Last week, this blog commented unfavourably on the Liberal Democrats’ new monthly magazine Ad Lib. We were not the only ones to be mystified by its apparent lack of purpose or focus.
Then last Saturday, Mark Pack on Liberal Democrat Voice came up with an explanation. Ad Lib is not for you. It is light and fluffy because it’s meant for ‘armchair’ members who don’t read political blogs and aren’t very interested in or knowledgeable about politics.
This excuse seemed implausible. Before the first edition was published, Ad Lib was widely trailed in the party as a replacement for the weekly newspaper Liberal Democrat News (a publication read by both active and armchair members). Nothing in any of this publicity even hinted that the magazine was aimed at armchair members. Nothing on the Ad Lib webpage or in the editor’s introduction on page 3 of the magazine suggested likewise. Nobody said that, if you are an active member or highly interested in politics, you can safely disregard this publication.
So when this explanation was first aired, more than a week after the first edition of Ad Lib landed on members’ doormats, it looked suspiciously like some sort of post-rationalisation. The argument “if you don’t like it, it’s not for you” also looked suspiciously like an attempt to pre-empt any criticism by invalidating it.
But let us be charitable. Let us suppose that Ad Lib really was conceived as a means for the party to communicate with armchair members. This raises several questions about the rationale behind this decision. If the party produces only one official periodical, why is it aimed primarily at inactive rather than active members? Is there a complementary communication strategy for active members? Is Ad Lib part of a coherent strategy to inform or motivate armchair members and, if so, with what expected outcome? Was any market research conducted to find out what type of communication armchair members prefer? Who took the decision to focus Ad Lib on armchair members and who else was consulted beforehand? And why is no evidence publicly available of the decision-making process behind the conception of Ad Lib?
The more you search for a clear rationale, the more it seems there was none. The simplest explanation is usually the likeliest, and in this case it simply looks like no one thought it through.
LATER: Grassroutes to Government’s Bulletin no.4 has just been published. It includes articles about Ad Lib by Phil Reilly (Ad Lib’s acting editor) and Jock Gallagher (who played a minor role by coming up with the idea for the magazine’s title). In neither article is there any mention of the armchair member strategy. Curiouser and curiouser.