+++Nick Harvey appointed Lib Dem chief exec

The Liberal Democrats have appointed former defence minister Sir Nick Harvey as the party’s chief executive. Nick, who served as MP for North Devon for almost a quarter of a century, was appointed at the end of a competitive recruitment process having served as acting chief executive for three months. Party staff sat on the appointments panel.

Nick Harvey said:

I am delighted to have been given the job on a permanent basis, and for this vote of confidence by the party. Having served in government as a Liberal Democrat and in parliament when we had many more MPs than we do currently, I am determined to help drive the party back where it belongs, in the centre of British politics.

With Vince Cable an unrivalled authority on the economy and the other two parties growing ever more extreme, the Liberal Democrats have an excellent chance to make more of the political weather.

Since arriving at party headquarters I have been impressed by the dedication and professionalism of staff. But we must also acknowledge that we have had two general elections that have not produced as many MPs as we would like, and we now have to grow and strengthen the organisation to become a formidable fighting machine once more.

Party president Sal Brinton said:

There is much work to do but Nick inherits a party machine that is on the up with a record membership, good gains in local elections and a more diverse parliamentary party. Nick has an incredibly impressive CV and I am convinced he will take us to the next level.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said:

I worked with Nick Harvey in government and I know he will bring considerable authority to the role. Having someone of his sound judgement and drive building up the party’s campaigning strength will free me up to take the political fight to our opponents.

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  • Geoffrey Payne 28th Nov '17 - 12:34pm

    Although I do not have any direct experience, I have heard good things about his performance since he was appointed to this position on an interim basis. So this is good news.

  • Sue Sutherland 28th Nov '17 - 1:28pm

    This is good news but over on the Newbies discussion, there has been some talk about the national party being less helpful than good local parties. I think we should be asking members what they need from the national party now we have a new chief exec so that we can get new members, especially, more engaged.

  • Further to Sue Sutherland’s comments, I know that Nick is very keen to improve the relationship between HQ and local parties. Improving the relationship is not synonymous with improved or greater communication although that is part of it. We are all one party (“national” and “local”) and it seems to me that a strong “national” party should mean stronger “local” parties and vice-versa. I cannot be the only local party officer to experience a culture of us (local parties) versus “them up there”.

    Having said that, I do feel that there has been a sense (which may or may not be true) that HQ has only been really interested in electorally more successful local parties and that the rest of us are there to make up the numbers.

    To borrow a phrase, “we are all in this together”.

  • David Becket 28th Nov '17 - 5:01pm

    Well said Elizabeth Patterson, we could even put the information in our Focus and on our Web Sites in order to get the message over.
    Are you listening Nick?


  • What’s happened to AdLib ? But congrats to Nick.

  • Elizabeth Patterson and Tim Hill. And of course there used to be Liberal Democrat News.

  • OnceALibDem 29th Nov '17 - 8:47am

    “I would like to get a weekly press release type communication telling me what our MPs and Lords have been doing plus comments on events by our leaders where appropriate.”

    Back in the day there was IIRC a weekly email update from the Lords and Nick used to do a regular (monthly???) members email.

    Turning that into campaign material isn’t just a case of repasting into focus articles though. Again back in the day ALDC used to produce that sort of thing. So maybe time to reinvent the wheel.

    He did write a fairly thorough critique of the 2010 campaign. But less positively, Nick was meant to be the point person between local campaigns and ‘the wheelhouse’ but his role largely seemed to be representing the views of the centre to ground teams rather than the other way round.

  • By elections this week: Forecast: Maidstone N Lib Dem gain, (won it in 2016), Gosport, Labour hold, Tandridge Lib Dem hold or Tory gain, depends on UKIP vote, Torrington, Green gain from UKIP, (Greens hold one of the 3 seats already and have Town Councillors), very difficult for Lib Dems.

  • Stephen Booth 29th Nov '17 - 11:22am

    I am concerned to read that Elizabeth Patterson doesn’t receive anything from HQ. Admittedly I was an agent at the recent general election, but I continue to receive several emails daily from the press officers on comments made by our MPs in parliament and outside in addition to LDV, Mark Pack’s Liberal Democrat Newswire and ALDC (even though I’m not a member!).

