By now, you’re most likely very familiar with the idea that we are concentrating our campaigning for the next Westminster general election on the NHS, the cost of living and sewage. You may well have heard that on Zoom calls with our Chief Executive, seen it in leaflets you’ve delivered or said it yourself in conversations with voters.
The prime reason for this trio is the humility that’s essential for a political party in an electoral democracy: the humility to listen to voters and to take their concerns as the starting point of our campaigning.
But there are two other important reasons for this trio too. One is that the trio is deliberately applicable to those of us fighting elections at other levels too, including incumbents and those running councils. Not all of our previous messaging - such as ‘time for a change’ - has been so adaptable. It’s always been a bit much to ask a Lib Dem council leader to go out and campaign with the slogan ‘time for a change’. That lack of consistency has held us back from communicating better to the public what we stand for.
This is a trio that works well for a national election yet also allows us in our local campaigning to showcase the difference Lib Dems in power in town halls have been making. Differences such as the innovative joined-up health services in Somerset or the provision of extra free school meals in Sutton.
Getting this right isn’t a short term task. Which is why it’s also a trio - health care, economy, environment - that will serve us well in the long-run. Whatever change of the political environment that the next election may bring, it’s the basis for a consistent, long-term approach to building a larger core vote for the party.
Part of that long-term outlook also has to be changing the way our politics works. Not just securing electoral reform for the Commons and local government in England and Wales. But also reforming the role of money in our politics and strengthening the power of Parliament to hold the government to account.
If that is the long-term task, the short-term one is very clear: get more Liberal Democrats elected this year.
Which is why it’s fabulous to see us kick off the year with a record volume of canvassing in January, with activity at double the levels seen in January 2023. And that’s despite the weather being so much worse in the middle of January this year too!
Thank you so much to everyone who has been out on the doorsteps or picking up their phones to talk with voters already this year.
We’ll be doing more thanks and recognition with our party awards at our spring Federal Conference coming up in York in March.
Four awards are open for nominations. They’re the usual four awards for a spring conference but this time the criteria have been tweaked to focus on what matters most in such a big election year:
Speaking of conference… one of the main topics the February Federal Board will be looking at is our contingency planning around autumn conference. This may be just before, during or just after a general election. That has significant implications for staff time, the conference budget and people’s ability and willingness to take the time to come to conference.
Our conferences are a vital part of our democratic process, an important training and opportunity and, in the right circumstances, a great opportunity to engage with the outside world via media coverage, the exhibition and fringes.
But if a general election is called so that our planned conference would be in the middle of an election campaign, forcing its cancellation, and we’re left with a £550,000 financial hole when we need our money most, I am sure many members will - rightly! - ask what we’d done to anticipate that. We need to have good contingency plans in place.
Other topics at our February Board will include how we do Board appointments to party posts during general election year, our latest quarterly review of party performance and plans for membership recruitment and engagement around the general election.
If you volunteer as a steward you get free attendance plus help towards subsistence, travel and accommodation costs. Plus getting to be a member of a great team. More details are here.
One of the crucial parts of my role as President is being in touch with what members are saying all around the country (and overseas too). It's been noticeable in the last year how much of the online conversation among members and supporters in local parties has moved away from (semi-)public social media, for example away from Facebook and X/Twitter and often moving to WhatsApp (and to a much lesser extent Slack).
If WhatsApp plays a big role in your local party's chatter, and you wouldn't mind an outsider being in your group so I can better see the temperature of members around the party, it'd be great if you can add me to your relevant group. You can either message me the join link on email@example.com or ask for my mobile number to add. Thank you.
Do you have questions on any of this report, or other Lib Dem matters? Then please drop me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org. Do also get in touch if you would like to invite me to do a Zoom call with your local party or party body.