I first met Daisy Cooper in Portcullis House in December 2012 after we had been elected to the Federal Executive and had been invited, like the first day at school, for tea with the headmaster. The headmaster in this case was Tim Farron as party President who fed us tea and biscuits not in his office but in the cafe of the MPs’ office block.
I’d come across Daisy before on Twitter and through her contributions to Liberal Democrat Voice and had liked her. In real life, she was sparky, inspiring, willing to ask the tough questions. I remember she and I telling Tim in no uncertain terms that the legislation on secret courts was unacceptable and no liberal should be touching it with a barge pole.
I was thrilled to bits when Daisy first mentioned that she was thinking of running for Party President. She came late to the race, only announcing her candidacy at the end of August. Since then, she has made an incredible impact, coming top in the Liberal Democrat Voice poll carried out just 5 weeks later. That’s just a snapshot, but the incredible energy she has put in to traversing the country, from Fort William to Cornwall since will, I hope, translate into votes for her.
Here are my main reasons for supporting her:
These last two years have been pretty fraught, Within the first 6 weeks of our term as FE members, Chris Huhne had been jailed and Channel 4 News had broadcast the allegations about Chris Rennard’s behaviour. Daisy organised and led campaigning trips to Eastleigh and was a key voice along with people like Chris White, Sue Doughty and I for an effective response from the party and a much more robust enquiry than originally proposed.
We are coming up to the fight of our lives. After that, there will be a need to reform the party to make it fit for the needs of 21st century politics. The rights of members must be preserved as we build a more sensible and accountable party structure and internal democracy.
Daisy did a series of blogs for Mark Pack’s blog where she looked at issues of accountability and internal democracy and set out what she saw as the problems and solutions. Here’s what she had to say on accountability.
there is the governance tension between the FE and the English Party: it is the English Party that is responsible for managing finances, mediating in disputes, determining grants to party associations and borrowing money, yet members expect FE – through its elected members – to be accountable for these vital decisions. Responsibilities, powers and accountability must be aligned if our party bodies are to be effective.
Professionally, I have a strong track record of driving through governance reforms notably at the Commonwealth Secretariat – a highly politicized environment, with competing agendas and vested interests. I’m confident that I have the stomach and ability to drive it forward here.
I have some ideas on how we might do this, and I’m completely open to more. The process of finding solutions must be open, consultative and voted on by Conference. But what I know for sure is that accountability is the missing ingredient of our internal democracy and without it, we can’t move forward.
And on the vital issue of our internal disciplinary procedures following recent scandals, she had this to say:
As President, I would want to work with colleagues to flesh out some ideas for consideration by Conference. These could include:
- A “responsibility to act” for all elected officials, office holders and staff, and “an opportunity to report” any low-level instances of unacceptable behavior. This would shift the burden away from the recipients of unacceptable behavior (who often don’t want to make a formal complaint until a situation has escalated), onto all party members who would know that unacceptable behavior could be reported. That way, we incentivise members to watch their behavior, and we have a system in place to identify and tackle unacceptable behavior as and when it occurs, and before it escalates.
- Introduce accountability into the complaints procedure by creating a “Head of HR” type post, with the necessary HR qualifications, and who would have responsibility for making recommendations on disciplinary cases (to the Chief Whip or FE sub-group as appropriate) and would be accountable through the CEO to the FE as a whole.
- Establish an HR accreditation or qualification for local party officers wanting to take on the portfolio of a ‘pastoral care officer’. Candidates would of course need specialist vetting.
Again, note the “I’ll bring this back to Conference.” It’s not about her, it’s about us all building a modern accountable party together.
If you look at all the statements that Daisy has produced for organisations like ALDC, LGBT+ Lib Dems (both sent by emails to the organisations’ members), Humanist and Secularist Liberal Democrats and Rock the Boat, it’s clear that she has tailored her words very carefully for each audience and been very specific about what she can deliver for them.
