Mark Pack’s September report to members

Many unexpected events, good and bad, have happened to our party during this Parliament. If you’d asked me in January 2020, I don’t think any of us would have expected that three and a half years on, I could write a report to members about how our first-in person autumn Federal Conference this Parliament was coming up and about our chance to secure, just after it, our fifth Parliamentary by-election gain from the Conservatives.

It’s been quite the journey since our last in-person autumn conference. That was also in Bournemouth but back in the very different political times of 2019. We’re on the third Conservative Prime Minister of that time and – at time of writing (!) – seven Secretaries of State for Education.

But most importantly for our party, we’ve made huge progress since then in rebuilding our organisation and starting a sustained, long-term recovery.

We’ve made net gains in every round of council elections this Parliament. Alongside our four new MPs, we’ve also won control of more councils – taking the number of Lib Dem majority authorities to a tally higher even than it was before we went into government in 2010. We have a new scheme to support the new generation of candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds and we have a much expanded network of staff supporting grassroots campaigners right across the country. New, and much better integrated, website and email tools are being rolled out and, after over thirty years of people saying the Federal Board and its predecessors was too large, we finally did something about it.

But there’s much more still to do, starting with the need to turn that run of four by-election gains into a run of five next month. Find out more on how to help Emma Holland-Lindsay and the Mid-Bedfordshire by-election campaign on her website.

Rebuilding trust in politics

One of the big challenges of this political generation is building trust between politicians and voters. It’s essential not just for democracy to work but also for politicians to be able to take the big decisions needed to match the big challenges of our time. Whether it is climate change, transport infrastructure or new housing – they all require a trust that the  costs and downsides of taking action now will be more than matched by the benefits to come.

Building that trust is not easy, and it starts with the small, local steps: asking the issues on people’s minds, discovering the ones that something can be done about and building trust by showing action. Our favourite thing to point at, potholes, matter in their own right. But they also matter as the classic example of how we can find a practical problem, get it sorted and win trust (and support) as a result.

It’s why doing an annual residents survey in wards or constituencies we seek to contest seriously is so important.

That’s why I’m returning to the topic this time after covering it last time too. Especially as we do far fewer of these surveys than we used to. After each general election, there’s a survey of election agents by Professor Justin Fisher and colleagues. In 2010 just under half (49%) reported that some effort, substantial effort or very substantial effort had been put into resident surveys in the year before the campaign started.

That was still only half. However things are worse now. For 2019 the figure was 33%, up a little on 2017’s 29% but still well down on 2010 – and despite 2019 being a year that saw a much bigger round of local elections.

The good news of course is that it shows how much opportunity there is for us to do better. We’re already on a roll of gains in five rounds of local elections in a row. Think how much more progress we can make if the campaigning superfood that is resident surveys became the norm rather than the exception.

Why not start with making sure they are part of your own local party’s plans for the next year?

Both ALDC and the Campaign Hub have example surveys and supporting material to help you get started with one locally.

Do let me know how you get on, if you’ve got any questions or if you have any feedback to share.

Federal Board business

There hasn’t been a Board meeting since my last report, so there’s less to report on this time around. However, there is the Board report session coming up at our Bournemouth conference, which is your formal chance to quiz us about what we’ve been up to. There will also be plenty of opportunities to grab a Board member in person, or come to our Board help desk, to ask other questions.

The reports booklet for conference also contains the report on our work since Spring conference and the measures we’re asking conference’s assent for, such as confirming a new member of the Federal Appeals Panel.

The Board submits each year to our autumn conference a motion on membership subscription levels and how membership monies are split between the Federal Party and State Parties. After some extensive budget negotiations, we’ve submitted an amendment to our motion to update it in line with the agreements that have been reached. Thank you to everyone involved for the hard work that has gone into this.

Our September and November Board meetings will (hopefully!) agree the Federal Party budget for 2024, with our first meeting agreeing the principles for the budget and then the second one the detailed figures. The September meeting will also be a chance to fix the party grants for next year. We’d been asked in previous years to do this earlier than November so that those in receipt of the grants have time to take these decisions into account for their own budget setting.

Including in other business, the September meeting will review some key elements of our general election preparation, and you can hear more about that work in the special general election briefing session at the Bournemouth conference.

Do you have questions on any of this report, or other Lib Dem matters? Then please drop me a line on [email protected]. Do also get in touch if you’d like to invite me to do a Zoom call with your local party or party body.

* Mark Pack is Party President and is the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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One Comment

  • Steve Trevethan 21st Sep '23 - 8:58pm

    Besides P. R., what are our headline/attention grabbing election/political targets?

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