Tim Gordon scorecard, 1 year on

Tim GordonLast January I wrote an open letter to the party’s then new Chief Executive Tim Gordon, setting out four priorities. One year on, how are things looking?

Here’s what I wrote (with introductory pleasantries skipped), with each of the four points followed by an update and a score. Read on to see how Tim has been doing…

Sorting the party’s message

There will be more people telling you that you need to sort out the party’s message than I’ve eaten chocolates in the last year.

They’re right that the party’s messaging needs sorting.

But you should ignore them. It shouldn’t be your job.

More than one of your predecessors tried to run the party’s messaging and the result was disaster.

Unless you are Chris Rennard, trying to run the party’s messaging and tell ministers, MPs, the Federal Policy Committee and the Campaigns Department what they should be saying will wreck your time in post, distract from what you could be achieving and end in failure just as it has done for others. More than once.

Perhaps after a few years in the job you will become a new Chris Rennard, but at the moment – sorry, Tim you’re no Chris.

What you can – and must – do is get the party’s ability to send a coordinated message sorted. Leave it to others to sort out what the message is, but make sure that whatever it is, the party is in a fit state to communicate it consistently, incessantly and effectively.

It isn’t just the absurd inconsistencies of different messages from ministers in the same conference pack that needs fixing. It is also the hugely wasteful duplication that goes on with at times every staff member – not only federally, but in constituencies too – apparently wanting to choose their own fonts, their own colour schemes and their own layouts. People work all sorts of silly hours, saying how busy they are – but promptly waste hours time after time coming up with their own versions of what should be said and what publications should look like.

Get to grips with this wasteful inconsistency and you will not only make the party’s communication efforts better, you will even save that most precious of resources in the process – staff time.

Verdict, one year on: Tim Gordon is doing well on this. He has rightly left the sorting out of the content of the message to others, whilst getting on with reforming the central party organisation so it can deliver a consistent message (see the write-up of the HQ reorganisation from my email newsletter). There is still a long way to go – you only need spend the shortest amount of time on the party website to see how frequently it is off-message, for example – but the progress has been good so far and not everything can be done in a year. 9/10.


As Stephen Tall has documented, the long-term trend of fund-raising by the party has been on an impressive upward path. The Liberal Democrats are now even consistently raising more from individual and corporation donations above the declarable thresholds than the Labour Party.

The loss of Short Money makes that growth pleasing, but insufficient. Quite simply, the party needs more money and you need to be central to that.

The party’s central fundraising has been most effective when Chief Executives have given direct personal attention to it – including the time to meet donors and would-be donors. Learn from what your predecessors got right and allocate your time accordingly.

Verdict, one year on: in that HQ reorganisation, Tim Gordon put himself in charge of the team responsible for bringing in more money. That is a good sign of his priorities. So far the fundraising figures are looking cautiously promising. The federal party’s core income doesn’t yet fully cover its basic running costs, so extra donor income is having to be used to fill that gap rather than all going to boosting the party’s election campaign coffers. Even so, compared to previous Parliamentary cycles the level of fundraising is good. 8/10.

Enlist supporters in the fight for liberalism

The party is not exactly short of opponents to overcome when it comes to implementing Liberal Democrat beliefs in government, yet we are not using the party’s grassroots strengths to help win those struggles. Although our ideology is one of empowering individuals, at a national level we treat members and supporters often as passive spectators, to be told (sometimes, intermittently) what the party is up to in their name rather than engaging them as active allies in the struggle for a liberal society.

Even when government ministers fret about individual public consultations that are being carried out, or think carefully about how to handle their results, we don’t ask members to take part in them (with the honourable exception of Willie Rennie).

What I wrote last December still stands:

Looking back through the emails I have received from the party centrally since the formation of the coalition, very few have asked me to do anything. Some have asked for money, requested I come to conference or suggested I go and help in elections – but even those, whilst being good stuff, have been drawn from a very narrow conception of what members and supporters can do. When it comes to policy areas, campaigning disappears and it is nearly all top-down broadcast mode communication telling me what someone has done.

