The Presidential Platform (1): Chandila Fernando – the troubleshooter

Liberal Democrat Voice has offered each of the three candidates for the post of Party President three platforms pieces on LDV during the contest to make their case to party members. How they choose to use these platforms is entirely up to them. First up is Chandila Fernando, whose campaign website can be found here.

1. Why are you running for President?
The Party must move into the 21st Century and operate in a 24/7 media driven environment. Our structures are outdated, bureaucratic and sloth like. Sadly, the same is true of our image that has not changed since the 1980s. I believe incremental reform is not enough if we want to compete with Labour and the Conservatives. I’m running to put forward a radical, dramatic and challenging program for how I believe the party needs to change.

2. Why did you call yourself the troubleshooter?
My commercial experience is best described in this way

3. What is the single biggest challenge facing Liberal Democrats?
Communicating a simple message that can be heard and understood by the voting public

4. In your opinion what is the role of the President
An effective administrator, national activist and spokesperson who can galvanize the morale of party troops

5. So, what specifically do you want to change about the party’s structure?
We have the annual turnover of a single branch of a high street department store, but a decision-making structure as bureaucratic as the former Soviet Union. We need to empower individual staff and activists whilst holding them properly to account.I want us to decentralize our funding. I will consult on precise details and mechanisms, but favour 50% of small donations and subscriptions being remitted to local and regional parties.

6. And what precisely do you mean by modernizing the party?
The Liberal Democrats must become the first mainstream political party to move away from the tired concept of card-carrying membership. Lib Dem membership is in serious decline. We need to build a stronger relationship with the 99% of Lib Dem supporters who are not paid-up members. Modern technology makes it possible and desirable to move to a system of registered supporters. Again, I will consult on all the details, but my blueprint is available on my website. The party should also go through a full rebranding exercise. We still look and feel just like we did twenty years ago. In that time, we have seen the rise and fall of new Labour and the Tories have re-branded twice. I will be consulting with some of the country’s leading brand managers during my campaign. The party should be doing this!!

7. Some people say you are on the “loony right-wing” of the party, how do you respond to that?
NO. I believe the Lib Dems should support lower taxes, smaller government and more personal freedom. I like the way Nick Clegg is taking the party, and want him to go further. But this election is about how the party operates, not its policy platform. If I’m elected, I will focus my efforts on streamlining, decentralizing and modernizing the party.

8. Just a few years ago, you were a member of the Conservative Party. Why should people trust you as a recent recruit to the Liberal Democrats?
I left the Tories for a number of reasons, but mainly because of their position on race and immigration. As the son of an immigrant myself, I am appalled by the way the Right often takes an extreme, populist and dangerous stance on these sensitive and explosive issues. I am a true liberal and feel at home in the Lib Dems. David Cameron may have given the Conservatives a new-look, but he has not fundamentally changed his party. We need to worry more about ex-Lib Dems supporting the Tories, rather than ex-Tories joining the Lib Dems. If we are serious about government, we must accommodate and embrace millions of people who have been lifelong supporters of other parties.

9. You don’t have any chance of winning this election, so isn’t just a wasted vote to support you?
There’s no such thing as a wasted vote in a preferential election. Cast your first preference vote for me – even if you think I will come third – and then cast your second preference for either Lembit or Ros. This will send a clear signal that the party needs serious reform and thinking otherwise is denial.

10. How will you cast your second preference?
My second preference will go to the candidate who adopts the boldest manifesto for reforming and modernizing the party.

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94 Comments

  • dreamingspire 5th Oct '08 - 1:39pm

    I didn’t detect anything about improving the skills of LD local Councillors and candidates in local elections. ‘Prepare for [Local] Government’.

  • Lurking within this adman’s waffle I see something dangerous and alarming. Mr Fernando wants to dispense with membership.

    No, Mr Fernando, there is no such thing as “formal” membership. There is just “membership”. Either the members own the Party’s assets or they don’t.

    What Mr Fernando is proposing is demutualisation. He would like to turn the Party into a limited company or limited liability partnership where power reposes in a clique of directors. The non-formal “members” will merely be supporters who have no control over their leaders and what they do in their name.

  • I think he’s recognising that membership is falling (for all parties) and that it is hard for local parties to sign up members actively (on top of everything else). Why not try and change the way we recruit supporters if its going to benefit us? Why keep on the sinking ship of card carrying membership? We’ve been an innovative party in terms of campaiging; why not in other aspects of running a succesful party?

  • dreamingspire 5th Oct '08 - 4:17pm

    Well, I’m not a Member but once was – and got fed up with all the begging letters that came through the post (it was in the days before ubiquitous internet connectivity). Talking to one of my ward LD Councillors, he hasn’t assured me that its any better today. So I support, and even help and sometimes kick arse. Think about what you do to Members, please, and tailor your management of Members to why they join: to support the right kind of political change.

  • Members decide policy; that’s great! But the fact that you can go to conference and vote on policy if you’re a member doesn’t lead to more votes and more success. Having the most paid up members doesn’t translate to winning elections and getting us in the national spotlight. That’s the most important thing now.

  • >We still look and feel just like we did twenty years ago.

    A look at our leaflets and MPs from 20 years ago suggests to me this isn’t true.

    >In that time, we have seen the rise and fall of new Labour and the Tories have re-branded twice.

    I think the Tories have relaunched and rebranded endlessly, it did them little good till the economic downturn.

  • I think I will be voting for someone with a platform that at least makes some sense. How can a political party which has policy decided by the membership have no members? :-S

  • Our membership is in decline but is it serious. I understood we had a 14 per cent churn and made it up by recruting about 13 per cent new members last year so were down slightly. So uping local recruitment activity more widly would make a big difference.

