The other things this FE election should make us worry about

This week has seen a lot of heated debate about the party’s governance and how well we’re implementing (or not) the recommendations from the Morrisey report. Personally, there are three other things about the election last week that should concern us, and that as a party we need to work together to address.

The first is our diversity problem. Or should we start calling it a tragedy? Our peer group is one of the more (if not the most) diverse official groupings within the party. Yet when it came to people putting themselves forward as their rep on Federal Executive, who were the only people willing to step up? Yet again it was two older white men. At every single level of the party, if this is the case it has to be questioned. There are so many talented people from underrepresented groups in our Peer group. Why aren’t they putting themselves forward? And more worryingly, why is no-one asking that question?

The second, is that we keep looking back to save our future. Someone who hasn’t masterminded a successful campaign for us in over 8 years got elected to help set strategy for a party which may be fighting back but is doing so from its deathbed. This election exposes a much deeper problem for me: That after over five years of losses and a number of brushes with death (Euros 2014) some parts of the party still haven’t woken up to how wrong we have been doing things. When campaign techniques such as the Focus leaflet first came into being, they worked because they were innovative and stood out. Everyone has copied us, and in many cases bettered us. Returning only to those old techniques and old strategy will not return us to form. There are a number of battle worn campaigners out on the ground trying new things and seeing them work. We have over 20,000 enthusiastic new members who could help us truly innovate again. These are the people we should bringing into these committees and discussions, not falling into the dangers of ‘group think’, where everyone thinks a similar way and there is no challenge.

Finally, we have to stop our cult of personality. By naming a method of campaigning after a person involved in it, we became wedded to that person and not to the principles behind the tools. When that person moved on the tools became stuck. Apparently because of a strange notion in some areas that developing a tool or trying something new was equal to offending a person. The fightback will not succeed due to one person or one idea. We will survive because a group of people that are passionate; dedicated and free to try new things can quickly become unstoppable.

The wounds caused by the Morrisey report and earlier investigations were ripped open again this week. It is hugely important that we address the problems that report laid out and that implementing the recommendations are a key priority for everyone in a leadership role in the party. I absolutely don’t want to dismiss them. I simply ask that we look a bit deeper at the issues this brings up, and work hard to make our party more open and accessible..

* Elaine Bagshaw was the candidate for Poplar and Limehouse in the 2017 General Election. She is a former chair of Liberal Youth and a past member of the Federal Executive.

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21 Comments

  • This is a really good post, thank you Elaine. I agree with every word. New blood, fresh ideas, no baggage, dynamism, energy, drive, those are what is needed. Keeping on doing what has always been done and you get the same outcome. Please let us have a rep from the Lords on FE who is not a white middle-class male, please. Though if Sal is on there can’t she represent the Lords?

  • Laurence Cox 17th Nov '15 - 6:31pm

    Elaine Bagshaw complains about the election for the Peers’ Representative on FE being between “two older white men”. Now if there were no other Peers on FE, this would be a reasonable argument, but in fact there are three: Baronesses Sal Brinton (President), Cath Pinnock (Councillor Rep) and Christine Humphreys (Welsh Party Rep). So our women Peers are well represented on FE already, even if wearing other hats.

  • Paul Holmes 17th Nov '15 - 6:41pm

    Elaine, can you share with us these “new techniques that are working” -preferably in the members only section so our opponents don’t get too quick a heads up. Presumably these are new techniques that were not tried for last May since -if they were used then -they clearly didn’t work!

    I am always keen to apply new techniques that work, as well as old ones that still work too.

  • Helen Tedcastle 17th Nov '15 - 7:28pm

    I disagree with this article. Firstly, why is it that we continue to assign or even define people by group identity, whether it be women or in other circumstances by ethnic minority or sexual orientation? This is the politics of the Labour Party. I think there is a certain amount to be said for assessing someone on their contribution and merit regardless of group-think.

    Secondly, the idea that we have nothing if anything to learn from the wisdom of one of the most effective campaigners in the party’s history is completely baffling. The party was slaughtered at the polls recently. This is precisely the time to draw on the experience of those who masterminded, planned and won many elections just a few years ago! The suggestion that now is the time only for innovation and newness, strikes me as naive thinking.

    The road back to victory is going to be a long hard slog. The idea that there is something new out there to replace the long march is unrealistic, almost wishful thinking.

    I remain incredulous at this piece I’m afraid.

