Thursday, June 10, 2010

What do the Liberal Democrats need in their candidate for London Mayor?

Now that Lembit has announced his intention to seek the Liberal Democrat candidacy for Mayor of London, now might be a good time to consider what sort of candidate we need and what sort of campaign they should run. And, as you might expect, the answers are rather more complex than might be apparent.

There are at least four key players whose views need to be taken into account;
  • the London Regional Party – they are responsible for selecting the candidate, developing the campaign strategy and raising the funds to support the campaign
  • the Liberal Democrat Group on the Greater London Assembly – the quality of the candidate determines whether the Mayoral campaign helps or hinders efforts to increase our representation on the Assembly – does he or she have coattails?
  • the London MPs – a good campaign helps them in their campaigns for re-election in 2015 (or whenever) by bolstering the Party’s general credibility in their area
  • the Federal Party and the Leader in particular – given the extent of national press attention, a shambolic, unsuccessful campaign in London, where most national media are based, would damage credibility
Of course, their varying needs will impact on the process.

The Regional Party will want to consider what they hope to achieve from the campaign. Is it a hook on which to hang the Assembly campaign, whereby the candidate is the air war component, drawing attention to our manifesto, whilst our Assembly candidates in the constituencies provide the ground war, and our List candidates slot into the targeting strategy? Or, is it an opportunity to find an individual whose profile we might wish to raise for a future Parliamentary campaign in a target seat? Indeed, are we fighting in the expectation of winning?

There are two types of potential candidate;
  • the ‘celebrity’ candidate, as Simon Hughes was in 2004 and Brian Paddick to perhaps a lesser extent in 2008. Yes, they start off with an advantage in terms of profile, but they come with a price. They expect to be the figurehead of a well-resourced, high intensity campaign – something that the Regional Party is unlikely to be able to finance – are unlikely to want to start campaign very far in advance, and are more difficult to manage in terms of any Regional strategy that might exist.
  • the ‘team’ candidate, as Susan Kramer was in 2000. Susan wasn’t very well known when she was selected, having fought Dulwich and West Norwood in the 1997 General Election and gained 11% of the vote. She was well integrated into the London-wide campaign, worked very hard without complaint, and the campaign was a generally happy one. Her media profile rose steadily, and she was seen by the end as being a perfectly legitimate candidate to be Mayor of London. The profile that she earned for herself made her by far the most likely candidate for Richmond Park when it subsequently became available.
The risk in seeking to attract a celebrity candidate is that, in waiting for someone to come along, you risk losing the opportunity to start raising the Party’s profile in the key regional media. And, if they don’t come along, you inevitably end up resorting to someone who might make a thoroughly decent candidate but has very little time to develop that key media profile.

In terms of a strategy, there are competing interests too. There are significant areas of London where there are no Liberal Democrats on local councils (Hammersmith and Fulham, Croydon and Bexley to name but three) but where a little effort might potentially yield dividends in terms of building up our Region-wide vote and therefore electing more List candidates. Yet, by sticking to our established targeting strategy, we can secure those seats that we currently hold at other tiers of government.

The Regional Party must, in developing its strategy, balance those competing interests. As the only English Region fighting a region-wide election other than at European Parliamentary level, it offers a laboratory for testing different styles of campaigning, especially important as we move towards STV for a new second chamber at Westminster.

Whatever they decide, those of us outside London will watch with interest...


Bernard Salmon said...

What do the Lib Dems need for our London mayoral candidate? The phrase 'anyone but Lembit' springs to mind.

MatGB said...

I very much favour a team player candidate. I think the best approach for the party is to select someone already known, with a track record in London, and also, like the Greens, have that person top of the List candidates, so that if elected, they're Mayor, if not, we've got a prominent person in the GLA who people know who can effectively critique the mayor.

Ideally, one of the existing AMs.

The idea of Lembit is, well, interesting. But I think he'd be perceived as a joke candidate, and also be attacked as a failed MP.

Of the three AMs, I think Caroline'd be best.

Regarding strategy, very important to move out and work in development areas, it's an across London vote, the existing target seats are used to voting LDs, they should be able to run a campaign anyway, put the seat building machine into seats with potential, into wards with potential, help moribund parties in their one target ward, use Mosaic to identify streets within no hope areas worth pushing in, etc.

We do really badly in PR based elections as we concentrate too many resources on GE target seats at all times, this is an essential time to develop other areas of the city.

The objective should be to gain seats on the Assembly, preferably win a constituency, and grow the mayoral vote. Winning the mayoralty would be brilliant, but it's a long shot, so concentrate on buildign the party up across London.