November Report from the President

I should start with a word of thanks – in fact, many words of thanks – to Kirsty Williams. She has announced that she will be standing down at the Welsh Senedd elections next May. As such a successful education minister in Wales, she is a daily demonstration of the difference that Liberal Democrats in power make. A consistently powerful voice for liberalism through all her many years of service, she has made such a big difference to so many lives. Thank you, Kirsty.

We need to get many more people like Kirsty elected in future. As the Thornhill Review into the lessons of 2019 showed, we’ve got a huge task to change our approach, our organisation and our internal culture in order to achieve the sort of success that we all want, and which our communities so need.

There is a sobering reminder of the scale of the change, and how we can all contribute to it, in the recent research from More in Common which showed that overall the public feels least warm to us, behind both Labour and the Conservatives.

There is a big task ahead of us. It’s one we can all contribute to, from the impression even an individual Twitter account can give of what Lib Dems are like through to what we do in our national messaging. It’s also a task we’ll only succeed in if we make the best use of talents and enthusiasm from all parts of our party.

Part of that is about continuing the changes at Lib Dem HQ in order to ensure we have the very best team and infrastructure to support people across the party. I talked last time about how we’ve now got a new senior team in place, with Duncan Gough starting as Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Even before he started, the team has managed to make hundreds of thousands of extra email addressesavailable to local parties, and there’s much more to come.

You can also see some of the changing approach to our national messaging in our recent party political broadcast (PPB), which several members took time to tell me was the best they can remember. (Whether it is a PPB or anything else good that you see, please do drop me a line. It is always good to be able to pass positive feedback on to staff who are working very hard on limited budgets.)

The toughest element of what we need to get right is the party’s finances. Coronavirus and the resulting economic disruption have both hit fundraising across the board. Many non-profits and charities have reported big hits to their fundraising this year, and we’re not immune to those challenges either.

The 2021 budget plans the Federal Board agreed at our October meeting did therefore involve difficult decisions. Our longer-term financial plan is to run down the surplus we had after the 2019 general election through this Parliament, allowing us to maximise our chances of political success in the crucial elections through this cycle and to gain the political momentum we then need going into the next Westminster general election. (For financial planning, it makes sense to think of the Westminster general election cycle, as this is the one that has the biggest impact on the party’s overall finances.)

We also have a tricky balancing act between spending on immediate success versus investing for the longer-term, such as in improving our use of technology and data and improving our record on diversity.

The CTO appointment is an important part of that. In addition, our Director team at HQ is now far more diverse than it was, on a range of different measures. That will mean we make decisions with a wider set of perspectives. We are also in the final stages of appointing a specialist to develop the practical, specific plan on diversity that we need.

When final touches are made to the budget, it will also include money for market research, so that we can apply another lesson from the Thornhill Review. That is, to always take into account what voters think. Even Liberal Democrat voters often have different perspectives and priorities from those most active in our party. To be successful at winning support, we need to start from understanding the people we are trying to appeal to.

The Board meeting also looked at the latest round of progress on improving our governance processes. We agreed to put to party conference ways to make it easier to improve our complaints process. We are also going to consult over whether to make the post of party Vice President, held currently by Isabelle Parasram, directly elected by party members. Currently, it is elected by Board members only. That could both improve the accountability to members of an important post as well as giving it greater status in the party.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have views on this, or indeed any of the other issues covered in this piece.

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

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in News and Op-eds.


  • It’s good to see the thorough way the organisation of HQ is being reviewed and modernised. So far I don’t see much evidence that the Party is dealing with these two extracts from the Thornhill Review:

    Page 4:` Our governance structures are a mess and don’t do what they are supposed to! Our legitimate desire to be democratic at all levels sometimes has unintended consequences and masquerades as ‘democracy’, when in reality accountability is unclear and decision-making obscure.

    And this recommendation:

    Page 24:
    • Review ongoing governance of all areas of the party; local, national and regional parties, The Parliamentary Party, HQ Operations, The Federal Party, including the Federal Board, and all connected organisations and committees – and incorporate into the strategic direction.

  • George Potter 12th Nov '20 - 11:10am

    It’s all very well to talk about shiny HQ reform but that really doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the problem.

    By all accounts the Welsh Lib Dems, organisationally, are pretty dysfunctional, with many local parties covering multiple constituencies and struggling to find enough active members for even the barest of bare bone executives. They’ve also suffered the loss of all non-council representation with the exception of Kirsty’s seat and it looks as though even that is at risk.

