So, what might we be looking for in a Party President?

I rather allowed myself to be distracted last week, but I did promise to offer some thoughts on what skills an incoming President might need.

I’ll start with something rather dull, but critical. The ability to manage meetings is imperative. As President, you’ll be chairing Federal Board, a body which can be fractious at the best of times, and moulding it into an effective decision making entity is critical. You can’t just turn up and go, you need to determine potential flashpoints, decide how you might deal with disagreements.

That in turn will require good communication skills and a sense of empathy. Why is that person being difficult, can you address their issues? Can you build coalitions within Federal Board to deliver your agenda? You also get a speech at Federal Conference. Can you inspire, persuade, influence? Can you read the mood of Conference?

An understanding of the Party’s Constitution is an imperative. There is a tendency amongst Leaders to bypass the Constitution, or at least undermine it. Taking public stances on disciplinary issues, trying to bounce the membership on strategic or policy matters, these are all problems for the President, whose job is to be the public face of the Party and to manage it. The President is required to ensure that the rights and interests of members are upheld, and if they don’t actually appreciate that there’s a problem, they can’t respond effectively.

Time management is critical, especially if you want someone without independent means, or who has a job outside politics. There are more meetings than you could ever believe, an expectation that you will attend State and Regional Conferences, international events, events held by key groups (ALDC, LDCRE, Young Liberals), and be part of the Local and General Election campaigns.

Having spent two years following a Party President around, I can confidently suggest that resilience is crucial. There is a lot of travel, and the President is expected, reasonably or otherwise, to be able to get straight off a train, or out of a car, and perform. The travel is tiring, it separates you (probably) from your loved ones, and you probably have some sort of day job which you are expected to perform to a reasonable level. You are on call virtually all of the time, as issues can blow up overnight, or emerge from out of left field.

And, finally, the ability to shut out the white noise on social media. That shouldn’t disregard the window that social media offers into the minds and thoughts of ordinary members and activists but, as President, you need to respond to events and not react. You may, in some instances, not be able to give a public commentary on events, despite outrage from the less well-informed. And, in the current climate, you will receive a lot of abuse from political opponents and, occasionally, your own side. It can very easily get you down, if you let it.

Now I’m not saying that if you don’t have these skills, you shouldn’t run for the office. You can, and will, learn some of these skills as you go along, and they may prove to be more, or less, critical, depending on what else happens. But I suspect that they offer a decent starting point when attempting to demonstrate why you should be chosen by members.

But what do you think, knowing that many of the likely candidates may be reading this?…

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This entry was posted in Party policy and internal matters and Party Presidency.
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7 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 25th Feb '19 - 9:32am

    Charles Kennedy was encouraged to stand for President, despite being an MP, to provide an SDP influence to balance an allegedly Liberal leader (Paddy Ashdown). Such balance is no longer necessary, but, in any case Vince Cable’s background is Labour and SDP.
    Sal Brinton came to Maidstone to run a canvassing team. I had the honour of preventing her tyres picking up mess where a dog had been.

  • Duncan Greenland 25th Feb '19 - 11:13am

    An excellent summary of the skills and competencies required – written by one who knows at first hand the demands of the role !
    But seems to assume that the post would continue to be unpaid ?
    It surely cannot be right for the Liberal Democratic Party to restrict the pool of candidates to the few who either have independent means or have another already paid role in politics that can somehow be combined.
    Views may differ as to how far the Presidency should be a full time job,but surely a minimum of two if not three days a week to do it justice ? Should the party not be paying the President a salary – perhaps based on a pro-rata of the salary for a Member of Parliament ? ( And if that logic is accepted for the President,surely the same should apply for any future Party Leader who is not already an MP ? )

  • David Warren 25th Feb '19 - 11:46am

    @DuncanGreenland

    Yes the party president should be paid a salary. The current position where it is basically a voluntary position effectively rules out lots of members.

    I have no ambition to be an MP but the role of president appeals to me. I wouldn’t consider standing because I can’t afford to do what is basically a job that doesn’t pay anything.

  • Diane Reddell 26th Feb '19 - 10:51am

    I am quite surprised to read that the party president role was a voluntary position as it a significant role for the party. I think it would be an interesting role and it would be a position I would be interested in instead of being an MP. It would good to job shadow to find out about the day to day role. Is the party president get selected in the same way the party leader is chose – where the membership votes for the candidate and the most votes win?

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