Why I was furious to get an email from Liz Leffman

Before I even start this, let me just say that Liz Leffman, the Chair of the English Party and our wonderful candidate in the Witney by-election is one of my favourite Liberal Democrats and that none of this is her fault.

She is one of the most constructive and practical people I have come across in the party and I’m delighted that she is leading the English Party on its journey to reform.

However, I got an email from her the other day, sent out by party HQ, that made me furious. Here’s what it said:

Hi Caron,

This weekend, I’ll be out campaigning in Oxfordshire as part of our National Day of Action – and I’d love it if you’d join me by campaigning in your area too.

Last night, the House of Lords successfully amended the Article 50 bill to guarantee EU Citizens Right to Stay – and now, we need to persuade MPs in the House of Commons to back the amendment when it comes back to them.

One of the ways we can do that is by making a huge splash this weekend and with events up and down the country and show MPs and the Government that there is a real opposition to their plans for a hard Brexit.

So please, join me this weekend and hit the pavements for our National Day of Action:

Thanks,

Liz
Liz Leffman

Chair of the English Party
Liberal Democrats

It’s all good stuff. But I live in Scotland. I’m a member and office bearer of the Scottish Lib Dems. This email, sent out from the federal party, should have come from our Scottish Convener, Sheila Thomson.

If this had been the first time something like this had happened, I might just send a quiet email to the team at HQ responsible. But it’s not the first time that Scotland hasn’t been considered. Some of us are still smarting from the email sent out by Simon Hughes the week after our horrific and devastating result in the 2011 Holyrood elections which started “It’s been a good week to be a Liberal Democrat.”

One of my golden rules about communications is that you need to think about who it’s going to and what is the best way to get the reaction that you want. The federal party must be more alert to these sorts of things. Scottish members, already disillusioned as to where they fit into the federal party’s thinking, are actively alienated when this sort of thing happens. We get so many complaints when members receive emails which so clearly don’t apply to them. If they then opt out of receiving emails altogether, that is a vital link between member and party broken.

It doesn’t take more than a couple of seconds to stop and think if the message being sent applies to everyone or just one state party. You would think that after nearly 30 years, it would have become instinctive. If it isn’t instinctive, then it needs to become part of a checklist that people go through before sending stuff out.

The party has to get better at this.

 

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

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50 Comments

  • Got to say Caron I think this is a bit nit picking – Many at HQ (and Im not a HQ staffer) will be a bit tired post Stoke/Copeland and now busy again with another by-election. When you do communications someone always has an opinion and if it had come from the Scottish convenor someone else may turn round and go “were a unionist party why is everything coming from Scotland.” You can’t please everyone all of the time.

  • Sorry but come on what is the problem here? I have just come in from delivering and I am knackered. I don’t want to read about , what I consider , to be trivial and silly demarcation disputes over who sent out a letter.

  • Rob, the problem is that this isn’t the first time the party has done this, and won’t be the last. It shows contempt for the party’s structure and the voices of Scottish (and, presumably, Welsh) members, unintentionally or otherwise.

    Federalism is one of our key policies, and frankly if we can’t get it right in our own internal mailings, then what chance have we got in persuading others?

  • I guess Nicola Sturgeon’s style of divisive politics and trivial outrage is trickling down onto some members

  • That’s interesting. The one Scot who has responded so far gets it.

  • Michael Brown 4th Mar '17 - 4:25pm

    So basically if ‘Chair of the English Party’ was omitted then you’d be fine with it because none of what was said applies only to England.

    It’s just sending an email with your job title on – look at the message content and not who sent it.

  • Actually, Michael, it is important. This sort of thing happens all the time to both Scotland and Wales and it’s time we were both treated with a bit more respect within the federal party.

    It matters when Scottish members are sent an email from the Chair of the English Party as if we were not a separate state party in our federal family.

    The comments on this thread are very instructive as it shows that the English members who have commented don’t understand the federal nature of our party or the damage that is done when Scottish members are treated like this.

