The Party President’s report for February… how is it working for you?

As usual, the Party President has graciously contacted us, asking that we place a spotlight on his monthly report. Equally graciously, we would note that you can read it here.

Mark has been President now for more than a year, and it’s been a pretty eventful term so far. But how has he performed? What, in your opinion, has gone well, and what badly? Has he changed your view on the Party Presidency itself?

For me, the jury is out on whether or not Mark has established a profile outside of the Party’s membership. It’s seldom easy, even for the Parliamentarians who have held the post previously, although they were often competing with a more obviously relevant Parliamentary Party in the Commons. It was one of my reservations about having a non-Parliamentarian in the role, especially someone seen very much as a party insider – could he establish himself as a factor amongst the “big beasts” of the Party?

The other question that perhaps remains open is, who does Mark see himself as representing, and to whom? We are never likely to see any open demonstration of a Party President conveying membership unhappiness to the leadership – it would only be likely if the President wanted the job of Leader (unlikely in this circumstance) or if the relationship between Leader and President had irrevocably failed. Presidential reports are usually safely uncontroversial, but one of the roles of the Presidency is to inspire and, at a time when the party is perhaps at a low ebb, I’m not convinced that I’m inspired.

Is that me giving him a failing grade? No, I don’t think so. Is it just that a managerial Presidency feels unlikely to change much? Perhaps. But Mark wanted the job, and worked hard over a lengthy period to get it, and I guess that it still isn’t entirely clear to me why.

So, what do you think? Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments below…

* Mark Valladares is a semi-retired Party bureaucrat and Monday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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21 Comments

  • There should be a difference between being, say a Party Chairman, and being a Party President.

    Party Chairman should be hands on the party organisation (as Frank Byers used to be). I suggest the Party President should be a Senior Politician (if the Lib Dems still have such a thing) who should focus on political issues as a back up to the Leader. Alistair Carmichael or Wendy Chamberlain would probably fit…… (and it shouldn’t be a Lord). A regional voice would get away from what appears to be a London & Home Counties bias just now).

    PS Mark. Ros did a good job when she did it.

  • I like Mark Pack a lot so this isn’t intended to be critical. But, considering his experience in communications and digital campaigning, it’s disappointing that we still aren’t doing these things very well. He joint-authored a booklet advocating a core vote strategy, what happened to that idea?

    In terms of whether he has established a profile outside of the party membership, the clear answer to that is no – but that’s been the case with most of our party presidents.

  • I realise I can’t blame Mark entirely for this but…

    I was very disappointed at the start of the pandemic last year when the immediate reaction of the party was to cancel the leadership election and conference, rather than ask how those things could be done differently.

    Obviously, both those decisions were reversed after an outcry from members, and I thought the online conference was a success.

    The problem was the default instinct to say we can’t do things the way we usually do, so we won’t do them at all. If there is any advantage to being a small party, it *should* be that we are agile and nimble in responding to events and surprises, but we seem to have the worst of both worlds in being a small party set in our ways and bogged down with bureaucracy.

  • Paul Barker 15th Feb '21 - 4:57pm

    Ive been a member since 2004 & I feel that Mark Pack is the best President we have had in that period.
    I am not sure if an external profile is a central part of The Presidents job that would be a bonus & almost impossible to acheive as long as the Covid trance continues.
    The Core Vote strategy is central to everything we do.
    We are not going to have any idea how we are doing till Covid is “Over” & we have no idea when that will be.

  • Geoff Reidy 15th Feb '21 - 7:23pm

    I share Paul Barker’s scepticism about an “external profile”. I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that the first task of the President is to interpret and safeguard the Constitution …and there are still some loose ends in all that!

  • nigel hunter 15th Feb '21 - 9:23pm

    As well as pushing for improved communication messages with the public he has to find a way to unite both wings of the party .That is those who wish for us to be credible as a govnt married to our value and policy positions.
    Yes beaurocracy should be swept away to allow rapid decision making as we can indeed be seen as stuck in our ways “past it” not a vibrant party ready for the fray.

  • John Marriott 16th Feb '21 - 9:24am

    Taking a leaf out of Tom Arms’ book, I would like to offer ‘observations’ from an ex Lib Dem Party member.

    I have no doubt that the current Party President has nobly and sincerely devoted much of his life to the cause of Liberal Democracy. I’m sure that he could have taken an easier life choice. Of course, I wish home well. However, judging by some of his pronouncements it WOULD clearly do him good to get out more.

    The Lib Dems, as far as most people are concerned, barely register currently on the national political radar. If I knew why, I reckon I could make quite a bit of money. Being, as David Raw has often said, a “one trick pony” is fine when that “trick” is top of the agenda; but not so good, when there has really been only one topic on people’s minds for the past year.

    Let’s take the President’s evident love affair with the EU, as encapsulated possibly subconsciously in his ‘praise’ of Germany’s ‘test and trace’ arrangements. Yes, they may have been on to a winner at the start; but what about their vaccine programme, stymied as it is by their allowing the European Commission to take charge? We are where we are on these islands possibly by a big dose of luck; but, boy, have we delivered! Let’s hope that we continue to do so.

    The Lib Dems have got to decide whether or not they want to be part of any future government or local authority administration, because, as Liberals, they will sadly always be in the minority certainly at national level at least. However, to achieve that position again (and it’s not that long ago that that WAS were they were), as I think Nigel Hunter was implying, those who believe in consensus and pragmatism to give their beliefs a greater hearing, have got to convince the purists that winning and keeping winning is so much better in the long term than crashing continually to noble defeat.

  • Thanks for those good questions Mark.

