Wera Hobhouse: Our party is in desperate need of reform

Our party is in desperate need of reform.

We have overlooked the importance of winning locally. We have sacrificed our local government strongholds on the altar of national government dreams.

In doing so, we have carelessly damaged our local government base in many areas. We have assumed we can win new MPs without winning locally first. The 2019 election shows that we can’t.

As has been said in the 2019 General Election Review: ‘The overarching conclusion … is that had we made much better decisions in 2019 we might have gained a few more seats, but not many more.’

Part of this is that we hadn’t rebuilt enough support locally to win nationally.

For too long we have given priority to Westminster, its national policy interests and the messaging that goes with it.

We need to shift resources to empower local parties to win in their areas. We should become the true champions of localism, and rebuild our local government base.

Local campaigns should never be in a position where leaflets from HQ loses them votes. Our local parties should be helped by central party, not at loggerheads with them.

We must become an insurgent party again. To be liberal is to challenge established thinking, to be bold, open to new ideas and unconventional thinking.

We shouldn’t do things just because that’s the way we’ve always done them.

We must also value differences of opinion and be confident in our diversity.

One size doesn’t fit all. There is a challenge to have an overarching national message about who we are and what we stand for as Liberal Democrats, whilst leaving enough flexibility to local parties to shape their own messages.

Our centralised structures mean we are late adopters. We need to be the opposite and unleash the ideas from the bottom up.

We will never be a party with large teams of paid researchers drafting detailed policy documents. But we are the party of local Lib Dems doing new and exciting liberal things.

Our structures need to change to support much more bottom up campaigning.

We need to improve our digital offer, not just centrally, but locally. We should have regional campaigning hubs that support local parties, taking the pressure off HQ.

I would also move HQ functions that do not need to be in Westminster to a northern city with direct rail links to London.

The General Election Review recommendations deal particularly with the responsibilities of the three top positions: the President, the Chief Executive and the Leader. All these positions are in London, but my vision is to unlock the potential of Lib Dems at the grassroots.

We are champions of devolution. Let’s apply it fully to our party.

We must also strengthen the links between national councillor groups like the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors with our regional parties to better connect council groups and party campaigners with each other.

By embracing a bottom up approach, we have a much better chance to become a nimble early-adopting insurgent force attractive to voters at a local level across every constituency.

We need to build our local strongholds, door by door, street by street and ward by ward.

Concentrating on our local successes will hand us back the widespread national support, from which we can win seats in Westminster.

* Wera Hobhouse is the Member of Parliament for Bath. She is Liberal Democrat Leader of the House of Commons and the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Energy & Climate Change and Transport.

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Jun '20 - 2:32pm

    This is a constructive piece from Wera.

    I agree with a lot of the ideas or stance of it. The party does need reform. The priorities are sensible.

    The issue wera needs to think about, is, as someone particularly pro Eu, she, not me, I mean, how does the forceful message on Brexit, fit, with a localist direction?

    If this party has too much top down on policy, why do party members now saddle the party with policy on conscience issues?

    If our party is going to pitch to Devon, it must not alienate those moderately suspicious of the EU. If it is to appeal to Catholics with a social conscience, it must not put them off reflecting their religious conscience, on, say, the right to life, based on a lower number of weeks, which mps must vote on as individuals.

    We are increasingly referencing the left of the USA, and the Democrats. I think we might do well to, on some things, also, reference the politics of President Kennedy, and volunteerism, excitement of being involved in politics, and indeed those often common sense traits of Charles Kennedy.

    The greatest example of the leader we never fully had, is Shirley Williams. She never alienated. We must see local as central, no pun intended, but so also, is sensible.

  • Christopher Love 25th Jun '20 - 10:12am

    It appears that we have (had) a Head Office that does not walk the talk. Incredible – if we don’t execute on our values then who will?

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