  • Add me to the list of English members who can’t get very eorked up about this – sorry Caron. Cup of tea then more delivery to do…..

  • James Pugh “I guess Nicola Sturgeon’s style of divisive politics and trivial outrage is trickling down onto some members”.

    I’m afraid that post illustrates the problem.

  • Neil Mackinnon 4th Mar '17 - 4:51pm

    Well this is a depressing if unsurprising thread. For the 22 years that I’ve been a party member (including ten as a member of staff) I’ve been repeatedly struck by the contradiction between the clean and fair federal structures of the party and the lack of understanding that most members have as to the meaning behind those structures and that that is how we believe that the British constitution should be organised. That’s the party’s fault for making no effort to explain such things to new members. This in turn leads, as I have discovered in the last few months, to long serving Liberal Democrats arguing online AGAINST federalism.

  • Statistically irrelevant, but count one member in Wales who can’t get worked up about this either.
    It’s a UK-wide event and all I thought, on getting the email, was that I wouldn’t be free to take part anywhere.

  • “Actually, Michael, it is important. This sort of thing happens all the time to both Scotland and Wales and it’s time we were both treated with a bit more respect within the federal party.”

    Exactly. I am as thrilled to see two articles discussing Northern Irish politics on this site as I am dismayed that Nick Clegg, for example, can stand up in the House of Commons and speak of the needs of the Union post-Brexit but does so forgetting Wales. Theresa May is signalling for the first time in a long time, if not ever, that Conservatives understand that they need to work outside of England and the Lib Dems cannot forget they do too.

  • Allan Heron 4th Mar '17 - 4:58pm

    The point being made is highly relevant despite the condescending comments being made.

    If this is an English communication for English members then it should not be sent more widely. If it is intended for the wider membership then it should not be signed off in a way that creates any ambiguity.

    Caron has pointed out the thoughtletness underpinning the Simon Hughes e-mail. There have been situations where members have been contacted by the Scottish party and from the Federal party (usually acting as the English party by default) which contained clashing information.

    I’d also take issue with the references to ‘HQ’. As far as I’m concerned that’s 5 Clifton Terrace, Edinburgh. They didn’t send the contentious e-mail.

  • Nicola Prigg 4th Mar '17 - 5:15pm

    The ignorance of English people on this thread & in I assume UK LibDem HQ as to how the LibDem party structure works, plus how this will play in Scotland & presumably Wales and how alienated Scottish members will feel at this email and others like it, shows the inevitability of Scottish independence.

  • Tony Greaves 4th Mar '17 - 5:26pm

    I don’t think party HQ understands these things. Churning stuff out in quantity is what they do. The quality of what they say? Scotland? Just a faraway place to them with lots of strange-sounding names… assuming they know were it is!

  • To be fair, Tony, it’s not quite that bad, but this is an error that happens too often.

  • @allan: You might want to check that address:-).

  • Allan Heron 4th Mar '17 - 6:06pm

    You mean it’s not the pub 😉

  • Chris Young 4th Mar '17 - 6:06pm

    Ugh. This is the sort of slip-up that would have annoyed me greatly before I moved to Scotland, and even more so after 23 years here. It’s not just a matter of pedantry, though frankly that would be enough, but alarming evidence of lazy thinking that is really critical to hone at this moment. The PM’s threat to undevolve policy areas repatriated post-Brexit may just tip the balance and spell the end of the UK. In this context, the hearts and minds of members and supporters of the Party matter.

    But before Scotland explodes again, we have Northern Ireland and the whole border thing to pay attention to…

  • Caron

    Not that it is remotely important, but since crude aspects of identity have been raised as some sort of important measure of the worth of people’s opinion, am Welsh, and Welsh speaking. I take no offence at an important email signed off by an outstanding individual like Liz Leffman, who also happens to be the Chair of the English Party (I didn’t know that before, and couldn’t care less).