    You’re right about the need for people to feel inspired, both by being reassured over how we’re fixing things in the party and about the role for the party and our values in 21st century Britain. You may have noticed a different tone in the opener of this month’s report, focusing much more on this, and it’s something I intended to continue. Our values are perfectly suited for the big challenges our country faces. We should take confidence from that and be bold in our communication of it.

    I hope I was fairly clear in the President election that, at this point in the party’s history, I think the role of President is best focused on the internal aspects. The Thornhill Review I think reinforces this: we need to be much clearer about the different roles of leader, president and chief executive. The exception, of course, is that if there’s bad news because of the party’s organisation stuffing up, e.g. a complaints fiasco, then wheeling out the president in public makes sense.

    I have done a modest amount of media coverage for the party which I hope has helped in general, but I think to measure success/failure by the amount of media I get would be to use the wrong criteria.

  • In answer to your last question Mark: I ran for the job because there’s an awful lot we need to fix about how the party is run. By having a president who can focus on just that task in working with colleagues, we can achieve far more in giving people the sort of party that really supports their own work and helps more of us win. You’re right that there’s more to success for us as a party than fixing organisational things, but that’s a crucial enabler. I see focusing on one part of the picture, and therefore making a real impact on it, is a sign of sensible prioritisation and therefore of doing the job well.

  • I agree with the core vote strategy.

    However as noted on another thread there was only one post-election survey carried out which was an “initial thoughts” survey but there was supposed to be a follow up survey that never materialised?

  • @ John Marriott
    I feel fairly sure why we are ” barely registering” currently – Covid.
    Covid is almost the only thing anyone is talking about & that benefits Governments – the only ones who can do anything about it. Covid boosts whichever Parties happen to be in Government – Tories in England, The SNP in Scotland & Labour in Wales Even Main Opposition Parties hardly get a look in & Other Parties are simply ignored.
    For Libdems the situation is made worse by the absence of Local Elections & the restrictions on Local campaigning.
    How long Covid will last we dont know but till “normal” Politics returns ( if it does) then Polls are meaningless. We may not have a good idea where we are till next Years Local Elections.

  • Tip for Mark.
    (At least when by-elections start again – perhaps after May 6th…)
    When Simon Hughes was Party President, we had a clutch of by-elections, on every polling day in late afternoon we received a call from Simon’s office wishing us good luck.
    A small gesture, but it made us feel part of something, and gave a boost for that final push to get our vote out.
    We even won some of the by-elections!

  • Isn’t it time the Party Leadership came out swinging punches on the contracts for Chums issue, Mr President ?

    Cummings is all over the papers like a rash this morning.

  • The rollout of the vaccines has been without doubt a performance that we should all be grateful for mainly due to the excellence of the NHS and all the involved, professional and volunteers, but may I suggest that there are plenty of issues for the Lib Dems to pursue over the many government failures over the past year which should not be forgotten or swept under the carpet.

  • Matt McLaren 16th Feb '21 - 1:15pm

    Not to appear blindingly loyal to the Great Leader, as Andrew Neil may put it, but it just appears obvious to me that the Party President’s role is NOT to be a big media personality or spokesperson. That’s the Party Leader’s job. Moreover, it’s worth noting that despite only technically being Deputy Leader of the Commons Parliamentary Party, the Deputy Leader has also been increasingly utilised over many years as a full-blown Deputy Party Leader and media supporting act – which as an MP (who might one day go on to be Leader, as has been the case previously) just makes more sense.

    No, the President’s job is clearly defined in the constitution and is just what we have chosen to call the Chair of the Party at Federal level – with every level of the Party having its own Chair (local, Regional, State, and yes, Federal too). I hope that we wouldn’t confuse the role of Chair of the local party with Leader of the Council Group or PPC, or Chair of the Regional Party with City Region Mayoral candidate. One is about providing political leadership, advocating to the population what Liberal Democrats stand for and securing votes to win elections, and the other is about ensuring that all the mechanisms of the Party necessary to achieve or political objectives are in place. In short, one is internal in focus and the other external.

    So please let’s stop confusing Party President with the Leader (or even Deputy Leader’s)

  • Matt McLaren 16th Feb '21 - 1:19pm

    …role. I, for one, think the Party may have fared a little better in days long since past if previous Party President’s had focused less on appearing on the evening news, Question Time or Newsnight; and a lot more on how the Federal Party needs to actually be organised and the tools it needs to supply to the rest of us in order to be successful. There might just have been fewer problems to fix identified by the Thornhill Review had that been the case.

  • @Andy: Our by-election candidates and agents are an important part of our recovery, and we should be grateful for the efforts they put in. Returning to regularly thanking of them is definitely on my 2021 to do list.

  • @John Marriott

    I have to say that 118,000 covid deaths against 66,000 deaths in Germany is not “delivering” for the British people!

  • Nonconformistradical 16th Feb '21 - 7:34pm

    “I have to say that 118,000 covid deaths against 66,000 deaths in Germany is not “delivering” for the British people!”

    Especially given UK population is a little over 68 million and Germany’s is getting on for 84 million.

  • John Marriott 16th Feb '21 - 9:50pm

    @Michael1
    But what about vaccine delivery? Sometimes we can actually do something right for a change.

  • @John Marriott

    “Sometimes we can actually do something right for a change.”

    The “we” being the Conservative Government here – yes – thank God that they have not messed up on the vaccine like they did on every other aspect of the covid crisis.

    But while I love living in Britain – on the issue of covid – I’d much prefer to be living in Germany. In fact we are only effectively a few weeks ahead of the EU countries on vaccination and that is trumped by a worse death rate.

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