We need to make internal selections affordable for all

What makes a great candidate? It can be an incredibly demanding job and I imagine it’s lots of things. A strong ability to communicate, to listen, to represent people effectively. To demonstrate generous leadership, to inspire and to continually learn. These are all what I’d consider the headlines.

What about fundraising? It’s certainly vital – but I’d argue that not only is it not the single *biggest* priority.  It’s certainly not more important than the above qualities. It’s one of the skills that can most often be generated truly as a team effort whilst potentially being most successful when lead by the candidate themselves.

I learnt so much during the recent GLA London List Election. As a first timer I was clearly delighted with the result and I loved the opportunity to speak to literally thousands of members. Having phone canvassed for lots of candidates as part of the Team 2015 efforts in the General Election, it was a really interesting next step to be phoning and listening to people’s concerns as the potential candidate myself.

The London Hustings, was a wonderful chance to pitch our stalls, have a short time to communicate who we were and what we believed in and an opportunity afterwards to chat with members and answer questions.

I also really enjoyed travelling to lots of different places in London whether it was to go further assist in by elections, general action days or for socials.

I didn’t enjoy the amount of money the whole thing cost. In fact, i’d go on to say it’s an absolute shambles that generates a situation that places those who can afford to campaign at a distinct advantage *over* those who can’t. Often, because they’re from a BME background, young or unemployed/not particularly well paid..or all three! Further to the amount of money it cost to travel around London, to pay for events that Local Parties held – there’s the question of glossy, expensive mailouts. It was completely my choice but running meant that I struggled to pay rent, eat properly and my phone bill was cut off.

I knew the process – but it gives a wider context of how being told that having a budget of 70p per member to spend seems slightly ludicrous.

People tell me ‘That’s just politics.’ Well, I’ve always been under the impression that we aim to do things how they should be done. That it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you have in life but everyone should be given the same opportunity. The external election system needs massive reform. We’re moving increasingly towards the USA’s model at every election and that’s somewhere we all need to be challenging the system on but surely if we can’t provide an ideal model of how an election should be run fairly, who can?

Yes, I could have raised money for my own expenses and made life easier that way. I could have gone further and raised 6.5k to spend on leaflets promoting ‘Zack Polanski’ but when the party isn’t quite at *its* peak does it not make more sense to encourage people to spend money on the party instead? People could suggest it’s not an either/or, but that simply doesn’t reflect the actual situation of the majority of Londoners. You have a certain amount of budget and you often have to choose carefully where you spend your money. Having been a fundraiser for the Red Cross for years, I’m not nervous of asking people for money. I’d just like it to be spent in a helpful place rather than an election where we’re single handedly creating the conditions in which money becomes the overwhelming driver of success!

The amount of money that the Regional Executive felt was an acceptable spending cap was £6,500. Just a few months later and all London membership receive an e-mail for a donation drive explaining how short we are for the London Campaign and how we urgently need more cash. There were 16 candidates and if they’d all spent the amount they could on themselves and their campaigns – you can quickly see how the maths shows this to be a ludicrous situation.

Fundraising is important – but at the moment, the emphasis on raising money for the individual and their campaign over putting money into the party means that we are left with a selection campaign process that quite simply can be bought. It’s completely illiberal, it’s massively disempowering to young, new candidates who want to work their socks off. We need to challenge the status quo and tackle the old school thinking that those short on cash are somehow not working hard enough or could be more creative.

Fundraising is a massively important skill in elections. So how about all candidates raise money during the selection campaign for the party which is then announced as to how much money each individual candidate raised? Then the voter is aware of the candidates’ fundraising capability and can make the informed choice to decide how important a skill it is and vote accordingly. Meanwhile, thousands isn’t wasted on an internal campaign and the money made is funnelled straight into the party for the campaign itself.

Alongside this, why not have a hustings in every London borough? When fundraising is so important, why not give each borough the opportunity to have 16 candidates come by and be questioned by the local membership who are then encouraged to give generously when inspired by what they’re hearing?

