Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What can the Liberal Democrats offer all those new members?

Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it. And then he feels that perhaps there isn't.
Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne 

Back in 2008 the Liberal Democrats' Party Reform Commission, chaired by Christopher Bones, filed its report.

In his executive summary Bones wrote about how Liberal Democrat members saw their party:
membership was defined by one respondent to the Commission as joining a "leaflet delivery cult", by another as "just being asked for cash by Chris Rennard".
Later, in what has some claim to the greatest blog post ever written, Fred Carver took this analysis many steps further:
Campaigners have a strict uniform which consists of looking as scruffy as possible. In part this is to signify their indispensability (much as the U boat commanders of the Kriegsmarine did); in part this is because they spend half their life fixing broken printers. Campaigners are responsible for the electoral success of the party and, as such, look down upon anyone (such as researchers and candidates) who aren't. 
Campaigners also have nothing to do with policy and, as such, are looked down upon by anyone (such as researchers and candidates) who do. 
About half a campaigner’s job is logistical management – the basic strategy being to batter your electoral opponent into submission by sheer volume of literature. Thus the best campaigners are those that do not make the better the enemy of the good, and always prioritise quantity over quantity. 
The other half of a campaigner’s job is graphic design. For this reason most campaigners are terrible graphic designers. 
Campaigners work around 90 hours a week and there is a machismo culture around who can do the longest hours. Unsurprisingly Campaigners live on a diet of nicotine, alcohol, coffee, and anything with lots of sugar in it. Perhaps surprisingly Campaigners have not yet discovered crystal meth
I thought of these posts when I heard about all those new Liberal Democrat members - 13,000 and counting since the debacle of 7 May.

Some are old members rejoining, but most are new to the party. What do they expect to find when they join us?

A clue to the answer can be found in the survey of new members the party has published. As well as gathering demographic data, the party asked them what they would be interested in doing for or in the Liberal Democrats.

The most popular answer, beating 'Volunteering in your local area' into second place, was 'Helping make policy'.

Looking back at my post on the Bones Commission, I find that I had limited time for the idea that the party could change from the donation-and-leaflet-delivering model.

No doubt the fightback will involve a lot of traditional activism, but I hope it will not only involve that.

If the Liberal Democrats are to have a future - if we are to deserve a future - then it will not be enough to serve the community and exploit localised grievances. We must also have something coherent to say on important issues that face the country as a whole.

We are lucky in that there will be plenty of national campaigns for us to fight that will unite the party - support for membership of the European Union and opposition to the Snoopers' Charter are too obvious examples.

But there will be harder issues for us to tackle and we will need to be able to show potential supporters a clear and appealing Liberal approach to them.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
More and more mindless activism will not save the Liberal Democrats: we have to become a thinking party too.


Frank H Little said...

There is currently a bias in policy-making to the thoughts of those who can afford the time and money to attend the various committees of the party and, at present, to the votes of those who can go to Conference. Some of the money donated for campaigning should be diverted into subsidising those who need it in order to broaden the base of our internal democratic processes.

This is something I believe the trade unions do and presumably the Labour Party as well.

Perhaps it is something the Joseph Rowntree Foundation could look at. There are a couple of other smaller parties who could benefit.

Anonymous said...

I think someone needs to re-read Greaves and Lishman, ‘The Theory and Practice of Community Politics’. It is about a lot more than exploiting grievences and localism.

Peter Sigrist said...

I'm a newbie. I am currently more interested in policy than leafleting. I (and the hundreds who joined our #LibDemPint meetups in London, then around the country) am keen to help the party become clearer about what it is without the need of conceptual crutches like 'left' or 'right' wing. I also live in a digital world, where discussion, debate and organisation are happening 24/7 without the need to join committees. So here is a plea from a newbie: listen to us; don't limit thinking time to what happens behind the closed doors of committee meetings; use us, for we are (quite literally) legion! But more than anything, please don't do anything drastic without consulting us first!

Pieter-Paul Barker said...

exactly, no need to travel to London for policy meetings in 2015, work online for collaborative work and use Skype if a discussion is required