  • In my experience local parties spend a lot of time reaching out – we send our news letters to delivers and ‘supporters’ not just members, we hold social events open to all, often with complementary tickets for people we would like to be more involved. We deliver thousands of leaflets and knock on hundreds of doors. Councillors do endless casework, attend community events and gain media coverage. We have website, blogs, and e-mail update, text votes etc

    I am interested in anyones suggestions about what else we can do – sadly despite Chandila saying details are on his website, I can’t find them.

    Without details, it all sounds a bit too Bones in that we should run the party like the National Trust, RSPB or CPRE, but they are not a good comparision with a political party.

  • Mark Littlewood 6th Oct '08 - 9:30pm

    I think he’s right both on party membership and on branding.

    On party membership:

    The whole point is surely that this is down across the board. I think I’m right in saying that Conservative Party membership has actually fallen since Cameron became leader. But it certainly hasn’t zoomed up. Labour membership must be in meltdown over the past few years. LibDem membership has been in pretty much consistent decline since the party was formed (a few blips, but basically a consistent downward trend). Using party membership as the key criteria for participation in party political decision-making is – just as a matter of fact – an approach that enfranchises fewer and fewer people in decision-making.

    The problem is that “selling” party membership (for any party) is a bit like selling black & white TVs or video recorders in 2008. It’s a product that is just less and less attractive to the wider public. I don’t believe this is due to the apathy about politics, but it’s because the sort of relationship we are trying to persuade our supporters to have with us is just not relevant or desirable to 99% of the people who vote for us . The concept of having a party membership card in your purse or wallet may have been natural in the 1950s, but is a minority sport now. This DOES NOT necessitate becoming a company owned solely by Nick Clegg or Chris Rennard. Quite the reverse. It might mean adopting more of an American approach (although I accept that there are constitutional differences, not just organisational ones). For my part, I would like to see all 6 million LibDem voters MORE involved in our decisions, not just the 1 in 100 who are paid up members. There may be technological and logistical challenges here (how successful were the Tory experiments with primaries? how the heck do you create a robust database? etc) but it is the way the real world is moving.

    On branding:

    Branding is not the same as the logo. I happen to think the logo is a bit lame and pointless and doesn’t really capture what the party is about, but there are wider branding points.

    We are not consistent in colour scheme, font, style or straplines. Nick Clegg’s official website has a completely different brand to the official party website. It’s not so much a “rebranding” that we need, but simply a “branding”. This is not the same thing at all as whether we replace the parrot (sorry, “Bird of Liberty”) with a slimmer or fatter version – or adopt a coconut, banana, fig leaf etc. as the logo.

  • Mark Littlewood 6th Oct '08 - 11:08pm

    My own personal view is that we should allow adopt a system along the following lines. (I don’t claim all the detail is here…just my blueprint):

    1. Anyone can become a member of the party (which I’d probably retitle “registered supporter”) if they are on the electoral register in the UK and sign some form of statement saying they are a supporter of the Liberal Democrats.

    2. This data would be centrally collated – although obviously shared with local parties – on a database package that could be deployed for campaigning and fundraising purposes.

    3. Once the system had been successfully implemented, which may take some months (at least!), the party’s constitution should be reviewed in order to attempt to enfranchise these supporters into the party’s decision-making process. This might start with consultation and then go on to “open primaries” for PPC selection and even lead ultimately to mass enfranchisement for a party leadership election.

    4. A whole range of issues would need to addressed (length of tenure on supporter list before you get a vote, preventing mass last minute non-LD sign-ups to infiltrate the party, provision for those under the age of 18) etc. These are very serious issues – but are essentially technical and administrative points.

    5. The explicit aim of such an exercise would be wider participation and involvement, not “demutualisation” or converting the party into a company controlled an oligarchy.

    6. The President of the party wouldn’t, of course, have the authority to impose such a system, but he or she could set a direction of travel. He/she should accept that a traditional party membership model is becoming an anachronism. When Charles was elected, there were 82,000 members. When Ming was elected, there were 72,000 members. When Nick was elected, there were 67,000 members. I suspect the total may have slipped further since then (we’ll see when the Presidential vote is tallied). (These totals contrast with 101,00 Liberal members and 58,000 SDP members at the time of merger – or at least those were the totals for ballot papers issued in 1987 and 1988)

    7. On the branding point – I think the point applies more nationally than locally, as per my comparison of the Nick Clegg and LibDem website.

  • Hywel Morgan 6th Oct '08 - 11:32pm

    “The concept of having a party membership card in your purse or wallet may have been natural in the 1950s, but is a minority sport now.”

    Do organisations like RSPCA, RSPB, FoE, Liberty etc have similar problems in attracting members? I’d be curious as to whether the membership of political organisations is comparable to that in 1950 (when lets not forget membership of the Tory/Labour party was much more of a social matter than a statement of political belief)

    Whilst we “had” 159,000 members in 1987 – we also polled more votes at that election than any time since. Likewise Labour had many more members in 1996 when they were pushing 50% in the polls than now when they are pushing 25%.

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 6th Oct '08 - 11:32pm

    Mark Littlewood:
    “I don’t believe this is due to the apathy about politics, but it’s because the sort of relationship we are trying to persuade our supporters to have with us is just not relevant or desirable to 99% of the people who vote for us .”

    I think it’s absolutely to do with the apathy about politics, and that in turn is to do with the perception of politicians as a bunch of unprincipled chancers, for whom this year’s policies will be absolutely determined by whatever they think will win them a few more votes – never mind that they’re the opposite of last year’s policies.

  • Mark Littlewood 6th Oct '08 - 11:54pm

    A couple of interesting points here, Hywel.

    1. In general, I think non-party political organisations have had less of a drop off than party political organisations. In fact, conventional wisdom is that single issue groups have grown and blossomed in the past couple of decades. So I think the problem is in part to do with party membership specifically rather than apathy with politics in general.