Those communications are important (as I’ve said before) but should be only part of a wider ambition. It is as if all a local councillor did was tell people what has happened after a planning committee has ruled, rather than telling them in advance what is going to happen and how they can influence it.

The party is not exactly short of opponents to overcome when it comes to implementing Liberal Democrat beliefs in government, yet we are not using the party’s grassroots strengths to help win those struggles.

Verdict, one year on: Ahem. Let’s just say this hasn’t been an area of stunning success. A scattering of promising signs, such as the party’s experiments with Nationbuilder, yes. Overall though 2012 was more a year of missed opportunities than progress. 3/10.

Write an email, once a fortnight

I suspect you’ll write more than just the one. But once a fortnight you should make a few minutes in your diary to write an update for party activists. Also commit to reading all the replies you get, however briefly and however brutally you devolve replying to others.

Don’t stress about exactly who it goes to or how skimpy the content may be given the pressures of your schedule. Simply regularly communicating and reading the responses will work wonders for helping you understand what people in the party are thinking and for improving communications, building up the bank of good will that at some point you will need to pillage remorselessly.

Verdict, one year on: Tim Gordon doesn’t just do a fortnightly email, he does a weekly one. That’s good and it always contains a timely and useful summary of the party’s current key messages and views on topical issues. The downside is that is pretty much all it contains. It isn’t used as a way to regularly communicate a wider range of information about what is going on in the party, in the way that Chris Rennard’s emails used to. The recent start of a weekly email from Nick Clegg is a good compliment, but it too naturally is more about looking to the outside world rather than filling the gap those Rennard emails used to seek to tackle. More work to be done. 7/10

Overall score: 27/40, a good start with plenty more still to do.

* Mark Pack is Party President and is the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

Read more by or more about , , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters.


  • Tracy Connell 3rd Jan '13 - 10:17am

    “The party is not exactly short of opponents to overcome when it comes to implementing Liberal Democrat beliefs in government, yet we are not using the party’s grassroots strengths to help win those struggles.”

    Very true.

    We are now getting lots of information, through Tim’s emails and Nick’s, which is brilliant. Plus now we have the promising marketing strategy from Ryan Coetzee. But the main problem in the whole system is that there is no two-way communication. You contact someone at HQ to try to get information on a policy and it’s practically impossible.

    I have not had replies from emails I sent almost a year ago asking for information on things like pensions. I’m left unarmed on the doorstep during campaigning. I’m told that Tim does read all the emails – however, he does not reply, even to a direct question. Out of all the emails I sent to him last year I never had one reply. This is where things fall down. If he doesn’t have time to reply himself then he needs to delegate for someone to reply on his behalf. I realise we are short staffed at HQ and everyone there is under pressure and works really hard, but this needs to be sorted. If someone asks about policy, then maybe forward their email to someone in the policy department (and make sure the person knows you have forwarded it). There’s nothing worse for an activist’s morale than being ignored, or having the impression that you are being ignored.

    Plus we have activists with lots of knowledge, experience or skills in different areas. There should be a way for grassroots to get through to the top of the party info and skills that can help on certain policies etc. For example we may have someone with lots of experience in social care with many suggests on how something may be done or what can be done to solve a problem in that area. At the moment if they try to send that in an email it just seems to disappear and nothing comes back. We send suggestions through and get no feedback.

    Mark, I think your assessment is pretty accurate but this major problem of two-way communication needs to be tackled, and tackled soon, if activists are to have the ammunition they need for 2015.

  • Lorna Dupre 3rd Jan '13 - 10:47am

    A key appointment will be the new Director of Digital. If they can sort out the mess that is the current state of the party’s online interactive and campaigning tools, I’ll be well pleased.

  • Tony Greaves 3rd Jan '13 - 3:38pm

    I have no idea what Lib /Dem Act is…

    But there is possibly more sense in these comments than a year’s output from LDHQ. The top-down PR types who now seem to run the party have little understanding of the party’s campaigners, what they do and what they need. They think that all we have to do is parrot what we are told from above. The think the Coalition is no more than a packet of soap to be sold. (Well, now I come to think about it…) They have no clear vision of what a campaigning Liberal party should be like and when people in the party continue to insist that this is what we are, they try to snuff us out.