Fundraising should be an absolute feature in the selection campaign but it shouldn’t overshadow the ability to communicate and the ability to listen. Moving forward, I’d suggest that each candidate participates in a 10 minute media interview which is publicised for all to see. I’d suggest we need more opportunities for the candidates to meet local parties in publically advertised events that are for all.I’d also suggest a pot of money that covers candidates’ expenses during internal elections and some of the money raised during the process goes to cover everyone who needs it.

And I’d suggest that we all urge anyone running for the London Region Elections to set out their stance very clearly on what they intend to do to make list selections fairer and accessible for all. Having met with both Mike Tuffrey (Chair of London Region) and Sal Brinton (Lib Dem President), it’s clear to me that there is appetite for change and a strong sense that something needs to be done. It has to be a team effort though and it won’t change until the membership declare that something needs to be done and the region decides accordingly.

I’m so ready for the London Elections and I can’t wait to support Caroline and the rest of the team. I’m also aware that this issue can get kicked into the long grass and isn’t discussed again until 2020 by which time we’ll have lost another group of potential candidates because their ethnicity or socio-economic background wasn’t quite right for them to be Lib Dems.

Let’s get this sorted now – and show the rest of the parties how it’s done.

* Zack Polanski is a Liberal Democrat member in Holborn and St Pancras

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  • Stephen Harte 19th Oct '15 - 12:22pm

    Great sharing! If the logistical costs are high for someone seeking a place on thre London list….can you imagine the cost of trying to get. say, on the Euro list for Scotland (40% of the UK landmass)?

    If you’d have to me mad, wreckless, rich or all three to get devote the time and money required to get selected let alone elected, is it any wonder why the talent pool for elected folk remains small and lacking in diversity?

  • Some good ideas, I’m not sure about the cost being the root of the lack of BAME represenatation, but the suggestions are broardly good ideas and should be seriously be considered for inclusion quickly in other selections processes.

  • Anthony Fairclough 19th Oct '15 - 12:38pm

    There are plenty of good ideas in this article, however: there are 2 assumptions in this article that I want to point out. Firstly, Zack’s argument is predicated on the idea that being able to spend more money is an advantage in campaigning, or allows for more effective and efficient campaigning. Second, the idea that in some way it is a “waste” to take the campaign to our membership.

    Therefore, for what it’s worth – my view is

    (1) We need to avoid *any solutions that in practical terms merely restrict selection campaigning activity*. Our experience of public elections is that limited campaigning just favours incumbency (which also has an equality impact).

    (2) I would strongly dispute the idea/meme that selection campaigning to our members is a “waste” of money (and by extension, time, effort etc – see (1) above). These are the people that will help turn our wider campaigns into reality. Our candidates must be able to build teams, and enthuse voters.

    (3) Lastly, the Shortlisting Committees set the expenditure cap – not the London Region – we must get our facts straight. This is common with all selections that the party holds, and is part of the Party’s standard selection rules. If we want to change this, we need to target our demands for change in the right place, which is the Federal Party rules. Indeed, the guideline expenditure cap in the rules for Westminster selections is £1 per member. The Shortlisting Committee in the GLA List selection chose a reduced cap of 70p per member. That’s a lot of money because there are a lot of members across London, and if you reduce the cap much more you are quite probably going to limit the reach of the selection campaigns.

    I would also highlight that any amount is going to be too much for some people. Where do you draw the line? And, it was a cap, not a requirement, and fundraising was allowed – and also part of the selection criteria (although I like the idea of a fundraising “competition”).

  • Lester Holloway 19th Oct '15 - 3:05pm

    Psi – You are right insofar as the costs of running in selections are not the entire cause of BAME under-representation; there are many other contributing factors that I’ve written about on these forums many times. But it is a factor, because BAME communities disproportionately have less disposable income due to less advancement and opportunities in life and work. I’ve long said we need to have a system of candidate sponsorship similar to trades union backing for Labour candidates, which has allowed people of limited or virtually no means to run for office. In fact we should be courting the TUs to get a slice of this sponsorship.