    2. On comparison with the 1987/1988 numbers – we got a very similar number of votes and % of the vote in 1987 as in 2005, but party membership has more than halved over this period. The largest number of ballot papers cast in any LibDem leadership contest was for the Ashdown v Beith 1988 vote (but annoyingly I can’t find the total membership figure), at a time when the party was at about 4% in the polls. You’re right, of course, that there will be some sort of correlation between a party’s overall popularity at any given time and party membership. But the decline in membership appears to be inexorable. It’s not that rapid on a year-by-year basis, but over a ten or twenty year period, the numbers are pretty stark. Presumably at some point this “bottoms out” (maybe it has), but it seems to me wildly optimistic to believe the downward trend can be reversed. True democratic participation and building a genuinely mass movement therefore requires serious consideration of a new approach.

  • Mark Littlewood 7th Oct '08 - 12:53am

    MatGB,

    I wonder if your example of the friend of Jennie’s is the exception rather than the rule?

    I’m also not sure that your two biggest barriers (people not knowing they can join a party and feeling they won’t be valued if they do) really are the biggest barriers. Although, I suspect there is something in the second of these.

    Of course, virtually any product/service/scheme can always be marketed better. But at some point, you have to conclude that there is a serious flaw in the product itself. The continual decline in LibDem membership over the past twenty years is so substantial – and so clearly reflected in the other two parties – that we need a major rethink.

    I don’t want to claim I’ve got all the right answers here, but I hope I’ve got some of the right questions.

  • David Allen 7th Oct '08 - 1:04am

    It’s true that organisations like RSPB are nowadays much more successful than political parties in attracting members. They can readily offer their members more gain and less pain.

    The important exception to the long-term decline in membership across the political spectrum was, of course, the dramatic advance made by New Labour in the early dawn of Blairism, when the dream was as yet unsullied. When Blair abolished Clause Four, new members flocked to join New Labour.

    So I guess I disagree with CCF, in a sense. A wholesale change in party policies can have very positive effects. Provided, that is, you make the change the way Blair made his change. You have to appeal to the whole membership. You have to make it clear what your new leadership will actually stand for, when you ask the members to elect you as leader. You have to make a forceful, rational, and principled case for change. You mustn’t just tell your MPs they have no alternative if they want to save their skins at the next election.

    We have, of course, recently made a wholesale policy change, and it surely rivals Blair’s in its magnitude. But we have not gone about it the same way. The membership, as a whole, have not been involved. They have had it foisted upon them.

    So, shall we now see a trebling in our membership, to match what New Labour achieved in the mid-nineties? Or shall we see a decline?

  • Mark’s figures on the national party membership levels are useful, but what would also be good to know is where the lapsing members are. Is it the case that held seats are losing members (once the excitement of winning is over?) or is it that areas where we were always relatively weak that are losing them (nothing goes on, no reason to be a member)?

    I was once told that as a rule of thumb half our members were in our held seats. I don’t know how true that is, but is it is true, then we average around 55 members per non-held seat. That really isn’t very many. Averages often conceal a wide variety, and I wonder how many local parties have fewer than 25 members? In areas like that membership cannot be the basis of success, and interesting ideas about registered supporters (essentially membership for free) do need to be considered.

  • Mark Littlewood 7th Oct '08 - 1:33am

    That’s a pretty odd post, Duncan.

    In more than two years of working for the party, I had no idea that such a style guide existed or that you were its guardian.

    I don’t tend to beat a path to people’s doors just to ask them if they happen to think they are in charge of party branding.

    Even if I had known of the existence of this guide, branding was not my area of responsibility. And even if it was, it would not follow that the comms side would necessarily adopt the campaigns department approach. This is a problem with the silo structure of the party rather than necessarily a criticism of the style guide itself.

    Your implication that I should be limited to voicing views or opinions in areas/issues for which I used to have professional day-to-day responsibility is a bit….umm….strange.

  • Mark Littlewood has still to tell us what the demutualisation he proposes would entail.

    At present, the Liberal Democratic Party is the sum of its Members. Nothing more, nothing less. Its assets (choses in action against various banks, a number of leases, etc), are owned in equity by its members.

    Once we wind the Party up (as Mr Littlewood appears to be proposing), where do those assets go? Do the Members receive an aliquot share of the proceeds? Or are they given free shares in the new limited company?

    And who will make the decisions in this new memberless entity? The leadership and their PR men?

    Membership is about ownership of the Party and its assets. The precise number is not that important. What is utterly crucial is that those admitted to Membership share the Party’s aims and values. Those who support what we do locally while not actually sharing our vlaues should be welcome to help us and attend our social events, but it would be wrong to admit them as Members unless they are Liberal Democrats. Do we really want people who favour capital and corporal punishment and conscription determining our policies? Those who see recruitment as a fundraising mechanism would answer that question in the affirmative. They, like Mr Littlewood, misunderstand what Membership is.

    Without Membership, the Party ceases to be a democratic movement. Indeed, it ceases to be a politcal party.

  • Paul Pettinger 7th Oct '08 - 11:30am

    Mark Littlewood – ‘anyone can become a member of the party (which I’d probably retitle “registered supporter”) if they are on the electoral register in the UK and sign some form of statement saying they are a supporter of the Liberal Democrats.’

    The party couldn’t afford such a system. It costs about £12 a year to process and maintain each person’s party membership. Each election for president/ leader would impoverish us. You and Chandila should really have tested these ideas more before going public.

  • Paul Pettinger 7th Oct '08 - 2:58pm

    I never said savings couldn’t be made from economies of scale. However, even if major efficiency savings were achieved we would still struggle to afford to offer free membership or have a meaningful organisation of empowered supporters.