  • Elaine, great post, especially points two and three.
    Phyllis *hug* going to have to stop agreeing with you so much – didn’t we used to row loads?
    Paul, ALDC have some really good people esp James Baker who can tell you sekrit things 😉

  • Ben Jephcott 17th Nov '15 - 7:47pm

    It is not about ‘returning to focus leaflets’ but there is a crying need to rediscover the principles of effective campaigning and intelligent, inclusive and inspiring community politics as perfected during the Rennard era – as opposed to the ‘Foie Gras’ model of perpetual message delivery which was the limit of so much recent electioneering. The technology changes but the principles stay the same.

  • I agree with so much of what you have to say. But I’d take exception to one thing: “And more worryingly, why is no-one asking that question?” You mean other than yourself, dozens of other excellent contributors to LDV, and at least someone in more or less every large meeting of lib dems i can recall?

    We keep asking this question, we continue to be unwilling as a party to do anything in answer to it. For excellent reasons of course, but it seems unjust to talk as though there is no discussion.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 17th Nov '15 - 8:11pm

    I’m slightly mystified, as the outgoing Lords representative on the FE was Kishwer Falkner. As I recall, she is a BAME woman. I’m pretty confident about my recollection as I sat next to her at my last International Relations Committee meeting.

    But, with respect, is it now the case that members have the right to tell the Parliamentary Party in the Lords which ones of them are “acceptable” to serve in any particular capacity? The right to criticise and oppose a particular choice is one thing, much as it troubles me in the broadest sense, but to decry the right of individuals not to run is quite another.

  • Tony Dawson 17th Nov '15 - 8:20pm

    The saddest thing is the question as to whether any serious politician in the Lib Dems actually would even think of wanting to join the FE. let’s look at what the FE achieved over the past 5 years.

  • David Warren 17th Nov '15 - 8:30pm

    The party structure needs a total overhaul, it simply isn’t fit for purpose.

    A series of bodies that operate independently from each other and very poor communications.

    As for diversity that needs attention too, I have tried to raise this through my Blue Collar Liberal initiative which has generated some interest but I am not totally clear on how to move it forward in the party.

  • Elaine Bagshaw 17th Nov '15 - 8:59pm

    Hi Adam, on the ‘asking the question’ point I meant specifically around this election, as in all the noise about other issues I hadn’t seen it mentioned.

    I don’t have access to the members’ area Paul, as I got locked out once and never bothered getting back in. If you find me on Facebook though I can send you a presentation my campaign manager and I put together.

  • “By naming a method of campaigning after a person involved in it, we became wedded to that person and not to the principles behind the tools. When that person moved on the tools became stuck. Apparently because of a strange notion in some areas that developing a tool or trying something new was equal to offending a person. ”

    The only people I recall referring to Rennardism were detractors. And I don’t ever recall someone saying I was offending anyone by developing a tool or trying something new.

    The basics of elections (Persuade, Identify, Get out the vote) haven’t changed since before Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign. Sure Obama brought a degree of big technology to his campaign but that was just some different ways of doing that and there was as much targetting of mail (and even bus adverts!) as there was “internet”.

    If you want a starting point to look at – address the way in which access to Connects raw data and the ability to add to that is guarded by the Citadel – that stifles the ability to be innovative and discover new techniques.

    As Paul says, what are these new techniques, at least an answer that goes beyond “because The Internet”

    The smacks strongly of history being rewritten to suit the views of the person writing the piece.

  • Jennie

    Big hugs back at you 🙂

    Yeah I used to be an angry individual during the Coalition years but I’ve mellowed now …..and feeling particularly chipper tonight (wonder why?) 😉

    Love your blog! x

  • Jennie -I suppose I should have known irony doesn’t always translate clearly. To be honest I haven’t yet heard of any ‘new techniques’ that are a) that new b) make much difference to winning elections. I never did believe in the Holy Grail anyway.

    Agree with Tony, Ben and Mark, although Tony it has to be the case that unless FE can get a grip in the future nothing will change.

  • George Kendall 17th Nov '15 - 10:56pm

    @Elaine Bagshaw

    Hi Elaine,
    Could you give Paul permission to re-post your new techniques in the private members forum? It’d be interesting to read about them.

  • Richard Fagence 18th Nov '15 - 8:28am

    I’m with Helen Tedcastle on this. Let’s get back to doing macro politics instead of this incessant navel gazing.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 18th Nov '15 - 9:48am

    Paul Holmes, I feel obliged to remind you that you were not averse to trying all sorts of new fangled things in your time. I think the first time I saw blue letters was the Sandiacre by-election when you made us do them:-). You were pretty enthusiastic about EARS and all the capacity it could give you, despite the air turning blue many times at 3am as you ran off the next load of target letters. The principles don’t change, but techniques do.

