Do Lib Dems ask too much of our candidates?

by Stephen Tall on May 12, 2008

Brian Paddick’s campaign diary was published in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday (if you haven’t yet had chance to read it, you can do so here). It’s a fascinating, wry, self-deprecating, candid account of the highs and lows of running for the London mayoralty on the Lib Dem ticket.

Brian’s conclusion, though, is pretty downbeat:

… on the whole it has been very, very disappointing. All that effort and time, nine months of my life, unpaid and for what? I feel bruised and bewildered by the lack of support as a result of not being able to raise enough money – we were outspent 20:1 by the Ken and Boris machines. Some people have asked if I’ll run for Parliament now. It’s as likely as me running another marathon. Not for anyone.

To which many of us will say: a shame. Brian is an instinctive liberal, who achieved much in his police career. If there isn’t room in political life for someone of his talents and determination, then something’s amiss.

But it also prompts the question: does the party ask too much of candidates, especially those who are first-timers and new to the rough and tumble of political life?

Now there are those who will say, politics is hard, and campaigns are gruelling precisely because those who aspire to elected office need to prove their resilience.

Yet we know the Lib Dems – lacking the financial resources of Labour and the Tories – have to run our campaigns on a shoestring: we continually punch above our weight, but it can be a bruising, knackering experience for the candidate. And if the result is that good people end up saying, ‘Never again!’, we have to ask if it does us long-term damage.

I don’t have an answer, and I’m not sure there is one. In the meantime, I for one am hoping Brian will change his mind.

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Glad to see a supportive posting on Brian Paddick. He worked his guts out for us and deserves a bucketload of praise.

The entries in his Diary (as printed in Daily Mail) actually make me furious.

In this case, the question isn’t so much ‘Are we asking too much of candidates?’, it’s ‘Is the party doing what the candidates are asking?’. Brian clearly wanted support and wasn’t getting it.

What the hell was his press officer doing? Why was Brian being asked to raise money for other people’s campaigns? Where was the mentoring, training, policy briefing, etc? Ultimately, what were Rennard, Campbell, then Clegg doing letting this happen?

You ask what can be done. Well, I want to see a proper enquiry into this, reporting back at conference, and I want to see changes to make sure it never happens again.

Yours, Steve Rutherford

by Steve Rutherford on May 12, 2008 at 2:39 pm. Reply #

He already has:

“Brian Paddick (London) wrote
at 5:17pm yesterday:
Don’t believe everything you read in the Mail on Sunday! My political career with the Lib Dems is far from over – in fact I was out canvassing in Crewe only yesterday! Brian”

by Jennie on May 12, 2008 at 2:41 pm. Reply #

My general impression – over about 17 years – is that, yes, we do ask too much of “first-timers”. Those used to campaigns will tend to be rather immune to flattery when approached to be a candidate. I have often seen us managing to persuade “first-timers” to be candidates and then, months later, they realise finally what they let themselves in for. In a way it is unfair but in another way I don’t think it is done with any cynicism on the part of the party. We desperately want and need new blood. And if we showed new potential candidates a video of old clapped-out war horses like me saying what it’s really like then we probably would not get many people to stand for us!

by Paul Walter on May 12, 2008 at 2:42 pm. Reply #

I was planning on blogging about this as I hadn’t seen it mentioned anywhere and was (and still am) a tad confused at how a candidate can run to the Mail accusing the party of being (at best) incompetent, and yet seemingly attract no criticism, let alone censure.

by Julian H on May 12, 2008 at 2:46 pm. Reply #

Jennie, thanks for posting that – however, it confuses me even more. Did Paddick submit these diaries to the Mail or not? If so, how can he contradict what he’s written and blame it on the Mail?

by Julian H on May 12, 2008 at 2:48 pm. Reply #

I would suspect that Paddick submitted his diaries and they were heavily edited.

FWIW, I found them quite endearing, and could certainly believe all that was written. We ARE enthusiastic amateurs with no money, and it would be foolish to pretend that we’re not. It would be nice if he’d had more support from the party high ups, though.

by Jennie on May 12, 2008 at 3:00 pm. Reply #

I think the answer is basically yes, after standing for so many fruitless elections, for so little thanks…

by Biodiesel on May 12, 2008 at 3:18 pm. Reply #

I suggested recently, following the uproar of the Crewe and Nantwich discussions on varying blogs, that maybe we need a better candidates manual or job description. Not everyone is as lucky I am to have a fantastic mentor.

Although it is my first time out as a parliamentary candidate, I know the pressures of the role having been active in the Lib Dems for over 20 years.

by Susan on May 12, 2008 at 3:21 pm. Reply #

In answer to Steve’s point – I suspect a lot of this is down to different levels of expectation.

