All right, I know it’s a cliché, but time really does fly when you’re having fun! My two year term as Party President is coming towards its close, and the hectic schedule of meetings, conferences, Party business and local Party visits has ensured that I’ve been kept pretty busy. With the European and local elections of 2009, the General Election of 2010, and the amazing aftermath which saw Liberal Democrats in national Government for the first time in decades, it’s been pretty eventful.Even though I ran Simon Hughes campaign in 2004 to be Party President, I have been truly bowled over by Ros Scott's term and what she has achieved, both from a Party Members view and that of a member of staff.
There’s no job description for the Party President, and each incumbent has done the job differently, depending on their own areas of interest and expertise, and the political climate at the time. When I ran for election two years ago I didn’t make extravagant pledges but focussed on the areas where I knew the Party President could really deliver and where my experience in local government and business could make a difference. In the run up to the General Election, I felt that internal Party development was a key priority for us, and I have concentrated my efforts on that aspect of the job.
I’m pleased at what we have achieved together. The Chief Officers Group has been created, bringing together key players from the various elected Party bodies and leading to a whole Party business planning process for the first time. Ensuring that the State Parties and the Federal Party work more closely together has been an essential part of an ongoing process to improve our candidate approval and selection. The fund raising board was established and, along with the employment of our first professional fund raiser, ensured that the 2010 General Election was better funded than ever before. The new Audit & Compliance Board has given us the confidence to know that there is an independent view not only of our accounts, but of all major donations. We raised our game in the field of new technology and are recruiting more people on line, keeping members informed by regular e-mail updates, and mobilising them using Lib Dem Act. I am especially delighted that after several years of decline, membership has risen. Federal Executive has developed into an effective scrutinising body and has looked in detail at a number of important topics – including the most thorough review of a General Election campaign ever.
The dramatic events of May have meant that we have all had to move quickly to deal with the challenges of entering into Government, and establishing of new ways of working has been a key task. In Liverpool we will have two significant consultative sessions, on policy and strategy. These will form the backbone of our work going forward, designed to ensure that there is a strong Liberal Democrat presence both inside Westminster and beyond.
In reflecting upon what is needed in a Party President for the next two year term, I have concluded that the focus on internal matters needs to change. The President needs to articulate the liberal values which make us unique, and ensure that we retain our own identity. Could I do this job? Yes, I believe so. Am I the best person to do it? To be honest, I don’t think I am. It’s up to you of course, but in my view, what we need now is a President who is a strong media performer and tough campaigner. It’s not an easy job – you have very little actual power, no office or staff, and a tiny budget which barely covers the travel costs. But nevertheless, it is possible to make a real difference.
It’s been an exciting and eventful two years, and I have especially enjoyed getting to meet members and activists right across the country, but the time has come to pass on the baton.
I am truly disappointed that Ros is not seeking the second term to finish what she has started.
As my readers know, I am not keen for Lembit Öpik to be the Lib Dem London Mayoral candidate (read my blogpost here) but I really don't want him to go for the Party President's post either - he is not what the Party needs at this time.
So, thank you Ros for everything in the last two years but please don't hand the reins over to Lembit!