    I also seem to remember you embracing the idea of surveying groups of the electorate with an evangelical zeal. Did we not do an anglers’ survey at one point? You were the original Dataman:-).

  • This is a mix of some valid concerns mixed with the very odd.

    Can people stop bashing others for being “older” particularly if it is on what is basically an administrative committee. Young voices can be hears (isn’t there a place reserved for one) but for the most part young people will probably rather be out doing, while they have the energy and less responsibility.

    Secondly if the assumption is that innovation will go via a central committee then there will be very little innovation at all. Innovation will mainly appear on the ground and then be cross pollenated between areas. There may be the odd bit of innovation a central committee can do but I wouldn’t expect much.

    Finally I would agree with Helen Tedcastle regarding the issue of constantly breaking people in to groups, Identity is very much a Labour party thing and can easily damage a liberal approach. That said there are problems of underrepresentation in some aspects but actions should be smart, targeted and avoid excusing a slip in to identity politics.

  • Hi Elaine, regarding your first point – Is the FE supposed to be (as I assume) a management board or is it a representative body (surely the job of Conference)?

    If it’s a management board then its members should be picked on the basis of relevant skills. In the commercial world that means marketing, finance, technical, personnel and so on as appropriate for a particular business. This would differ in detail but not in principle for a political party.

    A management board should be no more than 12 members, roughly half with specific functional responsibilities with the others as ‘non-executives’ to sense check the work of their colleagues and lean against the danger of group-think by the executive members. My experience in the commercial world is that – somewhat counter-intuitively – when a group is working properly (that is it has not degenerated into a means to enrich the chairman and his cronies) it typically does rather well on issues such as diversity even when it isn’t formally required to.

    That’s because if it really is doing its job then things like that actually matter. Hence it will actively seek out the views of important constituencies like women and minorities (and even Peers!) and by far the best way to do that is to involve some of them directly. Only then can their perspective and expertise be properly captured.

    Of course, the FE has far more than 12 members – 26 I think – and at least some of them are explicitly elected as ‘representatives’. That condemns it to a life of woolly thinking, ineffectiveness and ongoing confusion between authority and responsibility. Presumably that reflects the views of those who set up the system which may partly explain why local groups (who organise themselves) often do spectacularly well but nationally the party has never broken through. Starting with diversity doesn’t necessarily lead to effective management; when there are too many people involved it never does.

    There are a lot of basic issues here and a lot of ground to make up. A good starting point would be to decide what the FE is supposed to do -manage or represent. If the former, then every time two people leave replace only one until the number is down to 12 or simply start over with a smaller number of vacancies.

  • Paul Holmes 18th Nov '15 - 6:40pm

    Caron – I plead guilty as charged.

    And I genuinely do still listen to presentations about new techniques but often find they are not all that new and don’t in fact make a huge difference to campaign results. I have been particularly worried over recent years at the people looking for quick fixes who claim that we can stop all that ‘tedious’ leaflet delivery and door knocking because a bit of social media or some street stalls will do the job instead (and I am not making those views up).

    For the record the best presentations I have heard since 2010 have been from Dave McCobb.

  • Since I attended the workshop on campaigning through social media at Bournemouth, I know at least one of the new methods Elaine was referring to – and she’s right.

    I would though like to both agree and disagree with her about Focus leaflets. She’s absolutely right that other parties have copied us and also local authority information leaflets and newsletters have got vastly more readable and attractively-presented since the early days of community politics. We tend to get stuck in an orthodoxy about not only the importance of leaflets but also their layout: I’ve been told strongly that a locally-designed leaflet was “old-fashioned” and the ALDC template was much better, but I’ve seen stuff from the Tories that looked exactly like the ALDC style and we’ve had some reason to think that leaflets that looked different – even if old-fashioned – got more attention because they were unexpected.

    During the general election we seemed in some target seats to be putting out leaflets obsessionally to the extent that people who could canvass were always being asked to deliver instead.

    But there is one important respect in which the problem is not sticking to old things, but diverting from them. The early Focus leaflets were effective because they raised issues people were telling us about and because they tried with some effect to empower people. They didn’t just say “Focus Team member Bill Gladstone has got the council to fix that broken kerb”, they explained to people how THEY could take action; they assisted campaigns that weren’t always Liberal-controlled and they supported things like setting up residents’ associations. Increasingly this sort of distinctively Liberal thing has been squeezed out and replaced by the sort of marketing other parties can do just as well. The result is reduced credibility.

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