  • Lester

    I agree that part of the solution has to be sponsorship, it is concerning that there has been so little of this up to now, I’m not hopeful of it coming from TUs, but it will need to be found from somewhere.

  • Simon McGrath 19th Oct '15 - 5:25pm

    Its a difficult issue. If spending limits are low then incumbents will enjoy and even bigger advantage than they have at the moment. Having more hustings and a media interview are also good ideas but the basic problem is that most members dont come to any party events.

  • Lester Holloway 19th Oct '15 - 5:41pm

    Starting the selections early isn’t going to help, as it doesn’t allow enough time to put in place any schemes or help for those without means to splash out on a selection from their personal wealth.

    Psi – I think it could come from the trades unions you know! Why not?

  • David Warren 19th Oct '15 - 6:56pm

    Excellent article.

    We simply aren’t going to get a wide range of candidates from all walks of life if they have to spend large amounts of your own money on trying to get selected.

    In the past I ran as a candidate for Labour and in internal union elections.

    My personal expenses were always covered.

  • Anthony Fairclough 19th Oct '15 - 7:13pm

    Slightly odd interpretation of my views from Gareth but he does rather ignore my point that if one wants to change the rules on expenses limits, then one need to look to the federal selection rules, where £1 a member (and more for target seats) is the guidance and the shortlisting committee gets the final say.

    I agree with him though that most candidates are unlikely “to have the sort of wealth required to spend on a selection like this *without fundraising*” – my emphasis. Quite!

    “While raising the sums required to campaign in the modern age is important, doing it at selection is not part of the test required. It sets the bar in the wrong direction, and is exclusive.”

    Er, well, actually given it’s in the shortlisting criteria, involvement in fundraising was part of the test required. And that doesn’t seem too unreasonable a criterion imo given the amount of money needed for a London-wide election. Now, the selection criteria for candidates *is* something that can be changed by the London party (unlike the framwork for the expenses limits) if people do think that is wrong.

    I’m not sure why 2020 is mentioned – we’re going to fight the Euro selections a lot sooner than that with rules exactly like these (as the objection is actually to the party’s standard selection rules, not something specific about London) . . .

  • Anthony Fairclough 19th Oct '15 - 7:30pm

    My recommendations to the review looking to the next London selection process will include that: each shortlisted candidate should be offered advice on fighting a London-wide selection campaign; an access fund to help less-well off candidates be established; and consideration as to whether SAOs should be able to sponsor candidates (and I think Lester’s point is not a bad one, although I wonder whether TUs will want to sponsor our candidates).

  • Chris Nelson 19th Oct '15 - 7:50pm

    I sympathise with Zak’s situation but, as I feel someone needs to play devils advocate, the fact that the Party has such little money is perhaps one reason why selecting candidates who know how to fundraise could well be a very important thing to do. There is also a well thumbed argument that rules that restrict campaigning inevitably favour the incumbents and candidates from ‘the establishment’, who are better known, and makes it harder from less established candidates to mount a serious challenge such as those who are young, female, BAME, disabled or working. Yet, at the same time, we want to avoid rich candidates from being to buy themselves influence by bankrolling an expensive campaign!

    Perhaps one solution might be to introduce ‘donation limits’ alongside spending limits, where candidates have to keep records of where their funds have come from and are prohibited from taking donations from any individual above a certain limit, say £100. There could also be limits on how much individuals can spend on themselves, which also need to be declared. That way it is possible to run a well funded campaign, but only if you can manage to raise money in donations from a wide number of people which should be good practice for the General Election that follows, and help embed the need to help raise money as part of a candidates job description.

    Just a thought!

  • Anthony Fairclough 19th Oct '15 - 7:53pm

    Yep – I agree with Chris – and I think Mark Pack has made a similar point in the past, seems a good idea.