    What silliness that people bicker and apparently get furious about the official title of the individual signing off an important email communicating a national event. Given what’s going on in the world, somebody getting furious about about such an email must either be perpetually furious, or not getting furious about the right things.

    Since the importance of bureaucratic process is being elevated above what seems sensible in this instance, what exactly did the Scottish Convener communicate to Scottish members about this weekend’s events?

  • People think Federal is a structure – as anyone in Germany for example would tell you, it’s more than that it’s a state of mind and an understanding. Sadly not in the Lib Dems. Hey ho

  • the problem is that this isn’t the first time the party has done this, and won’t be the last. It shows contempt for the party’s structure

    I think the problem is the party structure. I seem to remember the diagram that was posted a year or so back showing the structure of the LibDems in the UK&NI that no one really understand and it would seem that it hasn’t changed in the interim to any great extent…

  • James Pugh – spot on and well said. As a matter of interest how does anybody on here know whether I am Scottish, Welsh , English or from Northern Ireland?

  • Paul Hienkens 4th Mar '17 - 7:43pm

    Caron,

    Such a shame this happened again and I agree, it shouldn’t have.

    I’m extremely concerned though by the lack of understanding from some in this thread that the only way for reform of the English Party to work is by bringing along the other two state parties as well. Human error like this won’t help.

    But, human error or not, I’m also concerned about the rather callous statement in this thread on HQ churning out staff. Our colleagues who are paid to spend their time active on behalf of the party mostly do so for far less money then they could earn in the ‘real’ world. And they usually work many more hours then they are contracted for.

    So, although I agree this was a totally avoidable error and shouldn’t have happened, I am unconvinced that being rude about HQ is helpful.

  • Another query, what distribution list was this email sent to….

  • Galen Milne 4th Mar '17 - 9:46pm

    Let’s be honest with each other and whilst I don’t get “hetbup under the collar” about the prevailing English obsession that they think they also speak for the rest of the UK on most matters it’s high time we, the advocates of a federal UK, began to understand the words meaning. So if you all think about that word, what it is intended to mean, and begin to walk the walk instead of continually talking the talk, then, and only then, will we understand the Act of the union. After all King James the VI of Scotland became King James the First of Englandshire, so don’t you ever forget it.

  • Stephen Clarke 5th Mar '17 - 12:29am

    Of course it might help if we actually had a functioning English Party with it’s own party conference (not just one in name only at Federal Party conference). Or indeed a genuine Federal party with no pretend English party at all, A pretend English party automatically leads to people treating Wales and Scotland as what they are (Georgraphically) mere regions of Great Britain.

  • Gordon Lishman 5th Mar '17 - 8:39am

    And a genuine federal party doesn’t have just one unit with 84% of the population and an even higher proportion of the Party’s members. If we want a federal system, we should create one. No doubt the Scots will be strong supporters of states within England to make it more likely that federalism will beunderstood.

  • I have to say all of these people having a go in the comments are really missing the whole point. The SNP is constantly pushing the narrative that Scotland is a branch office, a region, to the the other parties, not a full and equal partner In a 4
    union. These little things are the bits that people see as proving them right, demoralising them and making them leave the party / join the SNP. I have to wonder how many people who have commented saying this is nitpicking are English? I would bet it is over 75%……

  • I’m Scottish, and am not in any way bothered by this particular email. My interpretation is very much that it’s information about action that is interesting to all of us that comes from someone who happens to be the Chair of the English “branch”.

    Now, I fully accept that Caron is talking about a trend, and using this as an illustration, but it’s not the best example IMO. I am a firm believer in federalisation, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in the rest of the UK. It’s important to have the local input, but we must be wary of moving towards a silo mentality. The latter is what the SNP wants, but why should we be dictated to by the SNP?

