Friday, August 22, 2014

The race for the Party Presidency - and then there were three...

Pauline Pearce's dramatic withdrawal from the contest came as a bit of a surprise to your absentee bureaucrat, although, to be fair, her emergence as a contender in the first place was itself a bit unexpected.

I don't want to touch upon the grounds she has given - I haven't been involved in her campaign, nor that of any other candidate, as I mean to be an interested, neutral observer in this contest - but perhaps I might examine the four questions that I put to her some time ago, and never got an answer for;
  • What do you think the role of the President should be in the year of a General Election?
  • What do you think should be the relationship between the President and the Party Leader?
  • What do you think should be the relationship between the President and the voluntary party, i.e. the activists and volunteers?
  • Name three personal attributes that would help you perform the role of Party President and why?
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceTo be honest, I don't know Pauline at all, although I knew a little from some of the coverage she had received. But it was never entirely clear to me why she was running for the Party Presidency, or what she hoped to achieve both through her campaign and if she were to be elected. And, whilst the other candidates were beginning to campaign or, at least, raise their profiles, there were rather less obvious signs that Pauline was doing the same.

Running for the Presidency is not easy. The requirement to persuade ordinary members to support you means that, especially in a crowded field, you need to have a strategy to reach beyond the usual suspects - Parliamentarians, bloggers and other social media devotees - to Local Party Officers, councillors and the like, who offer a means to reach those armchair members who don't pay that much attention to internal Party affairs.

If you don't have a national profile already - and I'm not convinced that Pauline did yet - you need to develop one, and to grow a supporter base of people who can and will lobby their local members to vote for you.

In a General Election year, especially one that looks as difficult as 2015 does, I personally see the role of an incoming President as being at least twofold. In the run-up to May, it is about 'rallying the troops' to win as many seats as possible. It won't be glamorous, especially as the campaign organisers will have little or no idea what to do with you, and won't want you to draw attention away from the Leader.

Afterwards, if there is another hung Parliament, and the Liberal Democrats are relevant, being an honest broker during the decision making process and acting as a conduit for the views of the members and activists is critical. Otherwise, if the result is a bad one, keeping the Party together and dealing with a potential leadership contest will be the new key tasks.

Could Pauline have done those things successfully? I guess that we'll never know now, and I'm not sure that there were developed answers to my questions, not that any candidate will convince everyone of their potential in the role.

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