  • Erlend Watson 19th Oct '15 - 9:27pm

    One thought I have is that if you have a limit such as say £6500 you limit the candidate or immediate family to say 20%. I think Chris’s £100 a little low but maybe 5%. And declared after or does that have drawbacks? Not sure we need to be quite as strict at constituency selections. I throw in 50% and 10% for equivalents.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 19th Oct '15 - 9:59pm

    As a long-term Returning Officer and former member of English Candidates Committee, I’ve found the article, and the comments that follow, very interesting. I’m not entirely sure that we are heading towards a workable answer though.

    Twenty years ago, there are no limits on the amounts that could be spent on internal party selections. You can imagine what that led to and, as a result, campaign spending limits were introduced. They were set so as to allow candidates to post something to members – social media and the internet were not as prominent as they are now. As Anthony says, restrictions on the ability of potential candidates to campaign tend to favour incumbents, and if Zack thinks that’s a problem in London, he really ought to see what it’s like in. say, a South East England Euro selection, covering nine counties.

    And publicity material is not the only cost. Attending sixteen hustings is not cheap, and attending Local Party events across a Euro Region in the months leading up to a selection in order to raise your profile and build networks of supporters isn’t a cost-free option either. And technology in the form of social media and e-mail does suffer from the law of diminishing returns, as the Labour leadership contenders discovered this summer.

    This may seem like a counsel of despair though, and I don’t wish to be negative. It’s just that a lot of thought has been given to the pros and cons of candidate selection, and placing restrictions on one aspect of a campaign may have dramatic effects on the ability of that campaign to achieve its intended outcome, i.e. selection.

    But, whatever we think, as I understand that English Candidates Committee wants to start the European Parliamentary selections next summer, time is very much of the essence.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 19th Oct '15 - 11:03pm


    In answer to your last point, English Candidates Committee is comprised of the eleven Regional Candidates Chairs (check your Regional Party’s website for details), five members directly elected from English Council and the Chair, also elected from English Council. Admittedly, given the general sense that the English Party would really rather not tell anyone what it’s up to, it’s hard to discover who the last six are, but lobbying your Regional Candidates Chair is almost certainly worthwhile.

  • Jonathan Brown 20th Oct '15 - 12:04am

    Good article Zack, and some good ideas.

    I think another problem with relying on candidates who can self-fund their campaigns is that even when you do get people from under-represented groups there is a risk that they are actually not very representative of those groups. If people of a certain background – could be ethnic or another characteristic – see that the only people ‘like them’ who can succeed in politics/the party are those with money, it can contribute to the party seeming even more out of touch. Tokenistic.

    While at the same time, it remains easy for those in the party that aren’t aware of what’s going on in these various constituencies to think that the problem of representation is being solved when actually it could be getting worse.

    Some of Zack’s suggestions are sensible even putting aside the issue of fundraising. All of our candidates should be ‘TV interviewed’, for example.

  • Belinda Brooks-Gordo 20th Oct '15 - 12:30am

    I am glad that Jonathan picked up on the media interview idea because this is a gendered issue. Female candidates generally do better at more intimate forms of communication such as radio and TV, and men generally do better at ‘booming at the front of the auditorium’ types of communication, so to have a combination of both levels the playing field.

  • Lester

    “I think it could come from the trades unions you know! Why not?”

    I’m thinking of a number of Trade Unionists (not the normal members but the embedded ones) who always say ‘we made a choice at the start fo the 20th century not to work with the Liberals and to form the Labour movement’ when it is raised. There is a historical cultural resistance to any work with LibDems.

    If it can be made to work then great, but I can’t see it happening.

  • Anthony Fairclough 20th Oct '15 - 10:16am

    There’s certainly something odd about aspects of this chain, Gareth, yes. “Dog ate my homework” would be backward looking rather than forward. Rather my comments are “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” – the suggestion of a cap on individual donations I consider to be a much more sensible way of dealing with the issue Zack raises than heavy reductions in the expenditure cap and an attitude that selection campaigning is a pointless and unnecessary activity.

    My point about 2020 was that we need to act much sooner than the next London selections, as this is an issue across all the party’s selections and selection rules (which we seem now to be in agreement on Gareth).

