With our Brighton conference approaching (agenda and registration here), I've recently written the latest report back to conference on the Board's work. Here is a slightly expanded and updated version of that report.
With a new Conservative Party leader nearly upon us, the range of plausible dates for the general election is wide open. As it now may well be much sooner than seemed likely at the time of our last conference, the Federal Board has been reviewing our general election plans.
Preparations are being stepped up across the party. The pre-manifesto document being debated at conference is an important part of that as is Ed Davey's announcement of a major new package to help people with their fuel bills this winter - axing the planned increase in the fuel bill cap and providing extra help to those most in need.
This all makes now an even more important time for us all to be out on the doorsteps, recruiting new members and campaign helpers. There's been a clear pattern in our recent electoral successes at all levels that building up campaign organisations well in advance of the formal election campaign is a central element to success.
A Membership Incentive Scheme is in place, with generous additional payments to local parties who recruit or renew party members locally, especially if it is done on direct debit.
Thanks in particular to our wonderful three Parliamentary by-election wins in the last year, when that general election comes, we'll be a key part of the route to removing the Conservatives from government in Westminster.
That makes the Parliamentary seats in the (variously and flexibility defined) Blue Wall an increasingly important focus for us as the next general election polling day nears. But the majority of our councillors, our members and our voters are outside the Blue Wall.
So it's not only the target seats for the next Westminster election we need to prosper at. We also need to be winning at other levels of election more broadly. We need to continue the sort of breadth in our recovery we saw in May's local elections - amazing progress against the Conservatives in the Blue Wall and continuing recovery elsewhere, including up against Labour and the nationalists. Both of these tracks need to be successful for us to be a growing, national party.
That's why the Board has continued to prioritise investment in the breadth of our campaigns officers network, supporting not only Parliamentary target seats but also progress in other areas too. Thank you to all the other parts of the party who have cooperated on this, giving us a much larger network of staff supporting grassroots campaigning than we had before.
With Parliamentary selections picking up across the country, there has never been a better time to volunteer to be a Liberal Democrat Returning Officer.
Every Parliamentary selection is run by a trained Returning Officer - and although it is not a task for everyone, it's a really valuable role that we need more volunteers for. Returning Officers need to be organised and methodical, to understand and interpret the rules, solve problems and work constructively with people whose perspectives on a situation may differ.
Does this sound like you or someone you know? If so, please contact / ask them to contact your Regional Candidates Chair in England or state Candidates Chair in Scotland and Wales to discuss the role and the availability of training. If you need putting in touch with the relevant person, just drop me a line.
There's a training session being run on the Sunday morning at Conference, so now is a great time to get people thinking about this role.
Note that a Returning Officer cannot run selections for the local party of which they are a member, but they can help others so that others can help you.
I am glad to report that the Federal Party has been awarded the 'excellence' status by the Good Work Standard for how we go beyond legal minimum requirements in looking after staff.
Another important part of treating staff well is taking action when others, such as members, fail to do so. That has been one of the reasons behind the new Code of Conduct for Members and Registered Supporters that the Board is putting to Autumn federal conference for ratification (see details in the main agenda). Disagreement, debate, highlighting things that have gone wrong, pushing people to do their best - these are all very welcome, but when it steps over the line, it's important we are all willing to step in and take action to stop it.
This has been one of the priorities for our Federal budget in the last two years, as providing our grassroots campaigners across the party with the best online and data tools is an important part of being a successful campaign organisation in the 21st century. It's also how we can ensure we continue to have a broad-based recovery in our political strength alongside the necessary focus on target seats as each polling day nears.
Our new website tool (Fleet), our new email tool (Targeted Email), our new events tools (Eventcube) and our new online donations tool are all being readied for local parties, and other parts of the party, to be able to start using later this year. These will include much better data integration, so that - for example - email address and petition information flows smoothly between our different tools. You can find out more here.
This is both about putting our values into practice for how we operate as a party, and also about being more successful too - because more diverse and inclusive teams are also more successful teams.
Our new Diversity and Inclusion manager has now started at HQ, reflecting the priority we're giving to this area of work in the light of the Thornhill Review.
Our federal party HQ has also been accredited with the highest level possible by the disability confident scheme. This demonstrates as an employer we are leading the way in providing a great working environment for those with long-term health conditions.
We recognise that there are many people within the Party that are working on initiatives to improve diversity, this year we have worked on connecting those people and creating a network of knowledge that reaches beyond regions and local parties. This year we feel the biggest change has been the sharing of stories and practical tools that will improve the diversity of our membership.
We have created a central repository of support material, located on the Campaigns Hub. Along with onboarding documents for Diversity Officers, this will help them feel part of a bigger team rather than on their own.
We have a clear plan of action which is reported to the Federal People Development Committee (FPDC) and supports our strategy to focus on disability and race equality. There is still lots to be done.
An appeal over the conduct of the Vice President by-election last year was finally concluded in July, with the appeal being rejected. (This does perhaps also show Conference's wisdom in voting for a shorter and clearer internal elections appeals process in the spring.) Normally, the Board would do a review after an internal election, but as this was a by-election and now not much time is available until the next internal elections, instead we directed feedback at the Returning Officer team for the next elections. The by-election can then be included in the next full review after this autumn's elections.
That Returning Officer team will be headed up by David Crowther who the Board appointed over the summer to the new federal Returning Officer post.
The Board has also agreed the following measures to help ensure improving diversity and inclusion is at the heart of the Board's approach to filling party posts:
"The Federal Board will regularly report to the Federal Council on all the party roles that it has filled, whether by election or appointment, including providing details of measures taken to enhance the party's diversity, data on the diversity of its appointments and the measures the Board takes to evaluate candidates and to judge their performance before deciding whether or not to re-elect or re-appoint them."
We've adopted this in part because often the Board is filling one post here or two posts there - and so there's a risk that the pattern across all these appointments is not the one we would want or need.
The volume of complaints in our independent system has continued to fall. After peaking at over 300 in 2020, it is now consistently under 100, and still declining. There is more detail in the Lead Adjudicator's report to conference and the Board report to conference reports back on the latest changes to the process, based on feedback from both those who run our independent complaints system and from those who have been participants in it.
As Autumn conference sees the final Board report back to Conference of this three-year cycle, now is a good time to thank everyone who has helped the Board do its work on your behalf since the 2019 general election.
Particular personal thanks from me to the two vice chairs for the last three years, Elaine Bagshaw and Jeremy Hargreaves, and to the staff who work most closely with the Board to ensure its smooth operation, especially Jack Coulson, the party's Company Secretary, Georgia Potter, Executive Assistant to the Chief Executive and President and our Chief Executive, Mike Dixon.
Thank you also to the many members who have responded to our consultations, read our reports, questioned our work at meetings and sent emails of concern (or sometimes praise!). All of those interactions help keep the Board in touch with party members and has made our decision making better. Thank you.