  • Mark Littlewood 7th Oct '08 - 4:02pm

    On the branding point, I disagree with James that it is ducking the issue to say “there is a problem” without also providing an alternative or new branding. Any rebranding exercise should be conducted in consultation with the party apparatus and, crucially, through deploying/employing experts. I think it’s fair for Chandila to say this is an exercise we should go through without prejudging the destination that is reached. I’d underscore again that the branding issue goes far beyond the question of logo, colour shade, font etc. These are parasitic on the brand, they are not the brand itself.

    On the supposed £12 cost of servicing a member, MatGB has already pointed out that the marginal and average costs are not the same. I’d again say this is a details question – it’s not an argument against registered supporters in principle. The service that members receive is not set in stone and needn’t be one-size fits all. I think quite a lot of pressure groups – such as NO2ID and previously Charter 88 – display a sophistication in the service they provide to supporters/members based partly on whether (or how much) people actually donate. It might be that LibDem registered supporters are only ever contacted by email for cost reasons or it might be that we do spend £12 per annum on mailing each registered supporter because mailings yield a profit in incoming donations. All of this is TBD and would need to be trialled and monitored.

    I agree with MatGB on people not knowing what membership entails and think he’s spot on with regard to the leafleting issue. There must be lots of people who want to contribute to discussion and debate, but not to distributing FOCUSes. Such people may be of less direct practical help to the party’s electoral efforts, but I think we should strive to include them within the movement.

    The internet provides a cheap and accessible means of beginning to engage people more widely, although its power and reach should not be overstated. To some extent, LDV is something of a microcosm or prototype for how we could involved more people, although obviously its online polls etc. involve only relatively small numbers of activists and have no direct influence on party decision-making.

  • Joe – of course not. In terms of structures, its horses for courses. Liberal Vision is a very small organisation, I don’t believe it would benefit at this stage from democratic
    elections or AGMs etc. That might change as our membership grows, but not necessarily.

    Just because Liberal Vision is run that way does not mean that the party – and the country – should be run on the same lines. Or that any LV members think they should.

  • chandilla worked for me for 2 months, and his election manefeston appears to be exactly like his work ethic, full of bravado and chat, and lacking completely in substance. The guy works for his dad and has done for 5 years. If you call the number on his “Vericor” website it goes through to his dad’s solicitors. Dont elect Daddy’s boy, he really is all chat.

  • Hywel Morgan 9th Oct '08 - 6:11pm

    An unsubstantiated allegation from someone without the balls to give their name. Clearly it must be true

  • Chandila Fernando 9th Oct '08 - 6:37pm

    James, Running for the Presidency gives publicity and “air time” to the issues concerning how we operate and communicate as a party. It is a high profile election and consequently slots on LDV, emails to the wider party membership and a manifesto to every party member will give my ideas for reform the exposure needed to drive forward an agenda for change. In the event that I am not successful in being elected as President I hope that whoever wins the contest runs with and implements some of my ideas.

  • Mark Littlewood 9th Oct '08 - 6:55pm

    James,

    It’s unfair to call it a “stunt” – unless you also think that LibDem parliamentary candidates running in seats where we are a long way behind are also just engaged in stunts. Perhaps such people should focus on e.g. trying to become a local councillor rather than fighting a higher profile election as a distant long shot.

    Chandila is “getting his hands dirty”. He might not end up in elected office at the end of this campaign, but that doesn’t mean his engagement isn’t useful and constructive.

    I don’t think its a question of “rewarding” him by voting for him. If someone agrees with his ideas for reform, they should vote for him to send a signal in this direction. As the election is on STV, this isn’t a wasted vote either.

    There’s nothing “stunty” or “sideliney” about that. It’s a healthy part of the internal debate.

  • Mark Littlewood 9th Oct '08 - 7:31pm

    James,

    On the “stunt” thing, we must beg to differ. I don’t think using the high profile nature of a Presidential election to promote some radical ideas is a stunt. Its hard work too. I’m not persuaded that running for the FE (even if one is elected) is necessarily a better way to bring about change (or that it displays “harder graft”). That’s the acid test. I guess it is not lunacy to argue that one slot on the FE is a better and more noble way of ringing about change. But it’s not obviously the case. And I suspect it’s wrong.

    On branding, I really don’t think I’m an expert. I know a bit about the subject, and I suppose that’s probably a lot more than most people. But an EXPERT? Not at all.

    I’m more a comms person really – and thats a very different thing.

    I think branding’s very important though. And you raise a fair point on the party bias of the PV links and the wrong impression this creates. In our defence, to some extent, we plumped for those sites with high volume and recognition. Also, we have tended to use Liberal Vision and its website to point people to the more LibDem-inclined sites.

    But I agree that it does create a bad impression – especially including Conservative Home but not LibDem Voice – so will get it corrected as soon as possible. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • Mark Littlewood 9th Oct '08 - 8:03pm

    PV’s website now includes links to LDV and three LibDem blogs. If James (or others) know of any other LibDem blogs or websites that tend to promote free markets, lower taxes, smaller government and more personal freedom, let us know and we’ll include those too.

  • Mark Littlewood 10th Oct '08 - 12:41am

    James,

    It may be that we’re disagreeing on mere semantics. But I’ll stick to my guns.

    No, I don’t think Chandila’s campaign is “designed primarily to gain publicity”. It’s designed to USE publicity to bring about real change. These are very, very different things.

    That’s why I don’t think it’s a stunt/trick/gimmick etc. I think it’s a valid, intelligent and sensible way to participate in the electoral process.

    I also don’t agree that Chandila has “made his point”. For political obssesives like you and me, we have already analysed and debated his proposals. But I suspect most members are unaware he is even standing, let alone what he’s standing for. The ballot papers have yet to be issued for chrissake!

    I don’t quite understand the point you are trying to make about it being an “election not an opinion poll”.

    I don’t think you need to have your finger on the pulse of the party to predict that Chandila is likely to come third. Neither do you need to be a cynic to conclude that his agenda will have more impact the more first preferences he gets.

