Opinion: What should the new leader do in his first 100 days? #5

We now have a new leader, Nick Clegg. For the last couple of weeks, Lib Dem Voice has been inviting party members to tell us what you think should be his top priorities. Four have so far taken up the challenge: Paul Walter, Linda Jack, David Morton and Mary Reid. Today it’s Mark Valladares’ turn…

So far, the suggestions that have come forward have been focused on what Nick needs to do with regard to the wider world. Don’t think for one moment that this bureaucrat dissents from much of what has been said thus far, but it is only half of the story.

To win elections, you don’t just need a message, you need a machine. Unfortunately, whilst our campaigning machinery continues to work its miracles with little to work with but enthusiasm and the occasional Riso, the internal workings of the rest of the Party have left a lot to be desired.

My suggestions?

1. Set up a credible review group to examine the structure of the Party. Fill it with people who have experience of running and managing something else (anything else!). Put a heavy hitter in charge of it, someone who has respect across the Party. Most of the internal committees of the Party consist of people elected by other committees to represent that particular sectional interest. A broader view? That’s for the naïve or foolhardy. The interests of the Party? That’s fine, as long as X is protected.

2. Take some time to find out what really happens behind the scenes. Federal Executive isn’t the place to find out, so talk to a few Regional and Local Party Officers, perhaps the odd Returning Officer or assessor. Meet the leadership of one or two SAOs and see if you can work out where they fit in. You’ll make, and keep, some valuable friends along the way and gain some loyalty too. Paddy never gave the impression that he cared much, Charles certainly didn’t and, whilst Ming talked a good game, whenever he had to actually do something, he tended to blunder through a seemingly total lack of comprehension. He isn’t alone amongst the Parliamentary Party in the Commons, let me assure you.

3. Recognise that being an elected representative is not the early way in which the Party can be served. Social events, PPERA returns, member newsletters, they don’t just happen. Someone makes these things happen, and they aren’t always a councillor, nor do they want to be, they just want to help. By all means encourage and nurture a more diverse parliamentary Party, but if you really want to crack the diversity problem, you want more female and/or BME candidate assessors and Returning Officers, more female and/or BME local and regional party officers. Oh yes, and more female and/or BME conference delegates.

4. Encourage training and development. There is some great work being done by SAOs, and by Regional Parties, but we need to do more. Some Local Parties are chaotically structured, even some with MPs, and they are less effective for it.

5. Finally, good administration costs. If it is any consolation, bad administration costs more. Invest in things like Membership Services, and the rewards will reveal themselves soon enough in all sorts of ways. Resource work properly and you don’t need to firefight, a sure way to run into the sand and drain the enthusiasm of anyone who comes into contact with a ramshackle bureaucracy.

One thing, don’t try to do all of this yourself. It is enough that people know that you support it, although the occasion goodwill visit to your colonial administrators wouldn’t go amiss…

* Mark Valladares is the outgoing Secretary of London Liberal Democrats. Whilst he is currently a bureaucrat, those treating him claim that a full recovery is possible…

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  • 1. Put Michael Meadowcroft in charge! Who better to lead a review than someone we all know, a proven campaigner, who can still see things objectively from the outside?

  • Mark,

    You are absolutely right in every particular. A party that can’t run itself properly can hardly expect voters to trust it to run the country!

    Just one extra point: leaders rarely know when they have overstayed their welcome so there should be some mechanism that allows them to be clinically dumped by the Parliamentary party if and when that time comes. I was utterly appalled when Charles reportedly flirted with the idea of capitalising on his popularity in the wider party to go over the heads of the MPs who had lost confidence in his leadership and stand for re-election.

    Thankfully his good sense prevailed and he stood down but we can’t (and shouldn’t) rely on all future leaders to be so sensible. In a parliamentary system it is perfectly proper that the Party leader should at all times command the support of the majority of MPs and that the moment he/she ceases to do so he/she is out. The existing arrangements are basically presidential, but without the necessary checks and balances found in (for example) the American Constitution.

    Internal Party structures should be designed to make the party effective at winning and keeping power and so holding up our end of the political spectrum. At the moment they don’t.

  • Paul Elgood 21st Dec '07 - 5:22pm

    In presentation terms, I’d do a complete re-launch of the party – review the lot logo, colour, campaigning style etc.

    In policy terms, I’d develop far more radical policies and develop at least six USPs to give people something to vote for and which makes us distinctive – eg Chris against trident and Vince on Northern Rock.

  • Steve Comer 21st Dec '07 - 6:39pm

    Its all very well asking for ‘USPs’ but remember we have had them in the recent past. I turned a Labour majority of 36 in 2001 into a Liberal Democrat one of 592 in May 2005. So why was the general Election a help in ’05 and a hindrance in ’01?
    Well a lot of reasons, but mainly becuase to the public we had clearer policies in 2005. Four were particularly relevant in my part of east Bristol:
    1) Axe the Council Tax
    2) Scrap tuition fees
    3) Opposition to the war in Iraq
    4) A strong campaign against Post Office closures

    We need to anticipate which USPs we think will resonate in 2009/10, and hone these into messages which are easy to communicate.
    Localism? Green Taxes? Pupil premium? – all these and many others are contenders.

  • Definitely agree about Membership Services. Last year my membership expired and I didn’t even know about it. I’d totally forgotten the renewal and I was sent no reminders at all. Realised about two months afterwards…

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