As far as I know the party put as many resources behind the campaign as could reasonably be expected.

Brian may well have been expecting more.

by Neil on May 12, 2008 at 3:29 pm. Reply #

We all knew from the start that whoever got put up in the London Mayor election would struggle to avoid getting squeezed, and that London LibDem activists, realising this, weren’t going to work too hard at it. One need only look at the two previous London Mayoral elections to see this. That is why it was difficult to find an established party figure who would do it.

This is all part of the 3rd party game – sometimes you do have to play your part, knowing you’re going to get beaten badly by candidates from the other two parties who you know aren’t as a good as you. The reality of the party is that we do have to be careful with our resources, and that does sometimes mean putting a good candidate up and abandoning him/her.

People who go through this and emerge still smiling, ready to fight another day, and accepting of the tactics which had to be used, are the best Liberal Democrats. We know we can trust them in future, we know they have that special personal strength which is needed in our game. People who throw a hissy fit and storm off are a liability and are better off out of the party.

It was a big risk putting Brian up, and I think it only partly worked. There were plenty of times when his political naivety and inexperience showed through. What he had going for him was a certain recognition factor, plus his career experience. Had we put forward someone who had been longer in the party but without that name recognition and experience, we probably may have done worse, although I am not so sure. Suppose, for example, one of the GLA members had been our candidate. They might have been better placed to comment on all the issues, and have the experience to know at the end the reward always would be a poor third place.

by Matthew Huntbach on May 12, 2008 at 3:34 pm. Reply #

I think Matthew makes a fair point, which has been in my mind for a while: the party HQ knew Brian wouldn’t win whether they spent 10% or 90% of their resources in London, so why not spend money elsewhere to better effect? That said, following that argument to its logical conclusion is enough to make anyone downbeat.

by Bibliophylax on May 12, 2008 at 3:53 pm. Reply #

Jennie – where did Brian say this? I’m glad to read it!
Like you, I found his comments endearing. And I don’t think they were particularly negative. Despite the sensationalist headline written by subs on the Mail – his “criticisms” of the party were muted: he was disappointed that he found out he’d have to raise his own money (wouldn’t we all be!); he is self-deprecating (esp about his choice of press secretary) and appearing wooden; and a couple of quips about Nick – but that’s personalities.
He says that the “farce” was largely out of our control.
Believe me, I could come up with much worse criticisms of the party.

by Grammar Police on May 12, 2008 at 4:27 pm. Reply #

To be honest, I think that a lot of the problem with feeling a lack of support and training runs from the top of the party right through to the bottom.

Even though it was only for a paper seat, I recieved little to no training advice or support from the local party when I stood in council elections. At the very least, peoples expectations need to be managed. As a first timer I had to work really hard to find out what was going on, and even when other candidates in target seats were out or needing support. There was zero communication, even though I was already a local exec member. It seemed like there were just a couple of old hacks who expected everyone else to somehow telepathically know everything they did, and were incapable of a)any enthusiasm and b)any reasonable levels of communication.

To find that Brian had some of the same trouble, when dealing with campaigning at a much higher level (even though not exactly expected to win) is very sadly, not suprising. We really need to do a much better job at training and supporting our volunteers. There must be some key things we can do to help improve. A candidates manual- yeah, that might help. If there is such a thing, I never saw it!

The problem is not what you ask- its the support available around you. Its whether your expectations are managed. Proper training, good structures around you- so you know who go to to raise an issue, for mentoring or for advice, and also you know who you can delegate to or call upon for help and support. These things are pretty simple and straight forwards- and work for a happier volunteer force. We’re not doing them! This needs to be sorted out if we are going to achieve any greater levels of success in the long term. I believe that we can do it, but that this issue is crucial.

If you want a party with just old hacks who always play for third place… then just keep everything the same.

by Ruth on May 12, 2008 at 4:30 pm. Reply #

The quote from Brian got left on Facebook, whoever was asking.

And yeah, a candidates’ handbook could be cool. Then we can state on the front page “we’ll give you all the help we can, but bear in mind we’re poverty-stricken and battle-weary”

by Jennie on May 12, 2008 at 6:10 pm. Reply #

I found the comments endearing and I think it is totally wrong to lambast Paddick (even though what can you expect from the Mail on Sunday and I do question the second pref vote for the Left List). He deserved alot better vote and I think if he does have legitimate concerns about the support he was given then he should raise them….

