The chaotic incompetence of a government that declares schools safe on a Sunday, sends children back for a day and then closes them is the sort of thing that should be the domain of political fiction.
Sadly and tragically, it’s the government we suffer from in Westminster. It is a reminder about how important it is that we recover as a party, and a spur to our efforts to ensure we do our part in defeating the Conservatives at the ballot box.
The elections due in May across England, Scotland and Wales are an important part of that.
The May Elections
Will the elections be delayed? The simple answer is, we don't know. But we do know that we need to campaign to do well in them whenever they happen. Other parties can gamble on trying to win an election without much time to campaign beforehand. We can’t.
That is why we need to continue with our preparations and build-up as if the May elections will happen, and treat any extra time as a bonus. Better that than be caught out thinking something wouldn't happen and then not having time to prepare when it does.
Of course, our work should always take into account coronavirus health risks, and always carefully follow the party's advice, which is regularly reviewed and updated when necessary.
There is a wide range of free training available to help you hone your campaigning skills and learn how to campaign best in the face of coronavirus. Do take a look at the listings on the party website and on the ALDC site.
One other thing to bear in mind is that, as with previous questions about whether elections would be delayed or whether a government would call an election early, a lot of rumours circulate. They often appear to be based on credible insider information - e.g. 'someone who spoke to a former colleague at the Electoral Commission...' But in reality they are not nearly as credible as they may seem.
The thing to bear in mind is that the decision to delay an election can be made suddenly by the Prime Minister (in England, similar considerations for other nations). As we've seen with the fiasco of children going back to school in England for just one day before schools being closed, there's no reason to think that an election decision either way will be made carefully, in good time and with all the right preparations in place.
Or for another example, when Gordon Brown was dallying over calling a general election in 2007 the news that Labour had started printing special election leaflets sounded like it was dead-cert insider information showing the election would go ahead... and then he didn't call it. So what someone says the Electoral Commission is doing, or what Whitehall civil servants are preparing, can sound credible... but really isn't much of a clue at all to what will happen.
Rumours can be fun to talk about. But don’t be misled by them into thinking someone has the inside track on what is going to happen. They don’t, which is why we need to keep preparing.
It’s award time again soon! Recognising the amazing volunteer effort across the party is something we do not do nearly enough. Which is why I’ve asked the Federal Conference to have time at our spring conference to add in a round of party awards. We always do some at autumn conference, but having awards in spring too will mean we can recognise more of the wonderful contributions made by so many.
The plan is to have three awards at spring: a new Leader’s Award to recognise those who show leadership in whatever form in the party, the Bertha Bowness Fischer Award to recognise the contribution of a newer member and a revived Albert Ingham Award to recognise our election agents and campaign managers. More information, including how to nominate someone you know, is on the party website.
Supporting Party Bodies
January sees the first meeting of a new ‘party bodies forum’, one of the practical steps we’re taking to implement the party bodies review into how we support and work with those parts of the party which do not fit into the standard local/regional/state party structures.
Groups such as Green Liberal Democrats and Liberal Democrat Women are an important part of the Lib Dem family. The forum should help us improve the way the party and party bodies interact, something which has often been a cause of frustration in the past.
It’s the first of many recommendations that we’ll be implementing from the review, with the chair of the Federal People Development Committee, Bess Mayhew, taking the lead in making sure they happen.
Improving the way we fill posts in the party
I mentioned last time the progress we’ve already made in improving the way roles are filled in the party. We need to get better at getting high quality, diverse teams in places rather than simply people who happen to know people.
So one item from the January Steering Group is looking at the next steps we can take, both to improve what we do in the Federal Party and also how we can support other parts of the party.
I know many members have experience of how to best fill roles in volunteer organisations, so suggestions and feedback are very welcome. In particular, for those of you reading who haven’t put yourself forward before for a role - what would motivate you?
Parliamentary Boundary Review
The official review is underway, and expected to come into force for the next general election. However, that is no reason to hold up getting on with selections in our most winnable seats. One of the consistent lessons from previous Parliaments - and one that comes through clearly in the Thornhill Report into the 2019 election - is about the need to get prospective candidates in place early. That gives them more time to get known by voters and to help build up the sort of local party infrastructure required to run a winning campaign.
The party’s response to the boundary review will be coordinated by our Director of Field Campaigns, Cllr Dave McCobb, and his team.