Tim Gordon writes… Gearing up for the next General Election

With Paddy’s appointment as Chair of the General Election Campaign, an imminent start to the 2015 manifesto process, and clarity on the GE electoral boundaries, the party has very clearly entered a new strategic phase. This requires an organisational shift to ensure that we are focused on both the 2015 General Election task ahead, as well as the series of vital elections before then.

There were five key priorities for Liberal Democrat Headquarters (LDHQ) to consider when approaching the restructure:

  • Strengthening our ability to fight elections on the ground, including building our membership and supporter base
  • Increasingly disciplined and focused political communications
  • Building digital capacity
  • Raising more money
  • Increasing operational efficiency and effectiveness

In addition, I am keen that LDHQ can work increasingly flexibly towards shared core objectives (winning seats being foremost of them). Although it will always be a priority for me to ensure the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the HQ team, this is not the time in the electoral cycle to be making cuts to staff resource – so overall, my aim was to keep staff expenditure broadly neutral.

At the heart of this will be a proposal for greater interaction with our members. One of the key things that we will be doing is replacing the weekly Liberal Democrat News newspaper with a monthly magazine – more details for subscribers will follow.

With editor Deirdre Razzall retiring next month after 14 glorious years at the helm, and in response to recent member surveys on internal communications, the time has come for a new approach. The new look Lib Dem News will come with a new name (soon to be unveiled) and a glossy, monthly magazine format.

Don’t worry – it will still provide the news, views, debate and information our readers pick up Lib Dem News for, but these will be combined with a new focus on interviews and features that will enable us to attract an increased readership. Each issue will come with a cover interview, in the style of Total Politics or House Magazine, with a senior figure in the party.

New regular and one-off features will give readers the inside track on what is going on in Westminster, Brussels, Cardiff, Holyrood and council chambers across the country.

As you would expect there will be plenty of policy detail and heated debate to get stuck into as well, but it won’t all be serious stuff. The Liberal Democrats are a family – we have our serious debates but we are also fun, self-deprecating and gossipy. The magazine format will allow us to be a bit less formal a bit more fun.

We will also be establishing new Facebook and Twitter platforms to make it easier for readers to interact and feedback with the editorial team.

The new HQ structure, in place as of last Monday, involves the creation of five new Directorates, reflecting the key priorities:

  • Elections and Field (strategic seats, member and supporter development, candidates, diversity and training, call centre)
  • Political Communication (media, internal communications, ground communications, strategic research, policy and international)
  • Digital (digital campaigns, connect, digital infrastructure, digital content, data)
  • Commercial (fundraising and conferences)
  • Finance and Operations (finance, payroll, HR, compliance, HQ admin)

Within this structure I am delighted to announce the appointment of Hilary Stephenson as Deputy Chief Executive, with Directorate responsibility for Elections and Field, and Tim Snowball, who will head the new Political Communications Directorate. Nigel Bliss will continue to head Finance and Operations. Given the necessity of success on the income side, I will head the Commercial Directorate personally. We will recruit externally for a new Digital Director, who can bring specialist management and new energy to this area which is increasingly critical to so much of what we do.

I am very grateful for the advice of all those who I was able to consult during the process, and to all the staff at LDHQ for the positive manner in which they have embraced the changes proposed.

* Tim Gordon is Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats.

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This entry was posted in Party policy and internal matters.


  • tl;dr version: we don’t know what we’re doing, so we’re having a re-structure because it looks dynamic and focused and other managementspeak rubbish.

  • Dave – if you think social media is all that is encompassed in ‘Digital Director’, then that’s probably why you don’t think it’s of value.

    Web presence, data collection, better provisions for campaigners to record info, dissemination of campaigning materials etc … it’s not just updating a twitter account every so often.

    Although, the quickest way to spread information these days is via social media, so it shouldn’t be discounted.

  • Chris Rennard 17th Oct '12 - 5:01pm

    We will all have our part to play in taking the party forward in the crucial years ahead as we think back and learn the lessons of our (almost!) 25 year history as Liberal Democrats and consider what we can achieve in the decades ahead of us. Tim and those at the helm of the party machinery all need and deserve our full support!

    At this point, I think that the party owes a great debt of gratitude to all the editors of Liberal Democrat News over the last 24 years. I helped to recruit and manage them all: the late Mike Harskin (88-92), David Boyle (92 – 98) and of course Deirdre Razzall over the last 14 years. No other party could have produced a weekly newspaper in the way that they have done since our party as formed, kept people in touch with the party and mobilised us for things like key by-elections. Deirdre has provided great support to many of us in the party over all these years. A big debt also is owed to David Loxton who raised many of the funds (that I happily spent in my previous roles), was a key member of the team (a Deputy to me) when we made our great breakthrough in 1997 and worked as a key member of the team in our Commons whips office and many of our most significant by-elections.