    The party in England is in much better condition but the English state party itself is still comprised on an archaic hodgepodge of indirectly elected decision makers, sprawling webs of committees, and multiple layers which often try to do parts of each others’ jobs.

    If we’re serious about winning elections we need to implement the Thornberry Review and reform our internal structures to make them open, accountable, straightforward and effective.

    Unfortunately, however, the federal party seems much more interested in kicking questions over the effectiveness of state parties into the long grass – perhaps because weak and dysfunctional state parties are easier to push around?

  • The problem with constant organisational reform is that it can make everyone seem very busy but not necessarily achieve anything. I remember the Bones Report which laboured mightily to reorganise the management structure of the Party. Then there was the year long constitutional review by Sal Brinton which did the same. Those two were so successful that the Thornhill Review in 2020 declared that our “Goverenance structures are a mess.”

    Likewise I have heard lots, over the last 10 years about buying in world class software from the USA and world class elections expertise from other countries. Much more has also been spent on opinion polling and market research than ever used to be. Now we are told that much more of the same is needed.

    Meanwhile Lib Dems in most of the UK face major elections in 6 months time (two years worth rolled into one) and need immediate practical help and expertise on the ground. Yet I am told that the recent Federal Board meeting had to fight off a proposal to defund ALDC – an organisation which over the 37 years I have been fighting elections has always been the most useful source of practical help and guidance in fighting and winning local elections.

  • George and John are right that not enough is being done to get the structures and governance right. Muddling along with a ramshackle organisation is not good enough. We must be great at what we do in order to win with scarce resources as the third party in a two-party system. And win we must. However, the Federal Party can’t change the State Parties. The State Parties can only be reformed from within – and if you don’t believe me, check out Article 2.10(c) of the Party’s Federal Constitution (on the party website) which says that any alteration to the relative powers of the Federal and State Parties has to be passed by the internal procedures of each State Party. We are very inefficient at present. But this has been recognised. When we have our strategic plan, with a united purpose, collaborative attitude and determination those members who comprise the sovereign bodies of the State Parties can reorganise our unwieldy structures to implement it.

  • David Craddock 13th Nov '20 - 3:36pm

    Agree with George and John. Organisation changes follow strategy development and I’m not sure what the party strategy is going forward? The danger with the current approach is that we have piecemeal changes that add further to the complexity. A radical party should not be afraid of making radical changes to improve its performance in future.

  • What we need I believe is a strong individual with a strong idea of what should be done. They can then work out they need to do to get it through the various committees. We had that in Chris Rennard who obviously garnered a lot of respect for his campaigning nous because of his achievements. Committee structures are almost completely irrelevant. As an example a local party executive may spend all night discussing whether Entry should be 50p or £1 but a good campaigner will quietly get on with producing Focus leaflets.

    The Tories had it in Lynton Crosby. And he was listened to like Chris. The Tories now have the key protege of Crosby as their campaigns chief.

    We of course need to deliver a few million leaflets in each key seat but you also need to put together a “proposition” that people will “buy” when they “spend” their vote in the ballot box.

  • Gwyn Williams 15th Nov '20 - 11:21am

    The More United report refers to the Liberal Democrats as being associated more strongly with elitism than the Conservatives or Labour. How has a Party obsessed with fairness and equality found itself in such a predicament. When future historians come to write about the Liberal Democrats decade long malaise, will they ascribe the Party’s decline to
    a) the Coalition
    b) the Revoke policy
    c) Member X’s Twitter account.
    We do not have a “Capability Brown” able to dramatically change the political landscape, nor even an Alan Titchmarsh and his Ground Force team. Reading the President’s report we do have a gardener diligently weeding the hardy perennials, bemoaning the failure of the Welsh leek crop and looking forward to a better harvest next year.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Alex Macfie
    @Adam: I rarely read BtL comments in newspaper articles as they tend not to be representative of public opinion. All I can say is that such opinions as you have...
  • Adam
    "Given the avalanche of unending and captious criticism of the EU from the pro-Brexiteer nationalist establishment prior to Brexit, it’s scarcely surprising t...
  • David Allen
    Peter Martin, "In practice, we seldom, if ever, see any criticism of the EU from its supporters." Yeah, yeah, yeah. When the Tories make a political broa...
  • Chris Moore
    Given the avalanche of unending and captious criticism of the EU from the pro-Brexiteer nationalist establishment prior to Brexit, it's scarcely surprising that...
  • Peter Martin
    "Being in favour of the EU does not mean uncritical support for everything that every EU institution does." In theory, yes. In practice, we seldom...