    I certainly welcome the appointment of Sir Nick Harvey as CEO. He will have a busy in-tray with demands and views across the party. But for sure he needs to strike a new balance between HQ and ALDC. In recent years the latter has been very good at inspiring new members to become councillors and to lead campaign teams. Alas it hasn’t been reflected in electing MPs. People like to vote for us in local elections because we have a strong track record of response to local issues; but it hasn’t been reflected in national elections including the AV referendum. I was unimpressed with the ALDC material circulated to local parties/agents/candidates during the 2017 general election but even more unimpressed with the national party response with its over emphasis on targeting key seats thereby depleting the number of activists in surrounding areas which resulted in so many lost deposits.

    We are nothing if we can’t fight seriously on a broad front at national elections; and that includes maximising the gross Lib Dem vote thus strengthening the drive for electoral reform. I am in politics to get change across Britain; not to get Mrs Muggins fence fixed by the council. Only by improving education and properly funding local councils can Mrs Muggins gain the know-how to get the council to fix her own fence!

  • Richard Underhill 29th Nov '17 - 12:37pm

    When we win a bye-election, most recently Richmond Park, it would be nice to hold it at the next opportunity. Former MP Clement Freud did an analysis of previous results and found a method. This is not a new problem. We hold Eastbourne again, thanks mainly to a very active local MP and local party, but we do not hold Ribble Valley or Kincardine and Deeside. It is excellent that we again hold Bath and long may it continue, again.

  • Sue Sutherland 29th Nov '17 - 2:38pm

    I think one of the problems the party has, especially at the moment, is the process of making policy which grinds on looking at the evidence and takes a long time to produce a report which then goes to conference. I am totally unclear as to how all those individual policies are then used to create an overall view of what the Lib Dem’s want to do.
    At the moment we seem to be in limbo because during Coalition we followed economic policies that produced the kind of society that most of us don’t want to create. We want a Lib Dem vision of how society needs to change but we are still following the same procedures to create detailed policies.
    How about reversing this process by putting a Lib Dem vision to members and then using it to steer our policy development groups? It would also provide our MPs and our leaders with a touch stone to help them react to urgent situations. It would also help local politicians too.
    We need to present a coherent simple vision that is easily understood and can be promoted by local parties otherwise, at the moment, it will be very difficult for us to make headway nationally which is what many of us care about.
    There are various groups in the party who have done work on creating this vision but I’m not sure if this has been adopted officially or not. It could be used by our leaders to come up with a vision that can be put to all members. We need to be radical.
    PS I think Vince and our MPs are doing a great job in very very difficult circumstances.

  • paul holmes 29th Nov '17 - 3:49pm

    @Stephen Booth. We didn’t lose a jaw dropping 375 deposits in June because a few activists went from those seats (did people go from all 375 to help elsewhere?) to help in a Target Seat. We did so badly because we saw the almost overnight destruction of 50 years of hard work in the various elections of 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Recovery from that was always going to be a long slow process although the Party’s internal obsessions of 2015-2016 and its poor campaigning of 2016-2017 only made matters worse.

    How many activists went from each of those 375 Constituencies to help in a Target Seat? Did they go every day throughout the election period -or more usually for a day at a weekend? If the latter, that still left 6 days/evenings a week to campaign in their own constituency. In most of those 375 Constituencies the efforts of a small number of activists would in any case make little difference to the overall result -just as delivering one leaflet to all 40,000 or so houses makes no discernible difference to election results.

    Between 1974-2010 we averaged 20% of the national vote across 10 General Elections -that is why we used to lose so few deposits and the famous Glee Club song had become an exercise in nostalgia. Only though from 1997 – 2010 did a Target Seat Strategy see us turn that average 20% of the vote into 50-60 MP’s (8-9% of the total in Parliament). For now however we are back to the ‘normality’ of 1922-1970’s. Even the 20 or so MP’s of 1983/1987/1992 is currently beyond us. I’m certainly not defending the Campaigns of 2015 and 2017 but the fact that a few (too few) activists went to help in Target Seats is not the reason we did so appallingly badly in 2015/17.

  • John Barrett 29th Nov '17 - 5:05pm

    Well said Paul.

