Can a political party be a movement?

You can now become either a member or registered supporter of the Lib Dems. Just log on to

On Saturday we held a debate about the development of a new supporter’s scheme for people who support our ideals but for a variety of reasons feel unable to join a political Party.

We agreed to have a supporter’s scheme. This vote went through with a huge majority and was never in doubt. But it only went through in a totally amended form. Out went:

  1. That supporters could be members of other Parties; How could we trust people with information of any sort when they had split loyalties. When would they be ours and when would they be theirs?
  2. That supporters could vote for the Leader. This could have led to entryism. At least you had to pay £3 to wreck the Labour by signing up as a supporter of Corbyn. We were proposing to let you vote for nothing!
  3. That the Leader did not need to be an MP. This would really have been silly. I posed the question to conference, “who is the Leader of the Green Party?” I actually neither know who or whether they have split the job again. But I know who everyone thinks is the Leader, Caroline Lucas, although we politicos all know that she isn’t. You must have someone who is available for the media within that Westminster bubble.

Incredibly, I was amazed that some of our leading members had difficulty in understanding the differences between a political Party and a movement. I believe that we can and should be at the heart of a liberal movement in the UK. But liberals are found in other political parties and none. They come from different traditions as we know from the backgrounds of the ‘Tiggers’. The idea that we could marshal all liberals behind a Party and its Leader was frankly never going to work. We need to work out effective partnerships on an issue by issue basis and gradually draw them, as a further step, into our Party.

Who might want to work alongside us rather than join us directly? Internationalists; environmentalists; civil rights campaigners; human rights campaigners; educational campaigners.

This is exactly the same as applies to other Parties. Labour is a Socialist Party which has alongside it a range of affiliated unions most of whom are Unions. Not all Union members are Labour members and by no means all Union Members even vote Labour but there is a clear affinity between a socialist movement and a socialist party.

The Green Party is part of a green movement but they are not even the most important part of it. The Lib Dems are part of the green movement as are some members of the Labour and even a few Tories. People fighting to save their parks; improve air quality; reduce food miles create better transport can be part of a green movement but vote in many ways or not vote at all.

The Tory Party are affiliated to people and organisations which largely promote selfish and greed objectives through a largely unfettered market of goods and services.

A political party needs a leader and a leadership. It exists with one purpose – to get its members elected to government at all levels to deliver the principles and policies which it has agreed upon.

A movement is a multi-headed hydra where there are many leaders who cooperate with each other in a variety of ways to deliver outputs and outcomes which are similar but might not be identical.

The Lib Dems are the first Party that recognises that sympathisers can lie outside any other organised body and that there are impediments that prevent them from membership. Some have religious beliefs that make it difficult; some cannot join a Party because of their job. Ohers want to help the community but feel that a political identity would hinder broader work. Yet more think that ‘politics’ is just one of their interests and want to commit their time to other things.

So, let’s see how it goes. Of course, we want people to join us but if you cannot but want to help us in some way you can now do so. Our supporters’ scheme is now fully open for business. Both options are now available on the Lib Dems website or you can make contact with me to discuss these options at

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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