Lib Dem New Year's resolutions number 3: start winning elections again

 This post is part of a series of 2016 resolutions for the Lib Dems. You can read part 1 on diversity here and part 2 on membership retention here.

Resolution 3: start willing elections again. 

I’ll start by admitting that the title of this one is a little unfair, because we do win elections. Most weeks there is either a local victory or a campaign team making real progress in a by-election. This is good news, but it masks a much larger problem.

Ten to fifteen years ago we could say, with confidence, that we had the best election winning machine in the country. We were renowned for it, and the string of by-election wins (albeit they were more than a decade ago) proved the point. Contrary to a line that is often pushed today, our opponents still had more money than us back then, but we were innovative, we tried new ideas and many of the things that are central  to our campaigns today were created in this period.

Today nobody could credibly claim that we have the best election winning machine in the country. We do have incredible people; the professional campaigns staff are first class, our volunteers as dedicated as ever and not once in the last few years have we stopped trying.

Our problem isn't effort, it's innovation.

The party developed a campaigns doctrine that was, almost literally, written in stone in the late 1990s and now cannot be questioned. I know first hand how aggressively the organisation sucks the oxygen out of new ideas. Innovation in the campaigns space has come to almost a complete stop, and any attempt to do anything that isn't part of our establish methods is aggressively resisted. Even the things we now do that will be pointed to as examples of innovation, such as targeted Facebook adverts, leave us lagging two or three years behind our opponents.

As was inevitable, other parties have watched us, copied us, caught up and moved ahead. Nobody could claim with a straight face that today we are an innovative campaigning organisation, so either you think that political campaigning is over as a developmental field and no further innovation is possible, or that things need to change.

The change we need is also much bigger than many people think. We don't just need to just stop killing new ideas at birth (although that would be a start), we need to develop a culture of innovation in our campaigning where trying new ideas becomes the norm, not the exception.

There are so many ways this could be done, without spending any extra money, simply by making the development of new techniques a part of our existing campaign spending. For example, the G8 campaign fund which gives grants to local campaigns could be biased towards projects which include testing at least one new idea where the result could be shared internally. It’s true that it’s hard to do properly controlled tests in an election, but it's not impossible. Making this one change would cost nothing but would result in at least a dozen new ideas being tested across he country in every funding round, and it would reward campaign teams who are prepared to try new things. Some would work, some wouldn't, but over time we’d all benefit.

Contrary to what is often said, the barrier to us being innovative isn't money, it's attitude. Our opponents will always have more money than us, so we simply have to be smarter and faster than them. Right now, we're not, but we have the people who are capable of doing it. In 2016 we need to start letting them innovate so by 2020, we can move ahead again.