    The beauty of STV is that you can vote for what you actually believe in. And you can also use your vote to send a signal without wasting it. For example, it would not be irrational for someone who wants Ros to be President but has a lot of sympathy with Chandila’s programme to vote Chandila 1 Ros 2.

    I don’t know when or why you think I implied that Chandila isn’t “up to it”. I think he is. I just think it very unlikley that he will win.

    I will vote LibDem in the Labour-Tory marginal seat I live in. With little expectation of success, but because I want my vote to count in the LibDem column. Unfortunately, due to FPTP, I won’t be able to cast my second preference for the Tory candidate in Battersea in what could be a close race against Labour (I was able to do this in the London mayoral election, of course).

    Fortunately, I can vote for Chandila and his platform, knowing I am in no danger of wasting my vote. If he does come third and neither Lembit nor Ros get 50%, my ballot will transfer to my second favourite candidate at full value.

  • I really don’t see how asking people pay a min of £12 a year to become a member would stop anyone doing so and apart from not paying I don’t see the difference between what Mark propses and the current system

  • Mark, if Chandila’s candidacy isn’t a stunt/gimmick them I think you’ve debased your claim to be a competent comms man when admitting he isn’t in it to win it.

    Perhaps it might have been more politick to say that the chances he would win were slim this time round, but nevertheless I would say that between you you’ve shown flawed strategic planning in making the assumption that the job of the President is to influence our political direction when our constitutional structure mitigates for this possibility. As James points out the federal committees are the place where party direction is hammered out.

    Much as I think there may be something of relevance in your desire for those specific outcomes you mention (free markets, lower taxes, smaller government and more personal freedom) I have to reassert that these ambitions (admirable as they may be) are means to our ends, not the ends themselves.

    I don’t think it is the job for any of us to dictate what specific policies we must dogmatically adhere to in order to feel an affinity with our party’s principles, rather that we accept the agreed manner of reaching those decisions; we practice our politics, we don’t regurgitate ritualised doctrine to symbolise some dead liturgy – it’s a living thing which must be argued and won.

  • Mark Littlewood 10th Oct '08 - 1:43am

    Oranjepan,

    As a comms man (others can decide on my competence or lack of it…and often do!), I think there’s not enough honesty and far too much of an attempt to be “politick”.

    My point was you can achieve something by participating, even if you don’t win. I don’t wish to besmirch those who get elected to committees and “hammer stuff out”, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

    I don’t understand what you’re saying about policy, frankly. Chandila isn’t running on a policy platform. But in so far as you refer to Liberal Vision’s policy platform, I think they often are ends in themselves. I’m not a consequentalist, I believe that more personal freedom is an end in itself. But none of this is about the LibDem Presidential election.

    I agree entirely with your last paragraph, but the salient point you were trying to make here escapes me entirely.

  • Mark, I for one really like what Chandila has to say. I look forward to seeing what comes in the mail as i dont think Ros or Lembit are doing much more than offering the same old same old and we need more than that right now. We need new ideas and a can-do attitude.good luck

  • Mark Littlewood 10th Oct '08 - 2:00am

    Peter 1919 – I see the point you’re making here.

    But I don’t think that the problem is really that the membership fee is too high. I suppose that there is some sort of demand and supply factor at work, but that’s not why I’m suggesting a substantial reduction in the membership fee (potentially to zero). Presumably, if we put the fee up to £50, we’d have a few less members and if we reduced it to £1, we’d have a few more. But that’s not really the point.

    I think it’s about the nature of the relationship we have with LibDem voters. In essence, I want to worry a bit more about enfranchising voters who are down as “definite LibDem” on a canvass return and a bit less about the rights and powers of the tiny proportion of LibDems who are party members and attendees at party meetings/conferences. I reckon that – for a vast majority of our supporters – we just aren’t offering the sort of relationship/deal/partnership that they want to enter into. That’s not just about price.

    Now, there are some really major technical difficulties here. Canvass returns are hardly a wholly accurate record, whereas it’s simple to see who has written a cheque for £12 to HQ and who hasn’t. But I think we should try and conquer these obstacles not merely note them.

    Amongst a number of things I remember from the Harrogate 2007 conference (!) was that our party’s policy on retaining American controlled and financed weapons of mass destruction was adopted with a majority of 24 votes, with less than 1,000 votes cast. The debate was excellent, and it was superb political theatre. But participatory democracy it ain’t.

  • Apple Blossom 10th Oct '08 - 7:18am

    As I understand “branding” actually includes things such as Message, Identity, USP, what we stand for and not just our logo. You cannot just change the logo and hope the world wakes up to you, all good brand advocates know that.

    Let’s be frank can you write out our party message succintly in a way that the electorate might remember it? No because we dont have a clear concise coherent message. Eg our party message in 2005 was ten good reasons to vote liberal democrat – who could remember 10 during the election?

    I attended a meeting last week with a lib dem working policy group and finally one of the significantly older MPs began talking about Communications, that we do not need to change our policies but the way we market them. I do not think Chandila is proposing to definitely bring in a new bird or a new logo, just questioning whether we should look at changing our image and the way we present ourselves.

    It is a pity the white socks and sandals brigade image is the prevalent one in the eyes of the media and the public.

    Nick should fundamentally be part of the brand but the reality we do not have a brand that the electorate can easily identify, if anything Vince Cable is part of Lib Dem Identity and people who dont really follow politics but still vote have no idea who we are or what we stand for,

    That is because we churn out policy and never think about our Message.

    Ps I submitted information to the Bones Commission on how to improve the way our local parties select candidates and the desperate need for training of local party members but as training everyone is an expensive process and a strong criticism of current procedures, the Bones Report did not address the detail of the problem we have. Many others I know submitted information on a variety of topics which do not feature in the Bones Report. What is democratic about the Bones Report? the content of it was decided by the party hierarchy even before the consultation process began?

