Core votes and rebuilding: Thoughts on Howarth and Pack

Lib-Dem-logoDavid Howarth and Mark Pack have produced a pamphlet on how the Liberal Democrats need to adopt a core vote strategy, and what that strategy could be. There’s a lot of good thinking in there, and Matthew Green’s response to it is also worth reading, so I only have a couple of points to add.

First up, I think any change in strategy like this needs to ensure it brings in the local parties from the start. One big problem the party has had over the past few years is that far too much campaign strategy has been decided from the centre, with local parties expected to simply fall in line. This reached its bewildering peak in the election campaign, with local campaigners having no idea what the party’s main slogan would be the next day as HQ cycled through ideas at an increasingly rapid pace.

For the party centrally to suddenly declare ‘right, we’re switching to a core votes strategy’ and expect everyone to fall in line would be a disaster. I don’t think HQ would be silly enough to try that, but as Matthew Green points out, if it was simple to switch the party’s strategy in such a fundamental way, we’d have done it already. There needs to be some proper thinking about the tactics needed to implement this, or any other, strategy – and how it links local and national campaigning – and it shouldn’t be rushed out and dictated from above.

I think the idea for a Deputy Leader/campaign chair fits in with that process of getting people to buy in locally to the idea of a change. I think the idea of opening up the position of Deputy Leader to a much wider field than MPs (and giving it a campaigning focus) is a good idea, but the process of bringing in the new role should draw in a lot of people from the start so people know the change is coming and there’s plenty of time for people to consider if they want to stand for deputy leader, and what they’d do for the role. Adopting and electing the new position should be party of the process of change, drawing people into it and thinking about what it will mean for them and their activity in the party. We need to be careful it’s not another change that people who pay attention to constitutional amendments at Conference know all about, while it passes right by everyone else.

Finally, I’d also suggest that if campaigning will be explicitly the role of the Deputy Leader, then we need to understand how that changes the role of the Party President. There’s always been a certain about of nebulousness about the role of the president, with successive holders defining it differently, and there needs to be some thought given to how to structure the role so it doesn’t overlap and clash with the Leader and Deputy Leader. My suggestion would be that we look at making it much more of an organisational role with perhaps a lower public profile than it has had so far. However, for someone to be able to have a real impact on the party organisation, I think the term needs to be longer than the current two years – indeed, I’d suggest looking at making it a post with a five-year term, elected close to the start of a new Parliament and running across that entire cycle.

Anyway, that’s just my 2p’s worth, and I’m sure lots of people will have lots of ideas after reading the pamphlet, not least our new leader when he takes office on Friday.

2 thoughts on “Core votes and rebuilding: Thoughts on Howarth and Pack”

  1. Having read both articles, I agree there’s a lot of sense in both. But I think Matthew Green overstates his point about hard choices. Strong national campaigning, for example, will not necessarily upset floating voters. It depends between what they’re floating and why. For example, they may be teetering on the fence over deficit reduction but have strong views on global warming. David Howarth’s research indicates, unsurprisingly, that the people with strong ANTI views on key Liberal Democrat issues are fairly unlikely to be considering voting for us anyway.

    At local level some national campaigns may be highly relevant to Ambridge Town Council (and the neglected trick is to show HOW they’re relevant) but others may not and there’s still room to press in local contests on purely local issues. Indeed, not to do so is illiberal since our belief in devolution and democracy means elections in local authorities should determine issues those authorities can decide. However, in local campaigning we need to be Liberal – that is, while potholes can and must be filled, we should be hitting on issues where our local stance flows from our Liberalism.

    Re-establishing a clear identity is also not necessarily a matter of one dramatic act. If we consistently stand up for the underdog, for example, people will perceive a thread in what we do and sense that they have some idea of what we’re about. That’s what we so completely lost in the last few years.

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