It hasn’t been an easy few months for our party since the General Election. After our brilliant successes in last year’s local and European elections, and notwithstanding some notable highs like gaining NE Fife, Richmond and St. Albans, we came down with a nasty bump in December.
Since then, I’ve been in listening mode. I planned a series of visits to listen to party members and the public. I learned a lot while door-knocking in Yorkshire and Cornwall and had more planned. And then the virus hit. Since then I’ve been listening to Lib Dem members up and down the country via Zoom.
What people have told me, members and public alike, chimes with the content of Dorothy Thornhill’s excellent General Election Review.
If we want to move forward, we must implement the recommendations as quickly as possible.
There is still strong support for the party at the local level, where people see and like their local Lib Dem team. But a lot of that support does not transfer to the party nationally.
Our party is resilient. And we are stronger than the pundits would have you believe – leading 50 councils and holding thousands of council seats. Not to mention far more second places. But if we are to regain our strength at all levels, we need to change the way we operate radically.
We need to set ourselves some clear and ambitious targets. We should aim to rebuild our support and capacity at every level from the bottom up over the next decade. We need to win buy-in from the whole party if this is to succeed, it can’t just be top-down.
We need to develop a message with broad appeal. It must be based firmly on our liberal and social democratic principles, but it needs to resonate across every part of the UK and with all communities. The party sustained success under both Paddy and Charles with that approach.
We’ve got to work together. The report is clear that the Leader shouldn’t decide everything and can’t solve every problem. They need to work as a team with the President and CEO to drive the party forwards, and that team spirit is required throughout the whole party.
We need to listen. To the states and regions, to candidates and volunteers. We need to ensure that our local government base is fully tied in with the party’s decisions. There is a lot the parliamentary team can learn from many of our council groups!
We need to support campaigners at every level. Yes, we need to relearn that winning target parliamentary seats doesn’t happen overnight, believe me, eight years’ experience in my constituency has taught me that. We also need to ensure that we are providing materials and advice to everyone – from a Local Party trying to win their first ward to an area we are trying to win the council.
Winning at every level is essential. In its own right, and because we will not win large numbers of parliamentary seats without building from the ground up.
We need to become a party of innovation and learning. The party is full to the brim of great ideas, and there is plenty of best practice. Yet, for whatever reason, we are not nearly as good at sharing it as we should be. ALDC already does a lot of this well – and without massive resources – we need to learn from their approach.
We should invest in training and development. For a primarily voluntary party, we spend next to nothing on training and development. We need to spend a lot more, and that investment will reap dividends. We also need to ensure that we provide proper support and materials for everyone who takes on a voluntary role in the party.
We need to ensure that our party values every member. We should cherish diversity and ensure that we all treat each other with respect. Any and every contribution should be valued, and we should accept that everyone will contribute differently. We need to be better at harnessing skills, knowledge and experience, and at providing opportunities for people to develop.
As the General Election Review makes clear, it will be a massive challenge to turn our party around. The new Leader has a pivotal role to play, in some cases leading from the front, and in others, supporting other members of the team.
I’m up for the challenge. Knowing the resilience of Liberal Democrat campaigners, I’m confident you are too.