There are at least four key players whose views need to be taken into account;
- the London Regional Party – they are responsible for selecting the candidate, developing the campaign strategy and raising the funds to support the campaign
- the Liberal Democrat Group on the Greater London Assembly – the quality of the candidate determines whether the Mayoral campaign helps or hinders efforts to increase our representation on the Assembly – does he or she have coattails?
- the London MPs – a good campaign helps them in their campaigns for re-election in 2015 (or whenever) by bolstering the Party’s general credibility in their area
- the Federal Party and the Leader in particular – given the extent of national press attention, a shambolic, unsuccessful campaign in London, where most national media are based, would damage credibility
The Regional Party will want to consider what they hope to achieve from the campaign. Is it a hook on which to hang the Assembly campaign, whereby the candidate is the air war component, drawing attention to our manifesto, whilst our Assembly candidates in the constituencies provide the ground war, and our List candidates slot into the targeting strategy? Or, is it an opportunity to find an individual whose profile we might wish to raise for a future Parliamentary campaign in a target seat? Indeed, are we fighting in the expectation of winning?
There are two types of potential candidate;
- the ‘celebrity’ candidate, as Simon Hughes was in 2004 and Brian Paddick to perhaps a lesser extent in 2008. Yes, they start off with an advantage in terms of profile, but they come with a price. They expect to be the figurehead of a well-resourced, high intensity campaign – something that the Regional Party is unlikely to be able to finance – are unlikely to want to start campaign very far in advance, and are more difficult to manage in terms of any Regional strategy that might exist.
- the ‘team’ candidate, as Susan Kramer was in 2000. Susan wasn’t very well known when she was selected, having fought Dulwich and West Norwood in the 1997 General Election and gained 11% of the vote. She was well integrated into the London-wide campaign, worked very hard without complaint, and the campaign was a generally happy one. Her media profile rose steadily, and she was seen by the end as being a perfectly legitimate candidate to be Mayor of London. The profile that she earned for herself made her by far the most likely candidate for Richmond Park when it subsequently became available.
In terms of a strategy, there are competing interests too. There are significant areas of London where there are no Liberal Democrats on local councils (Hammersmith and Fulham, Croydon and Bexley to name but three) but where a little effort might potentially yield dividends in terms of building up our Region-wide vote and therefore electing more List candidates. Yet, by sticking to our established targeting strategy, we can secure those seats that we currently hold at other tiers of government.
The Regional Party must, in developing its strategy, balance those competing interests. As the only English Region fighting a region-wide election other than at European Parliamentary level, it offers a laboratory for testing different styles of campaigning, especially important as we move towards STV for a new second chamber at Westminster.
Whatever they decide, those of us outside London will watch with interest...