So, you want to be Party President?

It is easy to forget that, for many of our Party members, Sal Brinton is the only Party President they have ever known. In that sense, they’ve been pretty fortunate, because (at least in my view) she’s been a good one. But all good things come to an end eventually, and Sal is now in her last year before term limits kick in.

Now I’ve heard rumours of possible candidates for the succession, and whilst I wouldn’t want to name names just yet, perhaps it is time to start thinking about what members might want to look out for.

So, today I’ll start with the job itself. Article 19.1 of the Federal Constitution states;

The President shall be the principal public representative of the Party and shall chair the Federal Board.

That’s a bit vague, but the Party President traditionally leads the voluntary Party, representing it to the Leader as necessary, acting as a face for the Party outside Parliament and abroad. There is an element of rubber chicken to it, although I have to admit that, during two years as the Presidential Consort, the food was actually pretty good. The role is part cheerleader, part internal Party management.

There is little in terms of hard power, especially given how diffuse power is in the Party, but there is plenty of scope to influence, to chivvy, to guide, especially if you have patience, organisational skills and discipline.

So, that’s an outline of the job. And with the election due to take place in the Autumn, you might expect candidates to begin to emerge sooner rather than later. Spring Conference offers a good opportunity for anyone seeking to build a campaign team, and to build a profile, especially if they aren’t a prominent Parliamentarian or other senior figure.

In order to take part in the Presidential election, a candidate has to cross the nomination hurdle, two hundred members from at least twenty Local Parties (which includes the Young Liberals). That’s not necessarily as easy as you might think, and it does serve to grant anyone getting over it a degree of credibility.

And, once you’re in, you need a campaign strategy and a campaign team to deliver it. The former, naturally, depends on the political situation, and might lead a candidate to focus on internal party dynamics, or on the public-facing element accordingly. As for the latter, having, or building, a network of potential supporters and activists can make a significant difference given that not all members will use their ballot paper – turnouts haven’t nudged beyond the 50% mark since 1988, and have more recently come in at about 40%.

The 2008 “I’m4Ros” campaign is acknowledged to have been one of the most effective Presidential campaigns in the relatively short history of the Party, enabling a relatively unknown Peer – Ros Scott – to beat a high profile MP – Lembit Öpik, but it is easily forgotten that her campaign was well underway by this point in the electoral cycle, and that many of the tools she used to win were already up and running by the time of the Spring Conference that year.

So, what skills might an incoming Party President need, and what challenges might they face over a three-year term? I’ll look at that later in the week…

Mark Valladares is married to a former Party President (Baroness Ros Scott) and has a worryingly keen interest in the Party’s Constitution.

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22 Comments

  • Oliver Craven 11th Feb '19 - 3:20pm

    As it’s an unpaid role with a significant amount of travelling and only a modest amount of expenses, it seems the most important skill is to have deep pockets.

    For a supposedly inclusive party, it’s a big failing when we could have someone from outside the political norm if we decided to pay the role properly for how much work they do.

  • Tahir Maher Tahir Maher 11th Feb '19 - 4:04pm

    Glad Ros beat Lembit!!

    I remember Ros coming to a Wokingham fund raiser, I arranged. The interesting thing I noted was how everyone was saying that they were Ros’s friend and not that they knew her (as one says when senior party members come). I don’t really remember her campaign but I do remember she was very popular with the members.

  • Nonconformistradical 11th Feb '19 - 4:06pm

    @Oliver Craven

    “For a supposedly inclusive party, it’s a big failing when we could have someone from outside the political norm if we decided to pay the role properly for how much work they do.”

    1. What do you mean by “outside the political norm”?

    2. How are you going to fund a ‘properly paid role’?

  • Richard Flowers 11th Feb '19 - 4:32pm

    1. What do you mean by “outside the political norm”?

    Would “not a member/former member of one or other Houses of Parliament” suit as a definition?

    2. How are you going to fund a ‘properly paid role’?

    Well, that is the question. But if the Party is serious about opening up the position to people who are not either independently wealthy or on a Parliamentary stipend, then that is one we do urgently need to consider.

    “On one shall be enslaved by poverty” (but you cannot be Party President if you don’t have a private income) is *not* what it says in the preamble.

    (And I say that conscious of the fact we have recently had to make painful contractions in the paid staff at HQ, so it’s not like we are brimming with money to pay to a President.)

  • James Baillie 11th Feb '19 - 4:40pm

    I agree entirely with the above comments re funding the post of President – the party should be funding the role properly and not leaving it to the lucky few to squabble over. Maybe if we spent more money on ensuring we had our own decently paid human resources rather than on, to pick a random example, pricey consultation work over constitutional changes, we might be in a better position all round.

