I have big ambitions for our party and as your President I would put ALDC at the heart of those plans. As an ALDC mentor and trainer, I have had the privilege of working with many of our Councillors and grass roots campaigners – the forgotten army on which our future depends – and am delighted to have the backing of prominent current and former Councillors including: Cllr Chris White (St Albans, LGA), Cllr Sara Osborne (Lewes), Cllr Willie Wilson (Perth and Kinross), Jane Dodds (Montgomeryshire), Cllr Richard Kemp (Liverpool), Sian Reid (Cambridge), Cllr Caroline Page (Suffolk), Cllr Richard Ormerod (Durham) and many more.
We must first re-assert our commitment to local government in its own right, not just as a stepping-stone for winning Parliamentary seats.
We must overcome the ‘silo mentality’ within the party: Liberal Youth, Lib Dem Women, LibDem LGBT+, the Lib Dem Disability Association (LDDA) and Ethnic Minority Lib Dems (EMLD) should be recruiting grounds for 2015 council candidates, and all PPCs, especially new non-target seat PPCs who haven’t stood before, should better understand the role they can play to identify new council candidates and re-elect existing councillors.
As a member of the ALDC Management Committee, I suggested that ALDC work with these various groups in order to recruit younger and more diverse council candidates across the country, and suggested that ALDC work more closely with the Parliamentary Candidates Association. I also advocated with colleagues for the expansion of the Kickstart training weekend. I’m delighted that the first two ideas are being pursued, and that the third has been delivered with two Kickstart weekend being run this year.
In the next few months, strategic seats and council areas should be supported to provide ‘on the job’ campaigning experience as an incentive to volunteers to travel to the target area from across the region. This would mobilise volunteer support for winnable Council areas and Parliamentary seats whilst also providing skills and training that activists can take back to their local parties to fight and win their own local elections in 2015 and beyond. Up-skilling our volunteers on our Connect campaign software and assisting less developed seats to manage VIP visits (now that Peers have been encouraged to engage in these) are essential. Whatever the electoral results after May, we should aim to have a massively up-skilled volunteer base.
I have campaigned in target and non-target areas: I understand the different challenges they face and have delivered results in both. As the Parliamentary Candidate for Suffolk Coastal Lib Dems in 2010, I attended ALDC’s Kickstart training and left with a campaign plan. Six months later, we delivered an +8% swing (against a +1% national average) and won the national Penhaligon Award for engaging members. I also used the election to identify future council candidates who went on to stand for election. Currently, I’m a member of Lewes local party where we are the official opposition on the District Council and have an MP, and are making preparations for a fully integrated campaign.
The voice of councillors must be institutionalised in party structures – both in standing Committees and informal groupings. And, as an ALDC mentor and Management Committee member, I know that ALDC training and mentoring is a ‘lifeline’ to many of our councillors and campaigners: I would continue to advocate for greater investment in this.