All first timers will be by definition naive so something like a handbook to provide some guide ropes would surely be a plus.

by Darrell on May 12, 2008 at 6:48 pm. Reply #

It’s wrong to generalise about the demands placed on candidates by reference to the London Mayoral candidate, which is totally unique. Name any other Liberal Democrat who got 236,000 votes and came third.

by Jonathan Davies on May 12, 2008 at 7:25 pm. Reply #

This is very interesting. I defended Brian and mocked The Mail (and Iain Dale} HERE.

Yet there is a massive tendancy among Lib Dem professionals – whether councillors or MP workers or both – to attack opponents as “failed” candidates.

Obviously if they were even half sharp they would realise that they were dissing a majority of their own voluntary party and candidates.

When I stood in 2003 it was in an expected safe Labour seat. I had taken a lot of persuading to stand, as despite having lots of skills to offer, I was not and am not a political careerist.

But clearly this seat became close to unwinnable (if you know the local demographics) once your party is felt to be bombing Baghdad. And we lost.

Subsequently I stood in and agented the nominally worst of 33 seats City Centre ward in an all out. This was not a career move exactly, though we got incredibly close (45 swingers away) to taking two of the three seats.

This is now a marginal and we could well start our clear out of weak LD councillors in 2010. I hope so, that’s democracy after all.

Built on keeping victory within range, never going third, even distributing half a ward of morn of poll leaflets PERSONALLY.

Presumably you have within the Lib Dems a cadre of people who are prepared to contest elections without much hope of the pay and/or to hold your opponents within range?

I don’t think Brian got much support. I also don’t think he was strong enough against Ken and Boris.

I can even salute Lib Dem HQ for writing BP off. Pragmatic. But not for pretending that they would support him. Or then claiming that they didn’t write him off.

I lost in 2003 because of a principled objection to a stupid war which I objected to far more than the Lib Dem candidate.

But the lucky chap who won instead is a very poor councillor – but he is an A1 party campaigner. Protecting his councillor allowances above any principle whatsoever.

by Chris Paul on May 12, 2008 at 10:58 pm. Reply #

This is a very confused piece Chris, are you feeling okay?
Despite having “lots of skills” you state you’re not a careerist (did anyone say you were – wait a minute, isn’t this thread about Lib Dem candidates?)
You managed to make a safe seat unwinnable (ah, there goes the Labour talk about “demographics” again – round my way they’re always talking about demographics. Never their fault that they lose seats).
Then you’re on about how much leaflet delivery you’ve done personally (perhaps you are a Lib Dem after all!!)
Then you claim expert knowledge of how well Brian Paddick was supported, before finishing off by talking about your loss in a council seat again. And the war in Iraq for good measure.
Perhaps I’m missing the irony here, and you’re giving us your equivalent of Brian’s diaries!!

by Grammar Police on May 12, 2008 at 11:07 pm. Reply #

It was LONDON. If you can’t make a showing here, then don’t bother. Top Top people should have been brought in. People with a bit of drive to motivate the weary.

Most of the west country wasn’t even voting
Surely you could have pulled the cream from the heartlands to support your man. Top campaign organisers and media people to manage the event.

All that press coverage centred on the mayoral race. Everyone knew with ‘Boris’ running it would be much more of a media story than previous campaigns.
No one gives a monkey’s about St Albans except the people who live there. Its forgotten by the time the scrolling news feed on the bottom reaches the Sky logo.

The London result stays in the mind.Like it or not it matters because it resonates. Of course Paddick wouldn’t win. But his job should have been to consolidate the existing vote AND make the party SEEM a credible alternative and to hammer down the smaller parties.

I would not say beating Nulav into 3rd wasn’t a good result, but does anyone here believe that these would be the figures at a General Election.

Reading the comments here it looks like a management issue. Money makes it easier but you can a do lot with a little and determined, imaginative creative and focused people.
Boris had his choice of professionals.. Ken already had his own + any [un]wanted Labour people.
If Brian was saying he needed some support then why didn’t he get it?

4 more years to look on that rather feeble 9.63% and reflect on all that FREE EQUAL STANDING airtime that could have been better used.
[see i remembered the %, but i didn’t Google it so it may be wrong]

And why a speechwriter didn’t craft him a ‘graceful loser’ speech is a mystery.. it wasn’t a shock to lose was it ?
You’re [were] the third party. You HAVE to do more and be a BETTER alternative than the others.

by Bill Quango mp on May 13, 2008 at 12:01 am. Reply #

I think the diary is funny, humane and insightful. Any mildly embarrising slant for the party is almost certainly the mail slant.. couple of points

1. I doubt we have the resources to fight a london wide PR election when councils/parliamentary seats force us to concentrate in small geographical pockets. perhaps a party hack would have known that and be less disappointed.