  • David Warren 11th Feb '19 - 5:15pm

    Maybe it’s time for someone of limited financial means to stand for the post of President.

    If they were to get elected it would be very interesting.

  • Jennie Rigg 11th Feb '19 - 5:33pm

    The problem with that is, David, that a person of limited means who did the first amount of research into the role would conclude that you have to have much less limited means to do it and not stand.

    Fully agreed with James about spending priorities for the limited means of the party

  • Jack Davies 11th Feb '19 - 5:58pm

    It’s sadly rigged against poorer members. It will be a contest between an ex-mp and a peer (as per usual).

  • David Becket 11th Feb '19 - 7:07pm

    We need a young dynamic president who can help take the message out to the public.
    We have 100,000 members. If 25% of them committed £2 per year that would give £50K to fund a presidents office. I would be happy to subscribe to a Presidents Fund.

  • David Warren 11th Feb '19 - 7:25pm

    @DavidBeckett

    What is your definition of young and dynamic?

  • Tahir Maher Tahir Maher 11th Feb '19 - 9:47pm

    @David – I fear an email coming your way

  • David Becket 11th Feb '19 - 10:09pm

    @ David Warren
    We need somebody with energy who inspires and with a solid grounding in Liberalism. Somebody with experience of both life and politics, which suggests an age of 40 to 50. The party has produced such leaders in the past, and there must be some within our ranks. The issue of financial means represents a challenge, which is why I propose a Presidents Fund.

  • Matt (Bristol) 12th Feb '19 - 11:59am

    David Beckett, were any of the previous incumbents significantly older than ’40 to 50′ at point of appointment?

    Your two posts in combination radically redefine ‘young and dynamic’ away from what a common reading of that phrase might mean. (Help, I’m coming all over all Princess Bride).

    You seem to be using it to mean ‘middle aged and knows all the ropes around the existing institutions of the party’.

  • David Becket 12th Feb '19 - 1:05pm

    I do not intend to continue this post. It is pretty obvious what this party in terms of inspiration and leadership, and the position of President provides that opportunity. It is likely that the suitable candidate will have councillor experience, which partly dictates the age, but we need to move to a younger leadership than we currently have.
    I note some are prepared to pull my case to pieces, I trust money will be put where mouth is and my Presidents Fund idea supported.

  • Matt (Bristol) 12th Feb '19 - 4:22pm

    David Becket, I was genuinely unsure what you meant, which is why I was asking.

    I don’t necessarily disagree with your prescription, and the Presidents’ Fund is a fundamentally good idea.

    But I think what you really meant was ‘younger than Vince’, rather than ‘young’ in the objective sense. But what if we get a president who is under 50 (or even, horrors, under 40) and then shortly after the leader is, say, Jo Swinson or Layla Moran — then we will get people saying there isn’t enough experience in the leadership, and ‘dynamic’ will be re-mis-constructed as ‘reckless’.

    The eternal dance about how the president and leader play off each other and work as a pairing makes sense, but would only really make sense if we had a formally elected National Deputy Leader (or Deputy Leaders) elected, say, 2months after the Leader, and each new Leaders’ election triggered a new Deputy Leaders’ election.

    And the argument that we had younger leaders in the past so we should be able to find them again, only makes sense if the recruitment to the party were continuous progression.

    Given the that most of the last few Presidents with the sole exception Tim Farron were much of the same age, this doesn’t seem to be happening, and in any case would be against the demographic trend for the country as a whole.

    There are just more babyboomers than the rest of us.

  • David Warren 12th Feb '19 - 5:19pm

    @DavidBeckett

    Thanks for clarifying, I think your idea for a Presidents fund is an excellent one.

  • Martin Land 12th Feb '19 - 9:25pm

    It would seem that the forthcoming Spring Conference has plenty of time for navel gazing – like the absurd supporters scheme. Couldn’t time be found to get rid of the term limits and then ask the excellent Sal to carry on – if she was mad enough to agree. Post March 29th our time should be devoted to May’s local elections and then to a leadership contest. We will soon be entering a new era in British politics. A new leader and an experienced President would be an ideal combination.

  • Neil Sandison 15th Feb '19 - 11:41pm

    A president fund is sensible possible along the line of a district or county Mayor to cover the cost of duties ,transport ,clothing allowance ,conference attendance .Start modestly to attract a wider range of candidates and then review towards end of term of office to see if funding reasonable ad proportionate for role.
    The review should be as independent as possible to ensure open and transparent recompense .

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