Also, the President will be required to appear on the media in the run-up to the general election. Daisy will do this very effectively. She wrote on LDV back in 2012 about what she thought the narrative for the party should be, all about individual freedom and power. It’s slightly different from my planet-saving establishment-busting language of choice, but still excellent:
First, the phrase encapsulates our political ideology. Lib Dem philosophy derives from two strands of political thought: liberalism and social democracy. Liberalism is essentially about freedom. But untrammelled absolute freedom – a completely free market and an “everyone for themselves” culture – will entrench inequality based on wealth and privilege, and won’t deliver our social goals. That’s why we also believe in social democracy. Social democracy is also about freedom, but it’s a ‘positive freedom’ – it requires positive intervention and policies to make sure no-one is left behind. There’s nothing new here but this would be a simple and powerful way of communicating our beliefs to anyone who asks.
As a party, we also believe in “community politics” – the creation of a political system in which individuals, and individuals working through communities, take and use power. Finding a form of words and creating an identity that will capture our political heritage would project us as a party that is rooted in history and would help us shake off the perception that we’ve suffered for so many years (and which, despite being in government, I don’t believe we’ve shaken off): namely, that we have no distinct identity and are simply the beneficiaries of protest votes from right and left.
Second, the phrase “individual freedom and power” is memorable. This is essential for building a strong national identity or “brand” over future years. But it would also be a ‘flexible brand’ that could be moulded into a number of strap lines. The absence of pithy straplines has rightly been seen as a barrier to conveying our beliefs and identity to the public. Straplines of the moment are often weak, easily forgotten, ridiculed, imitated or hijacked by other parties. Nor do they speak to the future. As a party we are failing to articulate and communicate our core beliefs.
The idea of individual freedom and power however could permeate every Lib Dem policy announcement, speech, and manifesto, and could be a ‘litmus test’ for every decision:
• £10k tax allowance – for those who can least afford to pay, this policy gives freedom from the burden of tax, and power to control the money back in their pockets
• Pupil premium – for those who, through no fault of their own, are bright but poor, this policy provides freedom from ignorance and poverty, and the power to achieve
Third – and most importantly – I believe that “individual freedom and power” is a powerful phrase that would resonate with everyone, could be quickly communicated on the doorstep, and which above all would inspire a new generation of Liberal Democrat voters.
I don’t think she’s ever happier than when she’s out there campaigning. She’s cut from the same cloth as Willie Rennie, Jo Swinson and Tim Farron. Whether it’s getting a team to Clacton to give them training in how to use Connect or standing on a street stall in the Highlands during the referendum or spending days out on the streets of Eastleigh, Daisy has an infectious energy. I want a President who can get out there and support local campaigns. What really appeals, as well, is that she shares my belief that we have to rebuild our government base for its own ends, not just because it’s seen as a stepping stone to Westminster. Getting liberal, people-centred policies and practices in place in social care, education, planning to name just three things transforms lives.
Team Builder and Great Motivator
Daisy has turned up to help at numerous campaigns. Not just the glamorous ones, but those real hard slog for little reward ones. She has this habit of leaving people feeling happy and enthused. She recently went knocking up in a by-election in Richmond in a ward we hadn’t held for 24 years and recruited two helpers in as many hours.
She gets how people are feeling at the moment. She understands that people are working hard but there’s an underlying anxiety about the General Election and shows empathy but enthuses and inspires too. Someone told me that she was giving great advice about setting up photos the other day at the East Midlands Regional Conference.
She’s also able to communicate effectively and persuasively in a way that takes people with her. She’ll be robust and she’ll not tell people what they want to hear, but she’ll do it constructively with a chance of effecting real change.
Daisy is the President this Party really needs. I think she is best able to speak up for members and help the party through the challenges of the next two years. Please give her your first preference. Some ballot papers arrived on Saturday, some will arrive in the next few days. You have the choice of voting online or by post.