When is a chair not a chair?

I’m a little confused. Ed Davey has been elected unopposed as Chair of the Lib Dems Campaigns and Communications Committee. But Lord Rennard has simultaneously been appointed Chair of the General Election Campaign. This is confusing, because the CCC Chair post replaced the Chair of the GE Campaign post back in the late 90s. What’s more, Rennard, as Chief Executive, is technically accountable to the President and, on campaigning, the Chair of the CCC. So who takes the decision, and who takes the blame? Are we seeing a bit of a conflict of interest here?

Personally, having sat on the Party’s Federal Executive for three years, I had come to the conclusion that the elected nature of the CCC Chair was a mistake. It was established as a reaction against the fact that Paddy Ashdown had appointed Richard (now Lord) Holme as GE Chair because of his links with Rio Tinto Zinc. However, the effect has been that accountability over campaigning has been dispersed: no longer could you blame the leader for ballsing up campaigning as the FE now elected the person in charge. Yet the FE can’t be held to account as it is elected by STV and is thus a representative body. Add to that the decision (which in retrospect I think was a mistake) to effectively merge the roles of Chief Executive and Campaigns Director, and we already had the confusing situation where it was unclear who was in charge. With Rennard’s appointment as GE Chair, that situation has become even more confusing.

The party has a major issue with accountability, as the Michael Brown affair exposed when it first came to a head six months ago. This suits the establishment as it means they can always take the credit for when things go right and blame others for when it goes wrong.

We need more checks and balances. But we need a simpler model for who gets appointed to what, and we need fewer job titles. Fundamentally, we need clarity about who is in charge. Since Charles Kennedy declined to rule out this week whether he might one day go for the leadership again at some point in the future, it should be pointed out that he is chiefly responsible for our current mess. That is why I’m not quite as excited by the prospect of Kennedy for President as Andy Mayer appears to be, regardless of the superficial attractions.


  1. I\’m not concerned so much as whether he was elected or not for the reasons I outlined above, but it does strike me a curious that neither the FE nor the CCC didn\’t seem to have been given so much as a say in this.

  2. Let me spell this out more clearly: the election for CCC Chair is one of the most pointless parts of the party’s “democracy” we have. In practice, the leader always gets whoever they want – if a serious challenge were ever mounted it would be portrayed as an attack on the leader himself – yet it means that leader effectively absolves himself from any responsibility for campaigning. It is a nonsense, and whinging about the lack of a vote is to badly miss the point.

  3. I have to own up. I believe I put the idea of Kennedy as President to Andy Mayer.

    I think he would have a chance of winning but I don’t think for one minute he should put himself forward.

    Simon is almost certainly going to face a challenge in this year’s Presidential election. But I don’t think we want to new President to be another MP. Our new president needs:

    1. To be a non-Parliamentarian, to restore the trust of the membership who feel somewhat alienated by actions of parlimentarians over the last year.

    2. To not be an ex-leadership candidate or preceived future leadership candidate so that his remarks are less likely to be construed as attacks or a challenge to Ming.

    3. To be a lot younger than Simon. The President will be in the media from time to time. A young President is the ideal figure to represent the Party along with to Ming. Together they should

    4. To be from someone quite far from Ming’s Scottish constituency. The best way to remind voters we’re a national party is to have leading figures from different parts of the UK.

  4. I’d agree with all of that. The problem is, who? And even if a candidate like that were to stand, would they have a chance against a Parliamentarian?

  5. I think such a candidate would have /a chance/.

    The facts that would give him/her a chance are:

    1. The grassroots feeling I mentioned in (1) in my earlier post.

    2. The fact that a significant number of parliamentarians would, I suspect, happily support such a candidate.

    3. Amongst our grassroots activists are people who could probably out campaign Simon.

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