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The new political season

October 13, 2021 7:00 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

The autumn party conferences traditionally mark the start of the new political season. They are a time to reflect on the past year and set out plans to succeed in the coming year.

Both politics and coronavirus have made it a tough time since the last round of conferences. But we can look forward to this new political season with confidence that if we continue to raise our game, we can prosper. We've seen signs of that already, including with Sarah Green's fantastic win in Chesham and Amersham and also with the latest net favourability leadership polling from Savanta ComRes:

  • Keir Starmer: net -8
  • Boris Johnson: net -7
  • Ed Davey: net +1

To achieve success in the run of elections to come, we will need to think big. We need to convince wavering Tories, Labour and nationalist voters that backing us isn't solely a protest. It's also a vote for something positive. The antidote to the strains of the present is a liberal future. So we must paint a picture of the society we want to build, rather than merely the society we want to prevent.

We've made a good start on that with the debates, motions and speeches at our autumn Federal Conference. There will be more to come in the next few months too from the federal party, as we develop the emphasis on a fair deal that was at the heart of Ed Davey's speech. (Plans for next year's conference have been announced by conference committee chair, Nick Da Costa.)

Congratulations to...

Our conference closed with the party awards. We now run these twice a year in recognition of how important it is for us to thank and be inspired by our colleagues. You can read all about this time's winners - including a lovely family connection for one award - here.

We've also started sending out 'top canvasser' pin badges to thank those who contribute, either on the doorsteps or on the phone, to one of the most important election-winning tasks. Each quarter we're also inviting those who have canvassed the most to a special call with Ed Davey, our Director of Campaigns Dave McCobb and others so that what people are hearing on the ground gets fed directly in. This is to make sure we never repeat the 2019 campaign mistake of people on the ground knowing a message isn't working, and it taking too long to change it from the centre.

I'm keen that we continue to look for other ways to recognise people who contribute so much to the party. We've made changes to the party awards to recognise a wider range of contributions but I'm sure we can do more. Ideas very welcome.

Campaign Innovation Fund

The results are in from the first round of campaign experiments funded by our new Campaign Innovation Fund.

As Cllr Lisa Smart has said, as part of her latest report back on our election committee's work:

A few highlights we should all note:

  • When we mail out surveys the data suggests that there is a noticeable increase in returns where the accompanying letter is handwritten to where it is mail merged. The extra effort of writing the letter can therefore boost our data collection;
  • Where we haven't the capacity to knock on doors to recruit postal voters letters alone have a limited effect, but when combined with a follow-up letter they really do seem to drive recruitment;
  • Facebook ads with well designed graphics can be more effective at driving engagement than ones with group photos.

The fund will be continuing its work next year and we look forward to its findings.

A network for councillors from ethnic minority backgrounds?

As part of our efforts to support and improve the diversity of our local government base, it's been suggested that it would be useful to help our councillors from ethnic minority backgrounds network together. This might be something as simple as a Facebook group or it might grow into something more extensive - whatever people find most useful.

I've been discussing this idea with ALDC and Lib Dem Campaign for Race Equality. If you are one of our councillors yourself and think this would be useful, please drop an email to [email protected] and let's see if this idea is worth trying out. Suggestions for what would make it most useful are very welcome too.

Continuing to improve how the party operates

A big batch of important changes to how the party runs were passed at conference. Many thanks in particular to Flo Clucas, Bess Mayhew and their colleagues for so successfully steering through big changes to how party bodies will operate. The new framework replaces AOs and SAOs with 'affiliated organisations'. It gives those groups a more powerful role in the party while putting in place clearer and simpler compliance and related rules.

It's also been great to see how the new Party Bodies Forum is improving links between what we will now all need to remember to call affiliated organisations and the rest of the party. Thank you to its co-chairs Lee Dargue and Gareth Lewis Shelton for helping it get off to such a good start.

Among the other motions passed was our new strategy. It sets out plans for us all, including moving our own party activity towards net zero. That's a target for all parts of the party so I'd strongly encourage you to read the final motion and think about how to apply it to any part of the party you are involved in.

The next stage for our complaints process

Following conference, the new set of rules for our complaints process are now in place. We also have a new staff team settling in and the Federal Audit and Scrutiny Committee (FASC) will be looking this autumn at whether we need to take further action to improve the system.

As part of the question and answer session on the Board report, we discussed how the rules work regarding council groups and a commitment was made to come back with further proposals on this. I know this has been an important issue for many, and the Q+A slot worked well to focus everyone's minds on how to address those concerns.

Details are in the Q+A report on the party website. This also includes answers to all the questions that there was not time to take on the day. The number of open cases is now down to 156, the lowest since these records started

October Board meeting

On the agenda for your Board this time around will be progress on our budget for next year. A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes with the three state parties and ALDC to make this a much more joined up set of financial decisions this time, with a clear focus on the priorities selected by the Board and, via the strategy motion, by conference.

A big investment in previous budgets was in our field team and so we'll also be looking in more detail at the field team's role and its priorities.

As I've covered in previous reports, the Board also intends to put at least one option to spring conference on the Board's own future structure. The Thornhill Review into the 2019 general election found that, regarding the Board:

"There is no clear 'leadership team' where the three pillars of the party - political, operational, federal - can make cohesive decisions, simply, quickly, and effectively. The Federal Board - 40+ members - is not, cannot, and should not be that team."

These problems meant that decisions were taken in more fragmented and less accountable ways. A reformed Board, therefore, might therefore both improve decision making and also make it more accountable.

We will also be discussing how to operate as a Board through to at least that Spring conference in light of conference's decision to end the Steering Group pilot.

Vice President election timetable

The timetable is now out for the election of Isabaelle Parasram's successor as Vice President responsible for working with ethnic minority communities. Full details are here.

This is the first time the post will be elected by the party's membership. Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard on getting that change through, especially Isabelle herself. It's an important change that both reflects the priority the party gives this role and is a change that strengthens our internal party democracy.