper, it involves a large amount of uncertainty for a group of hard-working under-paid staff who are exhausted after a gruelling round of elections. I hope they are treated with the consideration they very rightly deserve.

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21 Comments

  • There is a danger of Chinese Whispers competing with spin here but my understanding is that this is not 9 new posts (as Dave has read it) but 9 posts to replace the 20-odd posts that are currently funded fully or partly by the Campaigns Dept.

    I would be surprised if any of the English regions other than London can afford to fully fund a regional campaigns officer.

    So there is likely to be a very substantial reduction in the number of professional campaigns staff that the party employs (and, yes, a number of my friends will be out of a job).

    Will there be an official announcement? Will it explain the strategic thinking behind the new structure?

    Ed Maxfield
    (Campaigns Dept, 2002 – 2007)

  • Liberal Neil 13th May '11 - 12:00am

    From what I understand Ed is right. This is likely to lead to a reduction in the overall number of campaigns staff.

    As for Mark’s last point – if what I have heard today is true they’ve already failed on that front.

  • This is one of the worst decisions the Party has ever made, this can only lead to us losing more Councillors next year and losing MPs in 2015.

    Utterly bonkers!

  • CCMichaelLD 13th May '11 - 8:20am

    Whilst in the large part I disagree that centralisation is a step forwards, it is a proven stratagem that interns and volunteers, carefully managed by a minority of paid staff, produces defining results. Tap into any campaign office, for example, in the next US election.

    An active volunteer with a wholehearted agreement with the cause, is a more fervent and productive ally than any ten paid staffers. This is a chance for our regional parties, to re-engage with those voters who seem most hard done by the compromises of the past year, the students. Every University has a Lib Dem society, and as we have seen in London, they clearly wear their hearts on their sleeves. We as a party, if we are ever going to move forward from this embarrassing defeat, need to be making concessions to this group, more than any other. Underestimate their vitriol at your peril. At the moment, at least, we need them more than they need us, and as they clearly bolstered our ranks in may ’10 we have them to thank for the strength of the parliamentary party.

    The over-riding message that I have erred from, is re-engage with the Student Unions, we can do without less funding in politics, just as the country is surviving without it, we just need to be more creative in our approaches for progress.

  • I’m sure money comes into it somewhere. We don’t have any.
    I doubt the public has any idea how little money we operate on as a party. And I doubt the average party member has any idea how much is asked of our staff.
    I think a small pool of specialists is a good idea, so there is somewhere to go for expert support. I also think devolving campaigning is the only way to go – we have had a much too Westminster/London-centric view of campaigning for too long. We need to fit the type of campaign to the local circumstances – and the local resources.
    It will be tough for regions to support this, but I can’t see any other way forwards.

  • Liberal Neil 13th May '11 - 10:20am

    @Pete – It may well be the right direction, it may not be, I’ve not see any of the details or the reasoning behind the changes so I am not in a position to comment.

    But if it is not being done for urgent financial reasons, it could have been done following a reasonable period of consultation with the staff themselves and all the other interested parties.

    Decisions made centrally by a small number of senior people, without reference to the staff affected or the other parts of the organisation the decisions will impact on, is simply not the way our party should operate.

    Contrast this apporoach with the much more inclusive one taken in the run up to the decision to go for VAN.

  • Exactly what Neil said.

    I absolutely disagree that it is right that staff should be the first to hear of it when they were effectively handed their P45s. This should have followed a rigorous review of performance across the department (and beyond – there were others who were responsible for the general election campaign), consultation with stakeholders and the production of a strategic plan which should have been agreed by the relevant party bodies (presumably the FE).

    I have no problem with a reorganisation – results from May 2010 suggest that the campaigns department failed overall in its core mission of adding value in target parliamentary seats (with a number of individual exceptions).

    I have no problem with a shift to a skills based structure and away from a geographic structure – I argued for it myself when I was in the department.

    We are also a year away from even knowing parliamentary boundaries so it makes sense to spend less resources on target seats at this time (as long as we also continue to prevent enormous sums being wasted on parliamentary by-elections).