  • I am a little uneasy at the BAME references — my instinct is that we should be being careful not to act in a way that discriminates against people of less wealth, but not make assumptions as to how this maps onto other forms of exclusion. I am sure there are grounds for thinking BAME (and LGBT and probably women) candidates score lower on wealth than other groups, but if we behave as if this is *always* the case, then we’re in danger of feeding that discrimination. But yes, it is really important that we don’t accidentally discriminate on grounds of wealth, because that instantly marginalises the people we would normally be seeking to help.

  • Mark Agent

    “and LGBT”

    I’m not sure anyone has claimed LGBT members are likely to earn less, and I’ve never thought of the Lib Dems as lacking LGBT members proportionately.

  • SIMON BANKS 21st Oct '15 - 9:24am

    One of the most powerful arguments for political parties and against independents is that only well-off independents can afford to run, other than in very local elections with limited opposition. If we’re expecting candidates to donate, that discriminates heavily against the less well-off and removes one of the main arguments for parties.

    Ability to raise funds from others is another matter, but it should include not only personal appeals by the candidate but also any bright and credible ideas the candidate may have for collective fundraising.

  • Jane Ann Liston 23rd Oct '15 - 9:08am

    I have no income, so when I participated in a recent selection campaign, I spent nowhere near the limit because I didn’t have the money. So while others put out large glossy coloured leaflets, I was restricted to A4 black & white (colour printer not working). Needless to say, I came last in the poll.

    On an aside, not having a car, I was getting around by bicycle and public transport, and duly kept a note of the fares, expecting that the others would be noting fuel costs.. However, it was decided that this was too difficult, so no transport costs were included in the expenses limit. This meant that candidates were free to drive about hither and yon all over the constituency emitting carbon dioxide with gay abandon. I think therefore that if we are serious about the environment, transport costs, including car use, should be included in the limit.

  • Harry Hayfield 25th Oct '15 - 11:56am

    As I mentioned in my post about us “older members” standing up as part of the #fightback, I can manage the money part of my application to become a Lib Dem candidate, it’s the people part I am still having problems with. Therefore could IO put forward the suggestion that you only need ONE referee (not three) and that one can be either an existing elected Lib Dem (MP, AM, MSP, MEP or Councillor) or an approved Liberal Democrat candidate.

  • So here’s my penneth as a recently failed GLA list candidate.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Zac, sorry Anthony.

    Fundraising is great competence to have, as is team-building. But If we’re asking people to stand to be part of a team, then whether or not they have those skills is moot, because in reality the party should be helping to organise both. What we need from candidates for teams is that they be good communicators, personable, and appealing to as wide a cross-section of the electorate as possible. Get that mix right and fundraising should be all the easier.

    In a period of our political existence where we have very low funds, and are being challenged on our diversity by both of the other main parties, I don’t think we should, or can afford, the luxury of having money from members or supporters being spent in glossy selection literature.

    Thankfully the top half of our list has good gender balance, and thanks to the BaME selection arrangements (and to be honest Zac maxing out his phone) reasonable BaME visibility. But it’s not great, and from a socio-economic perspective it’s poor (pun intended). We need to organise our selection processes much better, and for me that means the party ensuring that there is an organised and co-ordinated programme of events that fairly enables every candidate to participate.

    Further, and to take a leaf out of Zac’s campaign, a programme pushes them to do more than simply send out a glossy leaflet that is incapable of being interrogated, but encourages them to talk to members, and perhaps even get the armchair ones going out and helping with canvassing and campaigning.

    Having the party restrict a free bit of campaigning (email), and pay for a mail-out, but then allow lots of spending on individual’s literature is I think reflective of a party stuck in the headlights, and not really facing the reality of our changed electoral and financial situation.

    That said, the selection is now done, and I will happily be supporting our chosen team over the coming months. Going forward however I think we need to ensure we make the best use of our resources, and of our potential candidates. We prevent great people from succeeding because to put it bluntly, they can’t afford to enter the race.

    I await a Packian riposte.

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