Some thoughts on the art of the apology

It is undoubtedly a good thing that Richard Brett, the Chair of the English Candidates Committee has sent out an apology to candidates for the very poor tone of the email they received on Monday. But did it pass muster?

Initial reports suggest that it is not being particularly well-received by candidates. You know how in an email you have to hook people in that first sentence? I’m not sure that this quite cuts it:

I am aware that the e-mail sent out on Monday upset some of you with its tone and I am very sorry if this was the case for you.

It doesn’t exactly say “I’m sorry you were upset”, but it’s a bit stilted. Sometimes it’s best to just say something like: “We got this wrong, and we are very sorry. We will learn for the future.”

Commendably, though, it explicitly stated what we knew already that the wording had absolutely nothing to do with the member of staff who sent it out, but had been agreed between Richard and his vice-chair Margaret Joachim. It’s good to see that personal acceptance of responsibility.

Having read the whole thing, though, it does make me worry that there is quite a disconnect between candidates and those who are in charge of matters relating to them in England in a way that I don’t think is the case in Scotland. I was Campaigns and Candidates Convener 10 years ago and I always tried my best to support candidates and make sure they knew they were appreciated as much as I could. That’s just the example I was set by my predecessor Neil Wallace and it’s been continued with my successors. I just get the feeling that this email does not do enough to recognise the efforts of those candidates who were drafted fairly late in the day to stand. Some of them had absolutely ruled themselves out for this election but stepped up when they needed to.

I think it’s always worth recognising, too, that some candidates who were not in target seats, to put it mildly, travelled great distances and put huge amounts of effort into the campaigns in target seats in the region where they were standing. They did this at their own expense. I can think of two such people who travelled hundreds of miles to do so. That’s why I’m not entirely happy with the way this paragraph has been written:

I am very much aware that we have all had a very stressful period working hard with sadly in most cases, extremely disappointing results.  I am hugely grateful to everyone who stood as a Liberal Democrat candidate whether it was in a seat we tried to win or in a late parachute where little was done.  Every candidate has our thanks and support.

It’s also worth saying that this email is two days too late. This should have come out on Tuesday. A lot of the damage could have been avoided if it had.

Finally, it doesn’t deal with the unachievable deadline issue. Candidates had been asked to nominate someone from their team to do their review by next Monday. Lots of people are on a well-earned break at the moment and didn’t need it to be interrupted.

I am reminded of something that happened almost exactly four years ago when internal party communications were nowhere near as good as they are now. Simon Hughes sent out an email talking about what a good month it had been for Liberal Democrats. That was within days of us losing 2/3 of our MSPs. I was far from impressed.  When he responded to the email I sent him, he was brilliant. So sincere that I forgave him immediately.

Tim Farron joked around the time that he had the “Caron Test” for emails so that they wouldn’t end up being pulled to bits on my blog. I looked at the principles behind the “Caron Test”. What made a good email? I reckoned on five key elements:

Remember that the reason you are writing the e-mail in the first place is because you are communicating with Liberal Democrats, therefore you have to frame what you say into terms Liberal Democrats will appreciate.

Every e-mail should be people-centred, party focused, passionate, principled and practical.

I guess another facet would never to try to put pigeon-hole people. From the candidates example, don’t make assumptions that if you were one type of candidate you put in any less or more effort than another. It might have been in a different context, but your feet will be just as sore, your body just as exhausted whether you were defending a seat or not.

Today’s email was progress but the longer term issue of the various disconnects in our party needs to be properly addressed. There is going to be a major review of the way that the party is governed. Maybe the principles of the Caron Test have their place within that process too.

 

 

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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13 Comments

  • Ruth Bright 21st May '15 - 4:36pm

    Yay put the “Caron Test” in the party constitution.

  • Why is the deadline wrong?
    If you have a well-run campaign, surely you should have all the information required for the review ready to go. If not, then this is just the sort of quality measurement that should focus minds for future campaigns

  • Gordon Lishman 21st May '15 - 5:07pm

    I was one of the candidates who was less than impressed and who said so at the time. Particularly as I’d just had a campaign in a hopeless seat, combined with doing hustings in neighbouring seats where candidates just weren’t available and daily radio-therapy. However, it has concentrated my mind on an interesting proposition – suppose we put members in charge of the process of deciding what sort of emails they received and how many? It’s based on some interesting US experience of charity engagement with supporters and donors. Watch this space.