    I look forward to the new magazine and to the way in which social media will also play a full role in party communications – and to keeping in touch.

    Chris Rennard
    (Former Chief Executive)

  • Charles Beaumont 17th Oct '12 - 5:23pm

    I find the dismissive attitude to Digital campaigning surprising. We have a huge uphill battle to secure the youth vote – a group which mostly doesn’t vote at all and which gives us a tough challenge after tuition fees. If we don’t gain supporters online we probably can write off the next generation.

  • Looks like the campaigns department is being split up into three different departments – as long as decent inter-departmental communication then I welcome the move.
    I do worry the digital dept will become the Connect dept – we also need to sort out the MDO, reporting of donations and several other internal admin systems between local parties and HQ. I do hope they wont be overlooked.

  • Simon Titley 17th Oct '12 - 6:36pm

    So policy is now treated as a subset of communication. Isn’t this putting the cart before the horse?

  • @Simon, the executive are not the legislature 😉

  • Leekliberal 17th Oct '12 - 7:30pm

    Just to thank Tim Gordon for his efforts to keep us informed about what’s going on!

  • Richard Dean 17th Oct '12 - 7:30pm

    How will the five directorates achieve the five priorities?

    I imagine that the things that win elections might include

    campaign planning
    the message,
    the image,
    credibility, including credibility relative to other candidates,
    engagement of/with voters, and
    the resulting turnout.

    How will the 25 directorate/priority combinations support these seven needs?

  • paul barker 17th Oct '12 - 8:45pm

    Thanks for the article, it sounds good to me.
    Can I make an entirely negative comment about all the entirely negative comments above ? Criticism of specifics is not the same as moaning.

  • @Dave Page :

    “Can we shift focus away from the Campaigns department and back towards Media please? In 2010, it was the national media campaign that won us extra voters, ”

    Eh? NOTHING won us ‘extra voters’ where it counted in 2010. Only Cleggmania saved us from a drubbing and loss of a dozen more seats.

    Didn’t we already have an organisational reorganisation immediately after the 2010 election?

  • Andrew Suffield 17th Oct '12 - 10:08pm

    So policy is now treated as a subset of communication. Isn’t this putting the cart before the horse?

    HQ doesn’t really have responsibility for policy in the party, just some administrative functions to perform. So it either gets tacked onto one of the others – all of which are inappropriate – or we end up with a “department of miscellaneous junk”.

    There’s a few things like that on the list…

  • Simon Titley 17th Oct '12 - 10:24pm

    @Duncan Stott – You are missing the point entirely. Party HQ does not (or at least ought not to) decide policy. But what is it that we communicate? What is the purpose of communication? It is not an end in itself but the means by which we translate our political purpose into public messages in order to change attitudes and behaviour.

    I fear that, by making policy a subset of communication, our HQ is following the fashion to regard politics as nothing more than a marketing or branding exercise.

  • “Isn’t this putting the cart before the horse?”

    The trouble is that we sold the horse – our established principles, policies and values.

    Now we’ve only got the cart – meaning, the ability to communicate, to advertise, to blarney, to plead for a few votes and the chance to survive – but to what purpose, we no longer really know….

  • Liberal Neil 18th Oct '12 - 9:08am

    @Dave Page – is our objective to maximise the overall vote or to maximise the number of seats we win? If the latter then we will need to go back to the ’92 and ’97 approach, where, in both cases, our performance in seats won was better than in votes gained. That means vigourous targeting of held and winnable seats is the priority.

  • Liberal Neil 18th Oct '12 - 9:10am

    @Simon Titley – Wasn’t Policy part of the Communications directorate already?

  • Liberal Neil 18th Oct '12 - 9:11am

    @Tony Dawson, we did, and to me this looks like an improvement to it.

  • Liberal Neil 18th Oct '12 - 9:14am

    In general this ls like a sensible structure to me.

    It is right that at this stage, half way through the parliament, we ensure that the party machine is clearly focused on maximising success at the next election.

    It is also the case that as technology and campaign techniques develop there will need to be some changes to how we operate to reflect that.

    For example from what I’ve already seen from Connect, and despite some of the teething problems, it has huge potential to make our campaigning more effective IF we get enough people using it more of its potential, and that does require more support nationally on rolling it out, improving it, and integrating it into other things we do.