    I do have a problem if this is done in a half ars** way that suggests there was no strategic thinking behind it. Especially so if it is communicated to regions in a way that encourages them to look for cheaper ways of replicating the existing system (employing part time regional campaigns people or employing people on very low salaries) because that will make the problems worse both for staff and the party.

    And Pete, I appreciate that your comments are well meant and well argued but I cant help thinking that your perspective might be different if you were based in a small region in the north of England rather than in London.

  • I don’t disagree with the idea of having specialist staff in the Campaigns Department (although I imagine they’ll still be hugely stretched), but the big issue I do have is that it is instead of a regional campaigns department structure rather than as well as. I appreciate there is a lack of money to do both, but doing this so suddenly without giving anyone time to plan is ridiculous. I know the argument given is that regions will simply employ their own people directly, but given that the first they knew about it was this week and the contracts of the existing staff end in a month’s time there is no way that most regions (there are a few exceptions of course) can find the funding needed to employ the existing staff member in that timescale.

    My own region has been putting together a fundraising plan to employ an extra two members of staff and that was based on raising funds over the next few months. Now they face losing the one member of staff they have and having to raise extra funds to get them back to where they were to start with.

  • James Blanchard 13th May '11 - 3:40pm

    Are reports, from other parts of the web, that at least one member of staff found out about this through Facebook true?

  • Ed Maxfield 13th May '11 - 4:26pm

    Pete

    It is what normally functioning organisations do: review performance of the organisation after key milestones and involve stakeholders in the review of structures and objectives when you need to.

    That way you achieve buy-in from the people who remain working in the new structure (and from the stakeholders who pay the bills and deliver the strategy), you take in the largest possible amount of learning and, crucially, you avoid existing managers capturing the process for their own ends (by making sure their own jobs are protected for example).

    It’s right there in the first lecture on the ‘how to manage an organisation properly and make it work better’ course.

    I would not expect the whole party to be balloted on the structure of the campaigns department but I would expect an external facilitator to lead the review and for a broad range of stakeholders – including staff – to be consulted before any changes are published.

    Ed

  • Peter Chegwyn 13th May '11 - 4:32pm

    Interesting comments from Ed Maxfield in particular who I have a lot of respect for.

    On his last post about reviewing the performance of an organisation after key milestones, it will be interesting to see what reviews of the ALDC and its performance are also undertaken following the dismal local election results.

    I’ve always been an enthusiastic supporter of the ALDC and their ALC predecessor (especially when I used to work for them!) but I do wonder if the organisation has lost its way a bit and is now somewhat less effective in helping councillors defend seats and new candidates win them whatever the national political situation

  • @ Peter Chegwyn

    I rejoined ALDC (I was a member c.1980-2008) in the run-up to this year’s election and was rather disappointed by how far it seems to have moved from practical tips for winning campaigns to trumpeting the Recycling Strategy of LD-run East Somewhere UA.

  • Tony Greaves 13th May '11 - 11:22pm

    It is clear that if ALDC has lost its way the main reason is decisions made at Cowley Street level and the LGA which have downgraded ALDC into a body churning out fairly routine stuff in a fairly jaded way and no power to change that. (Discuss).

    I suppose we will judge these changes by who is sacked and who is kept and appointed and our views of their usefulness. But what are these ?nine “specialisms” we are to have at the centre? Wil any of the people appointed to them have the slightest idea about what political campaigning is all about? We will see.

    Tony Greaves

  • If decentralisation gets us away from pre-manufactured ‘local’ focus leaflets so much the better. Let’s let a thousand flowers (well, okay, nine) bloom and learn from the best practice that develops. Treating the staff members well during this must be paramount.

  • I would have thought other regions not just London could afford to keep some people however what impact this will have on other things would be a question. Also it doesn’t seem that much thought has been given to he that pays the piper. If regional oraganisers work for regions what stake could they expect in determining targets seats etc.

  • Kelly-Marie 30th May '11 - 4:45pm

    It should be observed as many local parties have lost their councillor funding, being reduced so significantly in the local elections, that this will have a knock on effect on regional funding and therefore the potential to fund the positions of campaigns officers.
    Sadly this means local parties cannot get the advice and support they desperately need to return to higher numbers of members, supporters and councillors.

    Also, if this is a proposed restructure, when was the period of consultation required legally for all redundancies?

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