    Amongst the many factors that resulted in the party’s decline, one major one was not being on the same wave-length as many of those we were trying to communicate with. This problem was compounded after 2010, when many more lost all trust in us, so that even when we did speak about what people cared about, they did not believe what we were saying.

    Unless we regain that trust, probably through years of dedicated local campaigning, and develop better communication with the ordinary voter on issues they really care about and improve our campaign techniques we will have an even longer haul back to more than 50 MPs.

    It appears to me, and I suspect many others, that the party is not only obsessed by Brexit, but that constant prophesies of post Brexit disaster from party spokesmen and women may appeal to some supporters but will not widen our general appeal.

    We need to, continue with year round local campaigning, widen our appeal as an anti-establishment force, develop policies that relate to young and old and develop campaigning techniques fit for the future. Leaflets are fine, but much much more needs to be done if we are not to be left behind permanently.

  • adrian sanders 29th Nov '17 - 5:35pm

    Well said Paul H and John B. I wrote in 2011 that the way we went into Coalition and how the Leader wanted us to ‘own it’ had probably done for us what the Winter of Discontent did for Labour and Black Wednesday did for the Tories – surpress our vote for two decades. We have to start all over again, as some are doing, rebuilding trust street by street, ward by ward, district by district until we can challenge in Parliamentary seats across a range of issues not just Brexit in remain areas. It’s about campaigning across all platforms on the issues that matter to people, communicating our values via those platforms and concentrating our resources where they are best deployed to win and develope prospects for the future. We need to rekindle belief in our values and enjoy what we do. Love, laughter and liberty – that’s how we grew and how we can grow again.

  • Katharine Pindar 30th Nov '17 - 1:18am

    @ Sue Sutherland. Hi, Sue, I think some of your requests for integrated policies and vision are being met. A small team before the General Election swiftly and efficiently put together from policies passed by Conference a very creditable Manifesto. I have also two little booklets, entitled respectively, Liberal Democrat Policy, and, The Liberal Democrat Approach, available from HQ, copies of which we passed around at our latest local discussion meeting. I think the second one possibly covers the Vision you are looking for, though at some length.

    There was also an on-line consultation with members on the National Strategy. which is a responsibility of the Federal Board, but in addition to the on-line consultation and a discussion at Bournemouth, I believe it will be debated and agreed on at the next Conference.

    I have learnt about policy development from Facebook forums for members, and about impending working groups and how to apply to be in them. There seems a readiness on the part of Federal Policy Committee to be communicative, and to better develop interaction with regional parties which is not yet ideal. Do challenge them yourself if you do not feel sufficiently well-informed or involved.

    I’m not sure how the thinking of Your Liberal Britain fits into all this, but they are a stimulating ginger group.

  • John Barrett 30th Nov '17 - 9:03am

    Adrian – what you say is true, but it is not helped, in fact it is probably made worse, by the majority of party spokesmen and women being from the non-elected House of Lords.

    How can we ever hope to re-connect with the ordinary man or woman in the street on a large scale when the party leadership has for years appeared blind to the talent out in the country within the party and when many of those being put forward as representing the party have opted for the appointed House of Lords, rather than fighting elections to represent those same people.

    As someone who has no wish to be in either, I feel we have to look far more critically at our own party, if we are to find the reason so few people want to support us.

    We used to appeal to those who were anti-establishment. Now, for many, we are very much the party of the establishment, but out of Government and without any power to change much. Unless this changes, we shall remain on the fringes of British political life for decades to come.

  • This article and its comments shows the huge gap between the party establishment who want to believe things are just fine and the troops, who know what it is like to win and have to face up to the reality of loss.

    Sal, who is a very nice lady, but not one ever to shake up things up in the party, says things like “Nick inherits a party machine that is on the up” and mentions “good gains in local elections and a more diverse parliamentary party,” but always omits the fact that we have massively less staff now than we did in 2010 (because someone forgot that going into coalition would result in the loss of ‘short monies’) and that we have made so few gains in local elections over the last seven years simply due to the appalling performance of the national party.

    John Barrett, Paul Holmes and Adrian Sanders, (who have all been there, seen it, done it and can wear the badge with pride) fought to stop the party in its headlong rush under Nick towards near oblivion, but were ignored by those who thought that just being in government was sufficient and the future of the party could be left to take care of itself.

