There are way too many elephants in Lib Dem Members’ survey

elephants - Some rights reserved by Colin the ScotYesterday, I was delighted to receive the latest Liberal Democrat members’ survey and I quickly completed it. Once I actually read the questions, though, some things made me snort with rage. I would be very surprised if they were able to glean any meaningful data from what they asked. Yes, they may well get a few decent press releases out of “Lib Dem Members’ favourite achievements in Government” or favourite things that we have stopped the Tories doing that will be covered only on the Lib Dem website and scant few other places.

Let’s start with the good stuff, though. It filled me with utter joy to be able to tick the second box down for age. I don’t often get to do that any more. However, I gather some young people are distraught at having to share a category that goes from 25-49.

In some ways the questions felt like an info-survey. Some members may not have known about some of the things we have done so the long list of options on both the favourite achievements and favourite blocks questions were probably useful. However, that howl that they probably heard in Lib Dem HQ was me expressing my fury at the benefits cap being included in the list of Liberal Democrat achievements. That has never been Liberal Democrat policy as far as I’m aware and it was opposed by many, including Paddy Ashdown. That may well have been put in the list to check that people were actually paying attention, but still.

Even worse, shared parental leave and the incredible work Norman Lamb is doing on mental health, both examples that tick all the stronger economy, fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life boxes, were left out.

The worst thing, though, is that the only possible questions that allowed you to complain about anything were on the service people have received from our membership and campaigns departments. These departments perform daily miracles despite having too few people doing way too many jobs.  When you’ve had as many responses from them at times when they really shouldn’t be working as I have, you realise just how much effort they put in. But even if you did want to raise a specific concern there wasn’t much space to do so.

So we put our staff under scrutiny, but not our leaders and ministers and parliamentarians. There was no space to say that we didn’t like the Bedroom Tax, or those provisions in the Immigration Bill that give ministers the power to render someone stateless or the overuse of benefit sanctions for example. The survey was littered with these “elephants in the room” that concern many Liberal Democrats yet there was no space to feed them back. Even a box asking people if there are any coalition policies they don’t like would have given much more meaningful information.

These surveys are a good idea, and I’m all in favour of accentuating the positive, but to send out something that only elicits certain responses does not constitute meaningful dialogue.

There is, of course, a way for party members to express their views on a much wider range of issues – by taking part in our Liberal Democrat Voice surveys. The most recent one went out last week so there’s very little, if any, time left to respond. If you are a party member, please join in the members’ forum and take part in this much more comprehensive snapshot of opinion.

Photo by Colin the Scot

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

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46 Comments

  • Along with Caron I was pleased to receive the members’ survey (I don’t recall having received one before but I haven’t check all my unopened emails) and I was unhappy with the missing questions. At the end there was a text box, I can’t remember what question it asked but I stated that I was unhappy that I couldn’t state what I hated about what the coalition had done and I couldn’t say how badly Nick, Danny and other ministers were doing. I also pointed out that without these opportunities the survey was meaningless. Hopefully I will not be alone in pointing these things out in that text box.

  • Paul In Twickenham 23rd Apr '14 - 10:35am

    In response to Caron’s comments I went to the survey having previously consigned the email to the trash folder after no more than a glance at its content. I agree with what is said above. The question posed by the survey might be succinctly rewritten as “Are the parliamentary party brilliant, or what?”.

    One can only assume that the intention is to use the survey as an opportunity to instruct the membership on the brilliant achievements of the parliamentary party while sending them on a guilt trip about giving up that Focus delivery round.

  • I’m afraid we are now entering the “Protect the Leader” phase of campaigning. Sadly its sub title “Sacrifice Everything Else” will become apparent later.

  • Andrew Emmerson 23rd Apr '14 - 11:05am

    Party goes out of way to consult members. No one happy. Welcome to the Lib Dems.