  • Nigel Jones 18th Oct '12 - 9:58am

    Given the difficult circumstances a reorganisation could give a fresh impetus to the party. The key of course is the way our organisation is directed by the party members, through our Federal Committees and through communication with regional and local parties, especially the latter.
    We need a manifesto led by members and not the policies of the coalition, with reference to party beliefs as stated in the preamble to the constitution. We need the organisation to support local parties, by supplying information and by getting the right messages to the media not just about what we have achieved in government but what we stand for and where we want to do things bettter than we have been able to in the coalition.
    Cllr. Nigel Jones
    Newcastle under Lyme

  • Hear hear, Nigel.

  • Dave Page – yes, the media will throw the kitchen sink at the Lib Dems, but had the Lib Dems been prepared to hang on to the “New Politics” vibe, and distinguish properly from Lab and Con, we might have a story to tell to the electorate. As it is, it just confirms the dull anti-politics (left/anarchist) story that we are “one of three near identical parties”. This is the price of centre-politics-ism.

  • Dave Page

    Many of us will support the “underdog'” if we see the media laying in to them all the time if we see that if party and its leadershipn is principled and therefore deserving of respect. . Voters are pretty shrewd and don’t just buy everything the media feeds us. However I have watched the recent tuition fee apology and listened to what was said by Nick, Danny, Vince and others and formed my own view. It’s clear that Lib Dem leadership were not acting in a principled way and they continue not to – see the share ownership issue (Vince agrees with Osborne). Hard to respect, no matter how many spin doctors you employ now or how many media campaigns you run now. That ‘trust’ ship has sailed.

  • Oops sorry for typos – wretched mobile device and fat fingers!!!

  • Liberal neil 18th Oct '12 - 7:24pm

    @Dave Page – but the lesson of the ’92 and ’97 campaigns, backed up by the results in individual seats in ’01, ’05 and ’10 was exactly that if you apply resources in the right way at ground level you CAN counteract the national swing.

    And in terms of affecting the national media, would an extra half dozen, or even dozen, media officers really have that much effect on getting our message out or national vote share? I don’t think so. But an extra half dozen or dozen full time campaigns officers placed in Strategic Seats could have a big impact on winning those seats.

    Did we fail to win the argument on tuition fees because of having too few media officers? Or was it because our position was basically untenable?

  • Nik Alatortsev 18th Oct '12 - 8:57pm

    Interesting to hear about the new magazine (though will be sorry to see LDN go, having recently subscribed!).

    Might it be possible to offer local parties the chance to get a bulk subscription, so that we can improve the regular communication with our members (where the local party can afford to do so, obviously!) and increase the benefits of being a member?

  • @Liberal Neil

    “@Tony Dawson, we did, and to me this looks like an improvement to it.”

    You mean more ‘sunloungers’ than ‘deckchairs’? 🙁

  • @Dave Page

    “If we hadn’t fired all of our media staff, our attempts to present the Lib Dem view might have actually achieved something!”

    I didnt know we had reduced or remove these. But does anyone think that our party’s gross inability to get its message across has varied one iota (from being incredibly poor) not? This is the responsibility of politicians, media technicians.

  • @Dave Page

    “If we hadn’t fired all of our media staff, our attempts to present the Lib Dem view might have actually achieved something!”

    Honestly? I think it would have made no difference. Problem wasn’t lack of people, it was lack of coherent message.

  • The previous reorganisation of the campaigns department was a disaster. We reduced our on the ground campaign staff by around 50% for a zero financial saving to Party HQ. And at a time when we needed help, support and morale boosting acoss the country. Since then HQ have rowed back a bit from this really stupid decision and I hope that this re-organisation might help in that process.

  • “I wonder if we once had similar people saying that there was no point in doing anything to do with phone canvassing…”

    Yes we did 🙂

  • I find agreement with the various views above, whilst they appear to oppose they can both be right:
    We lost seats despite full on the ground campaigns where the media message was stronger. Labour here gained ground by doing nothing, and Tories took the seats from us. The power of the media is understated at our peril. At a local level the local press and broadcast media is more trusted, by far, that the national, so the loss of area Press Officers was significan; it is they who build a working relationship with local journos and get the stories covered. . we must have these posts re-established by the start of 2014.
    I applaud the moves to get more on-line activity, but we need to remember that those of us in this discussion already are.. and George is right about younger voters. But we risk losing our lib-dem-ambassador/ on-the-ground member who is not keen on surfing the website for the latest from HQ, we must still get stuff to them through the letter box, in fact HQ has been so busy doing other things that precious little has arrived by mail, except LD News, so if I hadn’t been on here I would be relying entirely on the media for my news of the Party(no wonder we lose members!)
    Then remember that only half of members have an email address… We can’t just drop LDN because ‘most’ people are online, we can’t just replace it with our version of House Magazine/Hello, it must be something that everyone will want to have, and be able to afford, ie free, like most other national membership organisations have.
    And.. our website, can anyone find the policy index..? What plans are there for sorting it out and making it more user- friendly..?

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