  • Apple Blossom 10th Oct '08 - 7:32am

    I note Ros has touched on expanding membership too. Is she wrong as well or is it ok for her to say it because she is the establishment candidate and so her platform is what the party heirarchy has approved.

    Local Party Chairs receive membership lists (names, contact details of members) they do not get supporters lists (names, contact details of people who dont want to sign up but want to be involved).

    I live outside of London on the few occasions I have been to London events I have noticed a close knit network. I figure most of the commentary on here is from London Lib Dems.

    Ps on branding Lembit is one of our most recognisable lib dems, his message is a strong resounding liberal one a little wacky at times but he does have a message.

  • Grammar Police 10th Oct '08 - 8:02am

    Apple Blossom, I don’t think Bones was intended to be democratic. It is a consultant’s report into improvements in the party structures etc to help us meet our aim of doubling our MPs in two elections (whatever you think of the ‘improvements’ suggested).

    I’m not sure about most commentary on here being from London Lib Dems, I can think of plenty who post who aren’t (although, sorry, I miss why that was relevant).

    Lastly, local Party chairs do not receive membership lists – membership secretaries do, and as for supporters there is currently no real way of registering yourself as a “party supporter” centrally. Locally we keep a supporters’ list – it’s a bit rough and ready, because you form it from your deliverers’ list, the people who put up posters for you, the people you have really good chats with on the doorstep, lapsed members who didn’t resign etc. It would be relatively straightforward to introduce an area on the central party website where people could give thier details to be added to any relevant local party’s supporters’ group. But then again, some of those people would be disappointed because there wouldn’t be a supporters’ group for them to join!

  • Hywel Morgan 10th Oct '08 - 9:57am

    Chandila’s website doesn’t appear to be working – can’t get any links past the first page with the image looking like a sniper is aiming high and left.

  • Mark, your starting to get muddled if you’ve already necessarily predefined your outcomes and yet you don’t describe yourself as a consequentialist.

    I think it’s ok to have preferred outcomes, but it’s bad form to try to achieve them by bypassing due processes.

    By standing for president on this platform Chandila is working against our constitutional structure rather than trying to push good reforms from within.

    I agree that it is good we are able to appeal to a wider spectrum of people, though my feeling is that PV reflects proportionally a smaller segment of the membership and would therefore be better advised to stand for election to the federal executive or federal policy committee.

  • Mark Littlewood 11th Oct '08 - 12:54am

    “Mark, your starting to get muddled if you’ve already necessarily predefined your outcomes and yet you don’t describe yourself as a consequentialist.”

    Assumign we’re talking about policy here, the outcomes I won’t to achieve are mainly procedural ones. That’s to say I want a proportional voting system because it’s the right procedure, not because I think it will lead to more LibDem MPs being elected.

    “I think it’s ok to have preferred outcomes, but it’s bad form to try to achieve them by bypassing due processes.”

    Who’s trying to bypass process here?

    “By standing for president on this platform Chandila is working against our constitutional structure rather than trying to push good reforms from within.”

    No, this is an internal election. So, it follows – logically – that he is trying to push reform from within. This is not like – e.g. running against Simon Hughes in Bermondsey.

    “I agree that it is good we are able to appeal to a wider spectrum of people, though my feeling is that PV reflects proportionally a smaller segment of the membership and would therefore be better advised to stand for election to the federal executive or federal policy committee.”

    This is a tactical point, I suppose. If Chandila was running for FE he’d probably have a better chance of being elected, but I don’t think that’s really the point.

  • Mark Littlewood 11th Oct '08 - 1:22am

    “Mark – I think it really depends how you define stunt. Everything you’ve described conforms to my definition. I’m not aware of any stunt that didn’t seek to “USE publicity to bring about real change” – on the odd occasion when I’ve adopted this tactic I haven’t got people to dress up in silly clothes for the good of their health. I don’t mean it in the perjorative way that you seem to be inferring, indeed I have described it elsewhere as a very cunning stunt. I genuinely, sincerely, admire Chandila’s chutzpah. I just don’t think that is enough.”
    As previously posted, I think this may be an argument about semantics. Your description of the stunt as “cunning” does not persuade me otherwise. The definition I found on the web was “anything spectacular or unusual done to gain publicity”. I generally think, in political discussions, the phrase “it’s just a stunt” is basically a derogative term.
    “I’m not aware of any stunt that didn’t seek to “USE publicity to bring about real change”
    This is an extraordinary statement coming from a seasoned campaigner. If you want a list, email me.
    “You and Chandila have both emphasised how he is running on a platform of ideas. That’s all very well but ideas can come from anywhere. Where is the evidence that Chandila has a record in delivery?”
    His platform is that he has the best ideas and the best approach. That’s a legitimate platform. On “delivery”, that’s a fair question for each candidate. Whoever wins will be propelled into the most powerful political position they have ever held in their lives. By far.
    I guess, as a voter, I’m generally ideas-based. Without wanting to draw too many similarities between the (relatively minor) election of LibDem President and the (monumentally important) election of a US President, McCain’s attacks on Obama have often been based on “even if he has the ideas, he can’t deliver”. That’s fair game, but I just tend to vote for the candidate with the best ideas. Only if there is a truly monumental level of distinction in potential competence of delivery would I baulk at this. In this election, there isn’t.
    “You say that under an AV election there are no wasted votes. I agree, that’s precisely why people should not give Chandila their first preference. We don’t want someone who, if elected, wouldn’t be ready to do the job of presiding. If he wants to change the way the party organises, he has other tools at his disposal (but, again as you imply, he doesn’t event have confidence in his abilities to advance his agenda in the FE). No one should take the risk of giving Chandila their first or second preference. He is too unproven.”
    I may have overstated or oversimplified my case previosuly. I suppose what I mean is that under AV/STV, you don’t need to worry about wasted votes. You can use your first preference vote for what you actually want to support – knowing that it will retain full value if it is then transferred on. And it also means you can be “clever” about how you use it. For example, in an AV election in the LibDem-Tory marginal of, say, Romsey, you could sensibly – as a hard-core environmentalist – cast your first preference for the Greens and second pref for Sandra Gidley. This would send a signal that you felt enormously strongly about the environment, but your vote would end up being as crucial in helping Sandra defeat the Tories.
    I think the “risk” you talk about is really just scare tactics. Your fears seems to be that those who support Chandila’s ideas – but worry about his ability to deliver them – should revert to an establishment candidate. This could only be based on a genuine worry that Chandila might actually win. I’d like to hope he can, but I doubt it. He gets my first preference vote because I back his platform.