  • Steve Griffiths 23rd Apr '14 - 11:22am

    I haven’t been a member since before 2010, so have not received the members survey. I have not joined any other party either, but if the benefits cap is now being trumpeted as a Lib Dem achievement to its members then the party has changed beyond all recognition from the one I campaigned for, for thirty odd years. It’s all very sad and is another indication of the fact that there is no one advising the LD policy makers, who has had experience of low wages and poor housing. The party continues to loose touch with ordinary people.

  • Austin Rathe 23rd Apr '14 - 11:31am

    Andrew wins.

  • Louise Bloom 23rd Apr '14 - 11:43am

    Maybe those who weren’t happy could compile something better to help Austin next time? Personally I was distraught at having to tick the 50+ box for the first time!

  • Andrew Emmerson 23rd Apr '14 - 11:59am

    I really don’t think that many people would seriously draw a huge distinction between feedback and consultation – Que Sera Sera

    As for asking things that we might not like – again repeat to yourself this is the Lib Dems, like all political parties it is a broad church, with a broad variety of views. There are things in there to annoy right wingers, left wingers, liberals, social democrats, centrists, Gladstonians, worshippers of beveridge – you know the whole spectrum.

    To not offend anyone requires simply not doing this sort of thing. Thank you Austin for doing this, I appreciate it.

  • Andrew Emmerson 23rd Apr '14 - 12:02pm

    Oh and even if Austin didn’t do it, people would still be offended he hadn’t.

  • Richard Dean 23rd Apr '14 - 12:12pm

    How to be successful – annoy everyone? A lesson in the LibDem approach to togetherness!

  • Max Wilkinson 23rd Apr '14 - 12:16pm

    I’d have welcomed the chance to answer a ‘What policies aren’t you proud of?’ question.

    I still want to know where my Paddy Ashdown membership cars is. I’m beginning to think it was a scam to get me to donate more money.

  • Grace Goodlad 23rd Apr '14 - 12:18pm

    Personally I think it would be far more helpful to ask for feedback from us about what feedback we are getting on the doorstep from local people as we work for the Local and European Elections. I, and others have spoken to literally hundreds of real people and am getting very clear and specific feedback from real voters about why they will and won’t support us. As k us that. Engage with us about that. Feed back where decisions taken by “Team Westminster” (can’t swear on here or Auntie Caron shall send me to the naughty step and make me sit next to Mark Littlewood. Bleugh), are actively hurting us so they direction of travel can be changed.

    I am not interested in attacking our rank and file staff – most of them work well beyond their contracts to the detriment of their personal lives, and in some cases health. I have grave concerns about some of the decisions taken by Directors and “The Beloved Leader” but the poor so-and-so in m’ship who has to explain 7 times to my m’ship secretary that the department name has changed, and the software has changed, and yes it is a shame that so many people are unhappy with Nick Clegg? For that poor so-and-so I have nothing but admiration.

  • Max Wilkinson 23rd Apr '14 - 12:24pm

    P.S. These surveys are a good idea and I can see why they are written in this way. It’s an engagement exercise, not a policy consultation.

  • The last question allowed me to give succinct feedback on the Party Leader and the effect the Farage debate is having in the doorstep.

  • Grace Goodlad 23rd Apr '14 - 12:32pm

    Indeed Chris white. I have heard a lot about that on the doorsetep too.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 23rd Apr '14 - 12:33pm

    Grace, I am offended that you think I would ever put you through such cruel and unusual punishment:-).

  • I read most of the above and turned to my emails to find the survey. I then filled it in in the most positive way I could possibly manage. Well done Austin Rathe and Membership services for positive engagement with the members. I remember well the old Membership Services where you couldn’t even get a phone call answered cos everyone was part-time.

  • paul barker 23rd Apr '14 - 1:38pm

    The article & most of the comments strike me as a bit naive, the survey will be open to our enemies & any negative questions would be used against us. “Journalists” would use it for more stories about splits & plots against Clegg.
    I really liked the “Top Acheivements” question, I found it quite hard to pick only 3.

  • Austin Rathe 23rd Apr '14 - 1:44pm

    For what it’s worth the survey is compiled across HQ (and outside) with a variety of teams submitting questions to which they genuinely want to know the answer. You won’t always see the context of those, of course, but this isn’t some PR exercise, we ask the questions because someone here values the answer. I frankly struggle to understand how that is a bad thing.