    For me, the bigger question is whether or not this ‘national day of action’ was limited to England, and if it didn’t extend into Scotland (or Wales/NI), why not? Instead of complaining about someone in the English party telling me something interesting about what they are doing, my query would be why didn’t someone in the Scottish party tell me about what was happening in my area?

    The point about emails tailored for the audience is a fair one. I’ve no idea how the email systems are set-up, but it should be possible to send emails to all UK members, whilst modifying them slightly according to location. If Scotland has had bad results, but they’ve been good in England & Wales, then I don’t want a smug email about the good results, but I’d still be glad to hear that things have been better in other parts of the country.

    This sounds like more of one of house-keeping, and ensuring that the databases with emails have relevant information to allow for easy targeting of messages. It may also mean that when Liz and those in the English branch are working hard to tell members about good work that is happening, they check if their Scottish/Welsh/Irish equivalents would like to send out an equivalent.

    There is a valid point about being sent too many emails, some of which will feel irrelevant, but I’d hate to think that we are going to assume that we only care about what’s going on in our own back-yard and only if told about it by someone with the right job-title.

  • Sarah Taylor 5th Mar '17 - 10:31am

    I just thought I’d received it by mistake because I volunteered for the Witney by-election a bit. It’s not really relevant for me any more so I deleted it and got on with my day.

  • Great to see so many people out delivering. I’m not Scottish or Welsh but having worked In a membership setting for most of my working life, I get it. This is very, very basic stuff for a membership organisation. Get the message right and it has greater impact. Get it wrong and you lose people. The staff at HQ work very hard but as an organisation, my experience so far is leading me to conclude the admin systems in place could be tighter. I use as an example the fact that we are being investigated again by the electoral commission not long after a previous fine. I’m not aware of revised guidelines for electoral exes going out. This should have been done in a matter of days and to every member to show the EC that action was being taken.

  • Caron I get them all the time. If you get furious over this what happens when something serious happens.

  • 1. In any organisation with limited funding and resources, you have to decide where to prioritise this resources.
    2. This means most non critical parts of the organisation will be stretched most of the time.
    3. You have to decide what therefore is ‘critical’ to the moralle and the people (your most important resource) and the overall return on investment of the organisation.
    4. You also have to ensure systems or robust that could lead to regulatory/operating fines which ‘bleed’ hard won money.
    5. The emotional stuff is at the end of the day both the most important and the least important consideration depending on how well you’ve addressed the first 4 points.
    6. As an aside, motivation of any Head office in any organisation is paramount to it’s success, simply because when quick responses to a situation are needed, their good will and motivation and flexibility are key to everyone else success.
    7. So, surely is makes sense to simplify structures as much as possible, whilst maintaining effectiveness, put adequate, ideally automatic safeguard’s in place, and ensure effective channels of communication which are as streamlined as practical.

  • Can we take it that post the £ 1 million donation we will no longer have the “Donate” button on all these multitudious emails ?

  • paul holmes 5th Mar '17 - 1:26pm

    Personally I would love to get emails from the Chair of the English Party telling me about English Party matters rather than a simple campaign email urging me to join a street stall which would be better coming from other people.

    Part of Liz’s electoral pitch for the post of Chair was a ‘reformist’ one but as yet I have seen no sign of a new broom in action. To take the simplest and most basic of functions, how difficult can it be (given that Local Party Officers and Exec members are elected by November), to have an email ready to go at the push of a button on say 31st Dec each year?

    “Dear Local Party Chair/Secretary/Treasurer/Data Officer etc, welcome to your new post for 2017. Your role is vital in maintaining and building strong local Liberal Democratic Parties and the English Party want’s to give you all the help it can to do that. Attached is the most up to date information on the relevant bits of Electoral Law, Electoral Commission guidance, Data Protection Laws, National Party rules etc etc that are pertinent to your role. We appreciate that many of you will be new to your post and that these laws and rules frequently change so we hope that this concise update and outline of the rules and legalities is helpful. Please do not hesitate to get in touch if we can be of assistance in any way………………………………Thankyou for taking on this important role. Without numerous volunteers like you there would be no local organisation that can campaign for Liberal Democracy across the country, we really appreciate all that you do and we are here to help you…………..”