  • I can’t really follow why a Presidential candidate who is concerned about branding would put out two high profile report branding the Liberal Democrats a bunch of losers who weren’t very Liberal.

    I can’t understand why a Presidential candidate who emphasises new technology and 24/7 media has a website that doesn’t work, day after day.

    I would like to have some indictation of time commitment from all candidates.

    I would like to see some evidence of previous delivery, esp from a candidate promoting their previous comercial experience.

    When someone says they “favour 50% of small donations and subscriptions being remitted to local and regional parties.”

    I’d appreciate it if they had some ball park figures for the sums involved and what % would go to which, as there is a huge difference between local and regional parties.

  • Mark Littlewood 11th Oct '08 - 1:04pm

    Well, I guess we have to beg to differ (again) on the implications of the electoral system and how voters should use it to maximise the effect of their preferences.

    Levity granted on the cunning stunt stuff…

  • Kevin Williams 14th Oct '08 - 12:21pm

    What a great battle Chandila and Lembit were excellent last night. Chandila was amazing at National Liberal Club hustings arranged spontaneously.

    Why cant the party arrange proper hustings so candidates get a fair change to make their pitch? Unfortunately suffered as a result of the spontaneous nature of the hustings and underperformed, I am sure she can do better.

  • Kevin Williams 14th Oct '08 - 12:21pm

    excuse spelling on my way out for lunch, should say Ros suffered as a result… etc

  • Apple Blossom 14th Oct '08 - 1:33pm

    No one has informed me what the purpose / benefit was of putting the lib dem bird on a diet ? That is not a rebranding exercise – it’s a joke. I think the party is in desperate need of developing a brand.

  • Mark Littlewood 14th Oct '08 - 3:11pm

    I agree with James (for once!) that the new logo is an improvement on the old one, but I think his explanation of the reasoning behind it shows the difference between a party logo and a branding exercise. The logo needs to be derivative from the branding. It’s an outcome of branding not the basis of it.

    I’m not an expert on brand management, but to enormously oversimplify, if the party decides it wants to brand itself as “angry and fierce”, this leans to fiery orange as the colour, “Stop the Lying Bastards” as the party slogan and Munch’s “The Scream” as the party logo etc.

    If the party’s brand is “sensible and moderate”, this leans more to soft yellows, “Think Hard, Vote LibDem” as the slogan and a Greek Temple as the party logo.

    Okay, both massive over-simplifications and both very flippant, but you get the point.

  • Mark Littlewood 14th Oct '08 - 3:51pm

    On your first point, there’s a REASON that the other parties have done it and not just that they have more cash than us. In very broad brush terms, high profile organisations/companies will go through the exercise relatively frequently. This isn’t just doing something for the sake of it, it is continually addressing your image and presentational style and whether it chimes. That’s why I don’t think this is an optional extra. I fear that the LibDem brand is very dated and we don’t approach the electorate in a manner or means that is anywhere near optimal. For a company, that’s serious. For a party, it’s very serious indeed.

    I think you confuse policy and message in your second paragraph. Branding does not hinge on whether the party is e.g. pro- or anti- nuclear power or pro- or anti- ID cards. It’s about approach, flavour, projection (much more nebulous concepts). In my flippant examples in my previous post, it’s more about whether we are “angry” or “mild mannered” etc. The policy platform is not irrelevant, obviously (if e.g. we supported the status quo on everything, it would be easy to brand as “safe” but not as “risque and radical”), but it certainly isn’t the starting point. I guess your implication is that a branding exercise would start at federal conference or with the FPC, which I don’t agree with at all. I think it would, and should, be the Party President who co-ordinates the project.

    I don’t think this really amounts to a megaphone diplomacy approach (or though very commonly, I am unapologetic and proud in pleading guilty as charged for adopting such an approach!). A real success for Chandila has been how he has ignited a passionate, but intelligent, internal debate – in the LibDem blogosphere rather than in e.g. the national press.

  • Mark Littlewood 14th Oct '08 - 4:53pm

    James, you said “As the role of party president is not fundamentally about policy, it is the wrong place from which a rebranding exercise should come from.” This seems to me to imply that you think the rebranding exercise should start from somewhere that is fundamentally about policy.

    On the age-old “narrative” debate. Sometimes, I think the problem is that everyone debates what narrative they want, rather than agreeing that we need oen and empowering someone to set it. I think the same might apply on branding. that’s why I’m quite pleased that much of the debate is based around whether we need to go through this exercise, rather than just a load of people giving their view of what the brand should be.

    I disagree with Darrell, or rather think that he raises a chicken-and-egg problem. We won’t be seen as a party of government without becoming one (or at least getting closer to becoming one). So we need to make electoral advance by acting and behaving a bit more like one. Being properly branded and a bit less ramshackle would be a step in this direction (although I don’t think anyone would argue it’s enough).

    Isn’t a party being ready for government a bit like a party being seen as honest? It’s not a claim it can make for itself with any credibility…

  • Mark,
    branding is important, I agree, by my understanding is that the brand must reflect the inherent values of the organisation for it to resonate widely.

