Tonight, we are having an event in the City Centre to welcome to the Party the new members and registered supporters who have joined our Party in Liverpool since Christmas. A very large number of people and marvellously diverse. All political Parties have more male than female members, but in the latest set of recruits to the Lib Dems both locally and nationally it is roughly a 50:50 split.
My talk about what to expect in the past has been somewhat Churchillian! “I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat, toil and tears! We shall fight them in the streets, we will fight them int eh communities; we shall fight them in the wards…. We shall never surrender”. It was like that but I must say in the past few years it ahs got easier and easier to be an active Lib Dem.
However, I will tonight continue to point out that if you think joining us is the passport to fame fortune and a council or parliamentary seat you have joined the wrong Party especially in the North where we are still grimly fighting Labour. In the South whole swathes of territory and their councils have swapped from blue to yellow with huge Lib Dem gains at a council level. Its been a bit harder in the North where we fight Labour and until the European elections, as the main opposition party, they were harder to take on. Anywhere we fight we have to go the extra mile.
We don’t have a large number of self-identifying natural liberals. Our base is about 10-12% now we have shaken off the toxic effect of the coalition. Labour and Tory Parties have traditionally had a self-identifying vote of about 35-45% but that has been fractured in recent weeks., Many habitual Tory and Labour voters have now voted for another Party twice in a matter of three weeks. Some of those will return to their fold. Others will happily stay with their new Party.
For us in particular there have been a small number of people who have come from Tory to us but a much larger number who have come from Labour to us with many of those cutting up their Labour card in the morning and joining us in the afternoon. With us life is very different. I know this because in Liverpool we have already had a good number of people leaving the Party led, of course, by Cllr Kay Davies a sitting councillor in County Ward.
The first thing that they notice is that we are a friendly, happy bunch who by and large get on with each other. Of course, we have differences but these are minor compared to the factional and doctrinal disputes in the Labour Party. When we disagree on policy it is usually on minor points within a broad framework of agreement. Our discussions are calm and courteous and we listen to what people with other views have to say.
The second thing is that there are a lot less meetings. We have a simplified structure in Liverpool with a City Party; City Executive; City campaign team and City candidate’s selection. This minimises the amount of time spent in meetings but just as importantly:
Thirdly we spend more time out on the streets doing things than the other Parties. Our principles tell us that any power that we have belongs to the people who lend it to us if they elect us. That is why to us what we do in the Council Chamber is important but only if it corresponds with what we learn in the community and if it is reflective not just of hard political opinion but also of the views of none-politicians within our communities.
Policy is important to us but it is not a top down approach. Clearly those in leadership positions have a responsibility to guide and support members in policy making but the policies of the Party are then decided upon by all members in appropriate meetings.
Within those policies elected representatives are allowed to use their own conscience and vote on issues within their broad framework of the principles of the Party. We have someone called a whip in our group but their job is really to ‘administer’ the group and relationships rather than enforce a voting line. Having said that I cannot remember when we last had a split vote because we do discuss things, where possible, well in advance and have agreed a line.
Of course, we have to raise our own money to do our campaigning. We have no big backers to put money into our funds from either the Unions or big business. Unlike Labour in Liverpool who have accepted money from Redrow, Carillion and developers behind some of the failed apartment projects which litter our City Centre we accept no money from companies which trade with the Council. Any donation (and these are very rare) over £250 which is not from a member has to be approved by the Liverpool Executive so there is full transparency and the public knows that no-one buys our vote but that we are guided only by our principles and interest in our City when we cast votes in the Chamber or committees.
Lastly, we often meet for a drink, alcoholic or soft) because we do like each other’s company. Some people tell me that its almost as if they acquired another family rather than joining an organisation! It has certainly seemed that way to me over the more than 50 years in the Party. I go off to conferences and meet the people who I knew as Young Liberals when I joined in 1967.
They are not all present – some of them have fallen off the perch! That sense of family and loyalty served us well during the difficult years when we declined to membership of just over 30,000 (It is now approaching 110,000). It serves us equally well when we ask each other to go out in the cold and rain for ‘just one more leaflet drop’ or “let’s just stay out door knocking for another half hour”. At the end of the day you don’t let your mates down.
Behind all that I have said is a sense of purpose which you can almost breathe. When I talk to our new members, I just feel a sense of unity with them. And they say why they have joined us I can harm them saying the things that attracted me to our Party all those years ago and have inspired me ever since. A distrust of bureaucracy and central decision making; a belief in internationalism and environmental care; the desire to create and fairer society which provides opportunities for all; a desire to let people run their own lives assisted where necessary by the state. That’s liberalism.
No-one else believes all those things. No one else works the way we do both inside the Party and inside the community. I know where my political home is and as I said during the coalition years, “they will have to drag my Lib Dem membership card out of my cold, dead hand”. I hope that’s what our new members will also be saying well into the future!
I will be discussing these issues and more with Cllr John Potter the Leader of the Preston Lib Dems on a podcast which will be released over the weekend. You can catch up with our first two podcast and sign up to receive future ones here. https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/lib-dem-podcast/id1467418192