  • I find it almost unbelievable that this doesn’t happen already.
    But Hey ho – there’s a great start then 🙂

  • Sue Sutherland 5th Mar '17 - 3:51pm

    I see this as another reminder for the party to walk its talk, which is quite a difficult thing to do under pressure, but something we have to achieve if we are to truly show what life would be like in a Lib Dem run world. I’m sure Liz Leffman is mortified that this has happened.

  • All I can gather from Caron’s article and most of the defensive comments is that this email shouldn’t have been signed off by the Chair of the English Party, because it shouldn’t have been signed off by the Chair of the English Party. Very little appeal to reason and lots of huffing.

    Maybe am too naive and new to deeply appreciate the sacrilege that took place in this email’s sign off, but I doubt I am alone in solely associating Liz as the inspiring candidate for the byelection in David Cameron’s former constituency, who helped build up the sense of momentum that was crucial to winning Richmond Park which was of national significance. Am sure this is the case for many of the members who received this email in all 3 nations (sorry NI, you got your own party there), who couldn’t give a toss that she happens to be Chair of the English Party, and like me don’t know or understand (and it’s probably for the best) the Byzantium structures of the Liberal Democrat Party.

    @James Cole
    “The SNP is constantly pushing the narrative that Scotland is a branch office, a region, to the the other parties, not a full and equal partner In a 4
    union. These little things are the bits that people see as proving them right, demoralising them and making them leave the party / join the SNP. ”

    So challenge both the premise and relevance of the SNP’s narrative. Jumping on the bandwagon and pandering to it sounds like the dangerous game that the Conservatives played with UKIP’s narrative. Surely Caron’s divisive stirring has created more resentment than the original email ever could. This sort of identity politics and culture of outrage has done so much damage to the functioning of liberal movements

  • There’s a mole hill reverberating in them thar mountains !!

  • @ James Pugh: Maybe it’s the refusal to listen to others’ experiences and take them seriously that does the damage. Just a thought.

  • @Caron

    Many things have done damage to the functioning of liberal movements, “refusal to listen to others’ experience and take them seriously” being one. As well as identity politics and culture of outrage that you gleefully indulged in when penning this article. Thoroughly glad an article of yours only a few days later was titled “Today at Scottish Conference -“Turning back the tide of division”” Let’s hope you walk the talk on that one and we don’t see repetition of such divisive stirring we saw from you here.

  • Liz Leffman 12th Mar '17 - 2:07pm

    Caron, I have only just picked this up; having been working with my local party to win a by-election last Thursday, I have only now come up for air.

    I apologise that this communication went out the way that it did. I will ensure that next time a general message goes out from me in my role as English Party Chair, it is sent to English party members and any communication with Scottish members comes from Sheila, and from Carole to Welsh party members. I did not realise this had been sent to the entire federal party. I am meeting the team in LDHQ tomorrow and I will make the point.

    Paul, I am sorry that you think I have done nothing so far to convince you that I am a “new broom”. I have recently sent out a communication to all English Party members asking them to become involved in the consultation that we are holding to review the structure of the English Party. These things take time to achieve and we hope to have that in place by the beginning of 2018. I would welcome your input, and the input of all members, in this. For the record, comments have been sought from both the Scottish and Welsh parties, via Sheila and Carole, of the various options that are on the table, and we will of course take them into consideration when deciding the way forward.

  • OMG, I just saw an email from Willie Rennie in my inbox! I’m not Scottish! Am I supposed to be “furious” and write an LBV article about it?

  • LDV* article

  • @James Pugh: Only if you don’t consider the potential break up of the UK to be a national issue.

  • @Liz; Thanks for commenting – and well done on the by-election.

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