An earlier Letter from the Leader

Liberal Democrat members now receive a weekly letter by email from the party leader, Nick Clegg. I found a 32-year-old example of a “Letter From the Leader” to party members – one from David Steel on 27 February 1981. (Click to enlarge photo)
image
Without email, Steel asked for Local Association Chairmen (sic) to “take an early opportunity to read and discuss [his letter to members] at appropriate constituency executives and other meetings.”

He noted that the party was campaigning on “unemployment and cuts” (today it is “jobs and growth”). Presumably, this observation was really a polite reminder as to what people should have been campaigning on. The letter also noted that English and Welsh local parties were busy preparing for the county council elections (as we are now). The main subject of the letter was the imminent creation of the Social Democratic Party and their split from Labour.

Steel’s letter informed party member they were “on the verge of a major breakthrough to the realignment of politics”. The main instruction of the letter was not to make “ad hoc arrangements” with local Social Democrats but wait for a “policy agreement nationally to be agreed by the Liberal Assembly.”

The letter finished with reference to 20% opinion ratings and encouragement to keep up local activity.

Today this Letter from the Leader from 1981 sounds top-down. The key message could be interpreted as “keep delivering leaflets and let the Leader make the strategic decisions.” However, Steel clearly gave commitment to the Assembly (now Conference) having the final decision. His message may not have been “do as I will decide” but “let’s be consistent and not do totally different things in different places.”

A 2013 equivalent of Steel’s letter would, I think, emphasise Conference much less but say more about “listening to party members”.

This letter by Steel is reproduced with other 70s and 80s original documents from Frank Goulding’s book, “Could We Have Stopped Margaret Thatcher?” which is mostly about events in Lincoln. Lincoln is significant in the creation of the Liberal Democrats. As early as 1972, a significant group left the local Labour Party, became known as “Lincoln Democrats” and formed an alliance close to effective merger with the local Liberal Party. Lincoln MP, Dick Taverne left Labour and was re-elected at a by-election as the Lincoln Democrats’ candidate.

Lincoln made a precedent for a national Social Democratic Party, which quickly allied and then merged with the Liberal Party.

I recall that when I joined Dover & Deal Liberal Democrats in 1998 a lot of members would tell you whether they were former SDP or former Liberal Party (in roughly equal numbers). My agent in the 2001 General Election, Cynthia Terry, was from the SDP side and gave me sound advice: absolutely never shorten “Liberal Democrat” to “Liberal”, as people who did so greatly displeased the former SDP members locally.

With the passage of a further 15 years there are more people who have no pre-merger party identity, but it is well worth remembering that our full name “Liberal Democrats” represents a broad heritage.

* Antony Hook is MEP Candidate for the South East and practised as a criminal barrister for ten years. His campaign website is here.

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Party policy and internal matters.
Bookmark the web address for this page or use the short url http://ldv.org.uk/33028 for Twitter and emails.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?




Recent Comments

  • User AvatarPaul Pettinger 20th Apr - 9:27pm
    An outrageous personal attack, but where can I get some?
  • User AvatarJames Thompson 20th Apr - 9:17pm
    Joe Otten: “malc, look how quickly Labour were forgiven for introducing fees after promising not to, despite having a majority in parliament and money to...
  • User AvatarGeoffrey Payne 20th Apr - 8:58pm
    It is great to see the names of past leaders come to life. I am no fan of John Simon, but it is good to...
  • User AvatarBill le Breton 20th Apr - 7:26pm
    Paul in T - I don't wish to labour the point nor am I saying that the Falkland's effect was a flash in the pan,...
  • User AvatarRoland 20th Apr - 7:12pm
    Thanks Simon for the correction. It would be interesting to know what the take up of the Stakeholder (personal) pension has been. As I suggest...
  • User Avatardaft ha'p'orth 20th Apr - 7:00pm
    @Ruaraidh "LDV below the line is just about as negative and dreary a place as it can be" It's a negative and dreary political universe,...