    The problem is that most of those who sat at the centre while the disaster happened are still there, pretending everything is just fine and protecting their self image, while their erstwhile friends, our coalition allies the Conservatives, those who Nick Clegg could find “nothing to argue with” until it was too late, took most of our seats and are now taking us to Brexit and beyond.

    Local triumphs are wonderful and are the only way forward, but as one of our MPs used to say “We can always win it locally. We just have to hope that the party machine doesn’t make a total mess of it nationally.”

    I wish Nick Harvey luck, but with so many senior figures still there with personal reputations to be protected, he will have a very difficult job to do to even start to make the party relevant again to most of the British people.

  • With the very greatest respect how are things electorally on the up? What world is HQ in?
    Might I suggest that some of us who built the party up over 40 – 50 years and saw it naievely destroyed by those we should look up to should be drafted into HQ. We would not want a salary but happy to serve, using all our know how and experience to bring first reality to the Lib Dem world and then introduce the right ideas and measures to start the forward process. There is your challenge Nick.

  • As usual, I very much agree with David Evans except for one small but important point – piling up local triumphs is not the only way forward. In fact, I don’t think it’s are a way forward at all.

    That’s because local and national are different categories in two important ways so the one doesn’t lead naturally to the other.

    Firstly, it’s possible to be very good at devising policy on street lights, potholes and the rest but know nothing about how to run the economy as a whole; they are simply different skill sets. And on economics Lib Dems are across the spectrum from hard-line neoliberal to socialist.

    Secondly, the approach to making policy is different. In my experience (others please chip in with yours), locally it’s made by councillors and candidates in conjunction with input from activists and always an ear clamped firmly to the ground – which is entirely appropriate and, as we have seen, works well. Nationally there is a byzantine bureaucracy that’s cumbersome, hidebound and dominated by process. Bizarrely, policy is not made by our elected MPs but by unaccountable committees. And, as we have repeatedly seen, this doesn’t work.

    On the first point I’m an optimist. I think almost all would respond well to an economic stance that was intellectually sound, spoke to liberal instincts and went to the heart of the challenges we face as opposed to partisanship dressed up in fancy language. The ghost of Keynes would expect no less!

    As David implies, the bureaucracy is likely to be a bigger challenge. After the 2010 GE two consultation papers were published, one on policy-making that was quite good and one on governance that was dire beyond belief and didn’t get to first base and all that’s happened since is some minor tidying of the deck-chairs. Given that political parties, by definition, aspire to governance, this is just not good enough.

    Of course, any largish organisation will have ‘dead zones’ – parts which, for whatever reason, don’t work effectively. Either the whole organisation underperforms (badly so, if the ‘dead zone’ is in a core function) or it finds a way around the blockage – which is what I suspect will have to happen here.

  • Katharine Pindar 1st Dec '17 - 12:39am

    Gordon, as a point of fact, policy is not made by ‘unaccountable committees’, but by Conference, guided by committees elected by the membership. I certainly don’t want policy made by MPs, in whose election I have no say. Didn’t we have enough of policy shaped by MPs in the Coalition?

  • Katharine – You raise important points.

    Conference rubber stamps policy made elsewhere. It may sometimes make minor amendments but very rarely rejects policy motions.

    As for MPs’ role (or rather lack of) in policy-making, the view you articulate is the party’s long-held approach but I think it’s mistaken on both theoretical and practical grounds and should be changed.

    Hands up anyone who thinks it would be a good idea to point out to voters ahead of a GE that, if successful, the Lib Dem candidate will have no direct role in making policy (although s/he may have some indirect influence) and that policy will be made by people who aren’t accountable to them, that they have never heard of and never voted for.

    AFAIK an MP’s lack of any formal role theoretically continues even if s/he becomes a Minister although in practice it can’t work like that so Lib Dem ministers in the Coalition had to operate ultra vires.

    The party’s internal affairs – finances, staffing etc. – can and should be managed by people selected in private party elections. However, the nation’s business should only be managed by those chosen in public elections – i.e. MPs.

    Also government is hard; junior MPs need practical experience of taking advice, melding conflicting views etc. plus, above all, they must develop political antennae. I think our MPs’ inexperience in such matters contributed greatly to the disaster of the Coalition.