2. we do ask enormous amounts of candidates doomed to come third. Thats fine in a culture of time serving and earned apprenticeship but more difficult for a high flyer comming in for a campaign for an executive position.

3. what was brian told? did he realise he only got it because no national figure wanted it ? did we flatter to deceive ?

4. it seems he is willing to go down with the ship with a degree of grace. The london results were dreadful. If the Green and BNP can hold there share in a much higher turnout there is no reason for us to be squeezed. We all know the candidate won’t have taken the big strategic decisions so who did ?

by David Morton on May 13, 2008 at 1:32 am. Reply #

If The Mail edited Brian Paddick’s diary, could he publish the unedited version somewhere else, perhaps here?

by Anonymous on May 13, 2008 at 2:03 am. Reply #

Ah, an intresting dilemma!

Is the LibDem dependance on the enthusiasm of our volunteer army a help or a hindrance?

One might argue that it is Labour’s over dependence on careerist politicians and professional strategists that has alienated the base of its party and support leading to the result where it has systematically prepared for all eventualities. But this has simultaneously weakened and demoralised the membership so much that they look increasingly out of touch and unable to implement any measures of real influence in office or on the election trail.

On the opposite side the Conservatives are skillfully underplaying their managerial approach by balancing it against a more involved and motivated support base, although this has required them to ditch any coherent philosophy and popular unifying policy position. While this has temporarily buoyed them and reestablished the legacy of their orthodox dynasticism it also revivifies the traditional doubts about their argument.

In the meantime our liberal and democratic arguments have never been more relevant in the modern era, nor has the party ever been in such a position of strength as it is now. Although that is not saying a huge deal, it is proof of our incredible resurrection from virtual annihilation and the time and effort required to travel the long road back from the brink. We still have some way to go, but we continue making steps towards our target and we are getting ever closer.

I do hope Brian Paddick continues this journey with us and look forward to helping him win the next time he is a candidate.

by Oranjepan on May 13, 2008 at 2:07 am. Reply #

I had a similar experience really, wanting to do more and getting little support. Stood as a council paper candidate in 2005, had two months off work at the time and a large pay off from that job, so suggested i get on with some campaigning, paying for all materials myself and bringing in friends (who otherwise wouldn’t ever get involved) to help, yet was told absolutely not to do so.

Stood in the same place in 2006 and thought sod it, persuaded a friendly organiser to layout my leaflets if i wrote them and paid for them, and spent most evenings after work up there with a rucksack on my back delivering tons of leaflets. Even got family down to do good morning leaflets with me at ohgodhundred hours on polling day.

Next time round, the seat is apparently being considered as a target given how well the box counts went after the work i did. After my experiences with these two times though, they’re going to have to find someone else to stand for it. Realistically, why would people want to be part of a group that shows so little support for people trying to get involved with it and make it stronger?

by Charles Menton on May 13, 2008 at 10:31 am. Reply #

Charles – paper candidates who actually want to campaign are a dilemma. Our electoral system forces us to target all our resources in specific wards in order to win those wards. Better to win one ward and come last in the others than come second in all of them. Diverting any resources away from target wards leaves us open to the “what if” if we fail to take the target wards – and if your in an “all outs” authority might mean that the party has no influence in local decisions for another four years.

That said, it is understandable that some people would happily campaign where they live, but not in a target ward. And we want to encourage these people to get involved.

I’m afraid it *does* sound like you were told that no support was available for your ward (and you actually did get help through someone doing the design for your leaflets) – when there are limited resources, what support are you actually expecting? Literature and deliverers, activists and canvassing? Well, they were out supporting the target ward candidates – because ultimately we want to make a difference to decision-making and we think getting elected is the best way to do that. If you’d wanted to get elected then maybe you should have seen if there were target seats you could apply for. If you just wanted to help, maybe you could have helped a nearby target ward candidate (and done some leaflets near you too – there’s nothing wrong with that if you’ve the time and inclination to get them produced).

Now the ward is going to be a target ward, because of the hard work you put in – that’s great, a real achievement. If you want to be a councillor, then this is your opportunity to go for it with party support. If you don’t then, fair enough, I’m sure there will be other candidates who’ll be happy to be target ward candidates and benefit from your work.

by Grammar Police on May 13, 2008 at 11:31 am. Reply #

Round our way it feels like after the poor results in last years local elections – no -make that disastrous – the party has almost completely imploded. It’s impossible to get people to even stand as paper candidates for probably unwinnable seats, and the activists have disappeared. It’s sad, because at a national level we have what looks like a very good chance of becoming the second party, and we need our council strength to back that up.

by Jenny Barnes on May 13, 2008 at 8:54 pm. Reply #

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