Cape Town, 02.12.2006: Handout picture of Ryan Coetzee of the DA

Pretoria - The DA will be without its chief strategist when campaigning gets under way for the 2014 elections - but Ryan Coetzee, who’s been headhunted to work for British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, says the party won’t suffer.

“The DA’s strategy is set,” Coetzee, who expects to leave SA in the next two weeks once his work visa comes through, said on Wednesday.

“We plan way in advance - there’s a clear idea of what the DA’s going to do and who is going to be doing what.

“So the DA isn’t going to be compromised - and I will also not be all that far away.”

Coetzee’s departure, it is understood, has left party leader Helen Zille “not overjoyed” and its announcement took staff by surprise. He said talks with Clegg’s office got under way in earnest in July when he first confided the news of his potential departure to Zille and two other party heavyweights.

But the news could be celebrated in Luthuli House, for Coetzee was largely behind the electoral gains made by the DA, especially during the 2009 local government elections. He has helped the party grow from a tiny, mainly white support base into one with far broader appeal, including in traditional ANC areas.

The initial approach came from the Liberal Democrat leader’s chief of staff, Jonny Oates, whom Coetzee has known ever since Oates was sent to SA by the Westminster Foundation as part of a project to help the first democratic Parliament get up and running - a deployment that had him working with the IFP.

Polls have shown Clegg’s party to have suffered a significant decline in support since the party agreed to form a ruling coalition with the Tories. It is this decline Coetzee will be tasked with helping to arrest.

As Clegg’s director of strategy, he will have to help the Liberal Democrats “navigate its path from here to end of Parliament (and the 2015 general elections) in a way that takes voters along with them”.

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