    Another interesting result of my multi-hustings experience plus European elections hustings plus local knowledge is that I have now met and done events with all the 5 Labour candidates in urban East Lancashire. With one exception (Will Straw, son of Jack, in Rossendale & Darwen), they are all significantly weaker than the former Labour MPs in their constituencies and less likely to make any serious contribution to Parliament. Is this a general experience?

  • I personally wish to thank Richard Brett for all his hard work at a difficult time for our party he is a man of integrity, with compassion who has the right motives and is making a difference, I think now is a time to pull together and focus on regrouping to oppose the Conservative government and grow the party locally.

  • paul barker 21st May '15 - 6:16pm

    @cllr Becket. I think you are ignoring the fact that most of us backed the Leadership all the way through, we are just as much to blame, just as responsible, we all need to rethink.
    As to the lessons of our defeat, I think the Coalition is only half the story. Cameron framed the Election in England & Wales as one huge byelection, one that all the public polling agreed was on a knife-edge, we got hit by the classic 2 Party squeeze. If the polls hadnt been so wrong we might have done a lot better, even with the Coalition around our necks.

  • The thing I used to really hate was the ALDC slogan “Where we work, we win”.

    You must have imagined slogging your guts out. You lost and anyone who lost must have been just too lazy because if you did any work you would have won!

  • @ voter
    Are you serious? This isn’t just the candidate who has to respond by Monday. They have to rely on someone else too. Well done Carin fir highlighting this. My own view is that this is not just unacceptable but suicidal. Our candidates tend to be amongst the hardest working volunteers in the party. Typically they do all this for very very little chance of reward. We would do well to respect them. To those who approved this email I say shame on you. Personally I hope you resign because frankly the party would be better off without you.

  • Caron, can we not be too critical of Richard Brett, he is a good man, who is also a volunteer. He has spent the past few months working his backside to try and get candidates in every seat and then going up to Scotland to work on his brothers (sadly unsuccessful) campaign. A lot of people are very tired trying to keep the party going and some emails are not going to be perfectly worded. Lets face it we all know that internal deadlines are quite liberal deadlines in the Liberal Democrats!

  • I absolutely agree with Rob. We are all feeling very upset and angry but we have a choice. Do we engage in squabbles and fights within the party or do we use that anger to fight back against our political opponents and to rebuild the party. We have all made mistakes. It’s what makes us human . This has been hard for the parliamentary candidates, very hard indeed , but I would ask them to show true leadership qualities and not get enraged by the mistakes of others , instead try to look at them objectively so that lessons can be learnt without apportioning blame.
    I have been unable to participate in election campaigns for a very long time but I feel very upset at what has happened. We are all grieving and that explains a lot of mistakes, rudeness, anger and fear.

  • @Sue S. Yes we all make mistakes but those mistakes impacted on the most vulnerable. Those mistakes cost you dearly. In 2010 I and others were castigated and abused on here. We were appealing for help from LibDem activists to stop the attacks on the sick,disabled and vulnerable and treated appallingly. It was not only your government ministers that went along with the Welfare reforms and the scrounger rhetoric. We were accused of lying when we said we had voted for you in 2010. I amongst others warned you of what would happen in 2015. We were sneered at and derided. Why do you think we did not vote for you again? I am still waiting for an apology. Caron, why not go back five years on the posts? No doubt you will moderate this but it is time you faced the truth of what exactly happened to people just asking for help. Not likely though as truth hurts and perhaps your view on those that allowed the attacks may change unless you of course agree with how we were treated. What was wrong in us asking for help? You wonder we became angry? I could be wallowing in your misery but because of your actions in the coalition you paved the way to your destruction and a Tory government. However would you not have acted the same again? It is only because of your losses that you are trying to convince people you have changed. I for one do not believe that from my experiences with those that have suddenly changed tack.

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