    Of course there are things you might want to know the answer to that we’re not in there. Perhaps it’s all a big conspiracy, or perhaps we just didn’t think of it? Email me suggestions and I can promise you they’ll be considered

    Just a final point. I wrote parts of the survey, other parts are written by other people. My name was on the bottom of the email, so I become the reason everything is so terrible. In the position I’m in I have to expect to be on the end of a certain amount of “feedback”, and the constructive parts of that are genuinely useful (look at previous surveys and see what has changed, all in response to people contacting us with suggestions). So please do give that, directly or otherwise, but please don’t ever think for a second that anyone working for the party is trying to do anything other than help liberal democrats win as many elections as possible. It’s quite literally the reason we come in to work every day.

  • Paul In Twickenham 23rd Apr '14 - 2:20pm

    @Austin – forgive me for paraphrasing (I did the survey this morning and don’t have access to it now) and correct me if I misrepresent the questions as given, but I think one question was something like “which of these achievements are you most proud of”.

    Where was the question “what has this government done that you disapprove of?”, or “how do you rate the performance of our ministers in delivering our manifesto”, or “how do you rate the performance of the party leader in representing the party to the nation”. I could rate the membership team, but I could not rate the leadership team.

    I take your point that everyone is trying to deliver Liberal Democrat success, but when you look at by-election results and opinion poll numbers it is pretty clear that it isn’t working. If the party really wants to engage with its members and get constructive feedback from the people on the ground as to how to deliver success then only asking for positive feedback doesn’t feel like a great start.

  • Denis Mollison 23rd Apr '14 - 2:47pm

    Paul in Twickenham –

    That was very well put. Like others, I found it easy enough to select 3 achievements in government to be proud of, but would have liked the option of indicating the ones I’m ashamed of.

  • Grace Goodlad 23rd Apr '14 - 2:51pm

    Quite @Paul in Twickenham

  • “You won’t always see the context of those, of course, but this isn’t some PR exercise, we ask the questions because someone here values the answer. I frankly struggle to understand how that is a bad thing.”

    Perhaps because the converse is that no one there values the answers to the questions that you didn’t ask …

  • “The article & most of the comments strike me as a bit naive, the survey will be open to our enemies & any negative questions would be used against us.”

    Right. So if anyone in the Lib Dems does a ‘SWOT’ analysis, your “enemies” in the media will use the fact that the “W” and the “T” are there to invent a plot against the Leader.

    From now on, there will be only Strength, not Weakness; only Opportunity, not Threat. How Orwellian.

  • David Allen 23rd Apr '14 - 7:08pm

    “It’s an engagement exercise, not a policy consultation.”

    Yes, it is, isn’t it? So, it’s designed to fool our members into spending their time on it, thinking it will give them a chance to get their views across, when actually it’s just an advert for Lib Dem “achievements”, coupled with a prod to get out and help more.

    The next survey might usefully ask whether the last one actually succeeded in encouraging interest – or whether it just got lots of ordinary members even more annoyed and disillusioned than they were to start with.

  • Paul Barker
    “The article & most of the comments strike me as a bit naive, the survey will be open to our enemies & any negative questions would be used against us.”

    It’s a member-only survey isn’t it ? Hard to see then how it would be available to your ‘enemies’

  • Agree 100% with the succinct summary by Paul in Twickenham -especially in para 3 where he notes that clearly what is being done is not in fact working as all the elections and Opinion Polls since 2010 consistently show.

    Ref Louise Bloom’s comment (hi Louise) various of us have made suggestions for improving such LDV surveys before, but to no avail. For example we still get the same old Hobson’s Choice of ‘ Do you think the LD’s were right to go into Coalition in 2010?’

    It really would be strange if most Lib Dems, who campaign as a Third Party in a mainly FPTP electoral system, didn’t support going into Coalition – even with the Tories. Not that Labour would be a great deal better as anyone knows who has spent over 30 years fighting Labour as I have. But where are the follow up questions such as ‘Do you think the Party Leadership have handled being in Coalition a) Well? b) Appallingly badly?’