    That disaster was compounded because, when things were obviously going very wrong, there was evidently no capacity for a course correction. In similar circumstances the Conservatives would have staged a constitutional coup just as when Thatcher was deposed and Major took over, jettisoned the people and policies that had become toxic (Thatcher & Poll Tax) and started over. It’s political evolution, survival of the fittest.

    In contrast, we have crafted a system that squeezes out genetic diversity and with it the possibility of evolution and that’s why we now face extinction.

  • Katharine Pindar 1st Dec '17 - 10:08pm

    “Conference rubber-stamps policy made elsewhere”, you write, Gordon. Where exactly do you think ‘elsewhere’ is? Policy is made when policy motions are submitted by the membership, some by members backed by other members, some from Federal Policy Committee made up of elected members, who will often produce motions worked out by working groups run by members. And where do you think our MPs come from? From constituency parties with active members, that’s where.

    Once elected they certainly have to consider the needs of their constituents and the good of the country as a whole as well as the views of the party beyond Parliament, this being the way our democracy works, but from the party they emerged, and the party through Conference and the elected committees will continue, I believe, to interact with the parliamentarians. Though the interaction was obviously more difficult to work out in the new circumstance of our share of Government in the Coalition, it seems to me that the principle you are espousing is not the principle of the party.

  • Katharine – The existing approach looks wonderful at first blush but, as proven over ~30 years, it simply doesn’t work; in all that time it hasn’t managed to evolve a strategic vision that resonates with most members let alone the public. In other words we haven’t even got to first base.

    It was, of course, the outcome of difficult negotiations at the Liberal-SDP merger. In fact, it’s clear that, for all their good intentions, they got it wrong. Fortunately, it isn’t Holy Writ and we shouldn’t regard it as such.

    While it is wonderfully democratic on the face of it that evaporates when you dig down a little. Most members of the key committees were elected on derisory votes (many only in the 200 – 300 range), most have a near invisible profile, a hugely disproportionate percentage live in London & the SE etc.

    What I propose is actually very close to the existing system but made more responsive and accountable.

    Firstly, the shadow cabinet should take over the role of the FB and decide which policy areas to prioritise. That immediately integrates politics with policy – something that doesn’t work well now.

    Secondly, we can do without the FPC. Spokespeople should chair the policy working parties in their area of responsibility ex officio. If formal working parties aren’t affordable then cheaper approaches will have to be found – for example if they are wise spokespeople will turn to members for ideas (radical I know but these are desperate times).

    Thirdly, spokespeople should be responsible for getting their policy proposals approved by Conference. They will have to justify their choice of priorities, argue the case for any specific policy proposals they suggest and, retrospectively, explain what they’ve done that departed from plan because of “events”. Conference might approve, refer back for further work or reject outright. We will soon discover who our stars performers are.

    Arranging things this way would make the system more joined up, more strategic, more responsive and less bureaucratic. It would also put a premium on spokespeople developing good political antennae, something that’s notably lacking at present. I believe it would also lead to far great involvement and buy-in from members.

    The iceberg lies dead ahead; it’s time to change course.

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Dec '17 - 4:57pm

    Such a system would be wholly unacceptable to me, Gordon, and I hope to the majority of members. Responsive to whom? Accountable to whom? You seem to be proposing a kind of oligarchy made up of whoever is fortunate enoughto be elected to Parliament at any one time – hard luck if they lose next time – and, presumably, some of the unelected House of Lords who have become, unfortunately, spokespeople for want of more MPs. This is preposterous! I don’t know how the so-called shadow cabinet is selected, I suppose the Leader appoints the spokespeople, but to hive off power from Conference and the elected Boards to this fortunate few ( an Oxford candidate elected, a Cambridge candidate unsuccessful, is one more worthy than the other to make policy for us?) would be the absolute negation of our democratic system. Try the Labour party or the Tories, they will be more approving! True enough that in any party there will probably be only the keenest voting for the committees, whether at local level or national, but personally I treasure the commitment of our party to OMOV and our true democracy. And, incidentally, don’t tell the northerners from west or east, or the Scots either,that they don’t have much say in our party’s councils!

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