    And in their top down messages to the party, they still churn out spin instead of telling the truth.

    Tony Greaves

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Dawson 3rd Jan '13 - 5:58pm

    While I agree with an awful lot of Mark’s analysis, I am absolutely intrigued as to how any reasonably experienced campaigner should find value in airing such internal affairs dirty linen in public. I can only surmise that it might be because there is no official pulsating forum, private to members of the Party, in which any significant number of party members would be made aware of these views/concerns if printed. Perhaps that issue itself ought to be a significant concern of the Chief Executive?! What sensible membership body allows the major internet forum for its members’ consideration of internal matters to be one whose editorial control is external (even if largely-sympathetic) and open to raiding by competitors?

    On the detail, I had to laugh (to stop myself crying) at the section entitled: “Enlist supporters in the fight for liberalism”.

    That would suggest an intention to be a campaigning party centrally. I have never seen a smidgeon of such an intent being betrayed within the central party hierarchy: indeed, I have had occasion to see the exact opposite. But let us travel in hope.

  • Paul Reynolds 4th Jan '13 - 6:24am

    Indeed I agree that there is a long way to go in reforming the party at the centre (not just HQ) in its efficient organisation, but more fundemental perhaps is the policymaking complexity – policy development processes, polily cimmittees, leaders’s office, HQ staff and poilicy unit, conference votes…and crucially the way that conference votes are ‘managed’…inter alia. These proceses need both simplification and professionalisation. At present we have the worst of both worlds….conference motions routinely ignored and top-down ‘expert’ policies often strongly resisted.

  • Alan Roughley 4th Jan '13 - 11:10am

    As another frustrated ordinary member ‘Up North’, to whom the central party organisation has always seemed an ‘omnishambles’, the above set of comments say it all. Use them as a basis for reform and we might have a party designed to support and invigorate its remaining members. We cannot just be seen as being the nice people on the political scene, we have to be truly radical and break away from that curse of British society, the establishment. Bottoms Up and Down with the Posh Boys!

  • Tony Greaves 4th Jan '13 - 5:05pm

    If we want a system in which party members and groups can be involved in policy making, it’s bound to be complex. The question is – how open and democratic is it? The answer is – a lot less than it used to be.

    But I am less concerned about policy-making at the moment than campaigning,whci the party has forgotten how to do and why it needs doing. The people at the top/centre who think they are in charge haven’t a clue what campaigning is.

    Tony Greaves

  • Clive Sneddon 6th Jan '13 - 8:12pm

    I agree with Tracy that the party is not yet using its members well, and that two-way communication is the key to achieving this. As she says, it is virtually impossible to get responses from the party nationally, whether on information about current policy or on suggestions for action now, while we are in government, which both implement Lib Dem ideals and differentiate us from the other parties. Like campaigning, policy-making and responding to our opponents will be much more effective as a two-way process, so the challenge for Tim Gordon to improve on his 3/10 is to set up the structures which will enable real two-way communication within the party. Achieving such structures will complement those already created for delivering consistent messages, and genuine two-way communication will give those trying to devise effective messages more to work with.

  • Please try to learn something about Scottish politics before commenting on it. Willie Rennie is not a government minister.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Christian
    Opinion polls aren’t really improving for the Lib Dems, yet the economy is in crisis and Lab have no actual solution. Isn’t it time we flew the banner for R...
  • Paul Barker
    FYI Labour conference has just passed a motion calling for a change to Proportional Representation, this is a big step forward but conference does not decide p...
  • Julian Tisi
    I have a few disagreements with the OP. First - democracy: we must surely continue to support the concept of an elected HOL (or at least the vast majority must...
  • Alan Jelfs
    Too complex. Keep it simple. Abolish the House of Lords and have a parliament for England, like Scotland and Wales do. It could sub-divide into regions later,...
  • George Cunningham
    I am proud to know David Chadwick from the tough campaigning days of GE2015 when he came to help me in my constituency as a PPC. I returned the favour in Dorset...