    As most commentators above have pointed out, without such opportunities for genuine “feedback” (to use Austin’s word) the Survey is a pointless exercise in confirming the ‘view from the bunker’.

  • I think some people may have missed the point where Austin said he was happy for feedback. Repeating the same points again in a slightly more patronising tone isn’t quite the same as ‘constructive feedback’. It’s new, it’s not perfect, it will hopefully be better next time, email him with useful comments. Are we done now?

  • David Evans 24th Apr '14 - 3:58am

    Austin, It is very loyal of you to take the bullet for others, but you do not explain how several key questions, vital in assessing the party’s views of the perforamnce of its senior parlaimentary members has suddenly been dropped. Why ahve they been dropped?

  • David Evans 24th Apr '14 - 3:59am

    Austin, It is very loyal of you to take the bullet for others, but you do not explain how several key questions, vital in assessing the party’s views of the performance of its senior parliamentary members has suddenly been dropped. Why have they been dropped?

  • Austin Rathe 24th Apr '14 - 8:31am

    David, we have never (in our surveys) asked any questions about the performance of individuals. Lib Dem Voice do ask those questions in their own members surveys, but we never have, do you’re incorrect when you suggest that those questions have been dropped.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 24th Apr '14 - 9:18am

    Totally agree with Caron.

    It struck me as wrong for a party which believes in voter listings in elections being completed 1 2 3 etc. to fill in a first past the post ‘your top 3’. That is Tory thinking surely – just like 3 councilors will be elected, all from the same, Tory party. Isn’t that the sort of thinking we want to add to the rubbish bin? Old thinking is hard to lose it seems. And so many issues were totally ignored as Caron points out.

    A LibDem approach to listing in order as far down the list as one wishes would be far more appropriate IF the party has the means to analyse the results. We should have the means because the order is what we expected to complete.

    I was left, generally, with the feeling of completing nothing meaningful and will view the results of the survey with incredulity. What can such a survey mean to a broad-thinking party like ours? Are we looking to put just three topics in the manifesto? I hope not. And not to be critical of course. I hope we are critical because closed eyes see nothing.

  • I also felt it was a poor survey, did not allow any nuanced response, BUT, bearing in mind the many comments about HQ staff fitting the work of a quart into a pint size day …. IF lessons are learnt, and any subsequent survey is improved, then good. Must say, the LDV survey of a week/two ago, much better 🙂
    I have been on the doorstep ( in LB of Haringey area) NO sign of, mention of UKIP, maybe because of strong local Lib Dem base of Lynne Featherstone as MP, active MEP, Sarah Ludford and team of Cllrs.

  • Chris Randall 24th Apr '14 - 3:11pm

    No matter what it won’t save anyone from the gibbet because when this election is over it will be obvious to all how much damage has been done to the party , and 2015 will only hammer the nails into the coffin .

  • Simon Banks 25th Apr '14 - 2:01pm

    Andrew: I was involved for several years at work on issues of consultation in the public sector. Yes, as Gareth says, the survey is better than nothing, but it was not an honest consultation exercise that would be recognised as such by anyone involved in such issues in the public or voluntary sectors. A consultation exercise would have given members a proper chance to explain what different routes they would have the party take. An honest, balanced exercise would have balanced rating a list of the party’s top achievements with a list of failings – or left this loaded question out entirely in favour of questions asking members to say whether they agreed with certain key policies, those policies being summarised in an unbiased way.

    It did read like an attempt to combine getting some feedback with improving morale among the troops. Unfortunately the two purposes do not mix – as we’ve seen with the “consultation” over the OMOV proposal (alias removing from local parties the right to elect representatives at conference), with the same people promoting the consultation and promoting their favoured answer at the same time. A public sector organisation consulting in such ways would be wide open to legal challenge.

  • For the past few years, I’ve answered the “support being in a coalition” question with the same answer: “As opposed to a one-party Conservative government”. I daresay some people feel the same, but it’s never reflected.

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