    This gets me back to the point I was making earlier in this thread that the message and the method must match in order to for a programme to be successful.

    James’ point is vital in this.

    I agree that the party brand shouldn’t be the responsibility of the president, but I also agree that it shouldn’t be left to the committees. I’d prefer it resulted from the ongoing consultative conversation between each part of the party structure – much more inclusive and much more democratic!

    FWIW from what I’ve seen and heard of Chandila I think he’d make a good committee spokesperson as I think he’s shown that’s where his talents and interests are.

  • Mark Littlewood 14th Oct '08 - 5:43pm

    Darrell,

    I refer you to the branding definition I gave a moment ago. It isn’t just about the logo. The logo is pretty trivial all told.

    The point is to get across a general style of approach/theme. The Cameron Conservative brand is basically “we are not extreme right-wing bastards anymore”. Everything else in branding terms is really a means of reinforcing that message of change from extreme to moderate (the logo and use of shades of green included). The broad evidence is that Cameron’s branding has bene successful (although he’s been blessed witha hapless government, of course).

    We need to do something similar.

    In my humble guesstimate, LibDem protestations about being “highly ambitious”, “hungry for power”, “trebling our seats over ten years” etc. just don’t achieve very much. Maybe this is because they aren’t wholly believeable, but my guess is most people don’t care. I think it’s more attractive (and truer) to say “well, yeah, what I’m arguing for might be unpopular, but I believe it. Unlike the other two parties, I won’t say what you want to hear.”

  • Mark, if it helps I’ll say I think we will get into government within my lifetime, but I won’t be happy with that if we don’t do it in the correct way – because the path to power determines the purposes it can be put to.

  • Mark Littlewood 15th Oct '08 - 12:26am

    Darell,

    My core message would be “we’re going to get politicians and politics out of your lives. They control too much money, have too much power and too much say on your life decisions. This has to end.”

    My broad thematic would be “angry but also determined”. We should therefore come across as more pissed off and less analytical about things. I don’t think I’m ever likely to vote (or have the opportunity to vote) for Norman Baker to be party leader! But I wish more of our spokespeople had his approach.

    Example: Iraq war. We made hay out of this issue, but only enough hay to fill a couple of barns.

    My response to the Labour attack “Vote LibDem, get Tory” in the last week of the 2005 campaign would have been “Vote Blair, get Bush”. I would have devoted an entire PEB – probably the last one – to accusing anyone who campaigned, leafleted (or perhaps even voted Labour) of doing the dirty work of Bush’s Republicans in a country they were trying to convert into a satellite state of the Pentagon. Ok, this is pretty hard-core stuff, but you get the gist.

    I also say this as someone who wasn’t initially or instinctively opposed to the Iraq war and who thought in 2000 that Bush might turn out to be a compassionate conservative!

  • Mark Littlewood 15th Oct '08 - 1:24am

    Mike might agree with you.

    But I don’t.

    I liked Ming Campbell’s early statements along the lines of “I am only seeking power in order to give it away.”

    On being pissed off – we can’t (and shouldn’t be) pissed off about everything. But the things we are pissed off about, we should be really pissed off about. I think the danger at the moment is sounding too mealy-mouthed rather than too awkward.

  • Mark Littlewood 15th Oct '08 - 2:52am

    Lateness and friedness of brain are more than adequate grounds for any forgiveness you require, Darell!

    I can quite understand why people might not want to agree with my main theme. They might even be right.

    But the problem on the narrative and the branding is that no single view prevails.

    Rather than deciding too many things, we prevaricate too often.

    Rather than saying – “it’s a tough call between X and Y, but we’re going for Y”, we tend to say “X is good and Y is good. We can have a bit of each”. That’s confusing and unclear and, very often, impossible.

    In terms of party structure, I want to involve more people in more decisions.

    But I’m not saying that each LibDem voter should pick their favourite pantone shade and we should mix this into a proportional pot…and the resulting colour will be our new party colour. (note: it would be brown).

    I wonder whether we might be better off pursuing a second (or even third, fourth or fifth) best strategy decisively than forever trying to compromise between all points of view.

  • Apple Blossom 15th Oct '08 - 12:55pm

    James unfortunately you still have not understood rebranding – it is not about taking your old smelly clothes to the drycleaners (though that might help), it is about changing the attitude of the man wearing those clothes. Your blog musings suggest you hold a PhD in the very thing Nick Clegg wants stamp out – “naval gazing.”

    I do not propose to respond to any further things you write as it will only give you the opportunity to examine your belly button in greater detail.

  • ….surely one of the key drivers of our naval gazing culture is the endless proliferation of lib dem blogs and email groups which provide a safe fora for internal party discussion but detract from the business of engaging with the electorate, and with all the groups (local, vol sector, educational, interest, profesional etc) which can act as a good conduit with the electorate?

    my perspective is that in politics it takes a very long time to build a reputation (and with it the brand and image etc), and a very short time to destroy it…we have effectively done just that over the last two years, mainly due to the way the leadership issue has been handled. We did something similar in the late 80s in the way we handled the merger negotiations with more than a little naval gazing – the result was that we trashed the alliance brand which had been popular although problemetic, and it took ten years under Paddy’s leadership to rebuild our political credibility and identity.

    …so I despair at yet more naval gazing about how we re-invent and repackage ourselves; the superficial stuff passes and falls away pretty quickly and the real question emerges – are we an alternative government, a brand of competance which people can trust, and the media can cut us a bit of slak?

    At the moment defitively not! As long as this remains the case, talented people at all levels from local activist to parliamentarian will give up the electoral game and drift away to other activities (or other parties)..

  • Mark Littlewood 20th Oct '08 - 11:49pm

    Letterman – you’re voting for Chandila? Or organising a write-in campaign for James Graham? 🙂

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