A new network of grassroots activists under the leadership of the veteran peer, Roger Roberts, has been formed to develop communications with the party’s senior management. and parliamentarians.
Grassroutes to Government is drawn from across the membership and we launch today via a virtual launch on all the party’s social media platforms.
We can already point to a range of new lines of communication that will ensure the members have a clearer voice and we expect to have continuing discussions to underpin the importance of our activists.
Planning for the new group began soon after Federal Conference in Birmingham last September. Roger Roberts says:
“Pressure to set up a grassroots network came from individual colleagues in the conference bars and cafes and then from blogs and bloggers galore, candidates at PCA meetings, councillors around the regions and at ALDC and LGA meetings and, significantly, from activists right across the party. It was clear that an unease about our internal communications since we joined the Coalition was matched by a very strong will to do something about it.”
Roger was elected chair of the interim executive which includes parliamentary candidates, councillors and activists with a geographic spread of Berkshire, Kent, London, Birmingham, Worcestershire, Shropshire and Wales and with party experience ranging from two years to almost sixty.
We have started as we mean to go on with a series of discussions with key figures in the party hierarchy, including President Tim Farron, Chief Executive Tim Gordon. Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael, Chair of the Parliamentary Party Lorely Burt, HQ Chief of Staff Tim Snowball and the Leader’s Senior Political Adviser Matthew Hanney.
Each of those conversations proved fruitful and perhaps surprising for any group of cat-like, un-herdable Liberal Democrats, we reached a unanimous resolution to strengthen two-way communications and underpin the importance of grassroots activists.
I emerged as interim director with the brief to get the network off the ground.
Our immediate plan is, of course, to develop a broad base of activists who will, I’m sure, expose all the inevitable pressure points in our post-Coalition organisation. Where we can see a resolution, we will seek the co-operation of the appropriate SAO in managing it.
An example of that is the range of new opportunities to integrate candidates more effectively with the parliamentary team. Martin Turner, the Parliamentary Candidates chair, has described it as “opening a new door” for candidates and the PCA will now assume leadership in making it work.
On the wider front, we are currently costing a new way of testing party opinion. Our IT expert Steffan Aquarone is on the case and he assures me we will soon have access to an instant polling system that will allow anyone on the network to make their views known on key issues.
We have reminded ourselves that the whole party, with eyes wide open, voted in Birmingham for the coalition and therefore the whole party has an obligation to try and make it work. There should not be a them and us.
We are unequivocally not a rebel group, which doesn’t mean we won’t sometimes be rebellious. We are not anti anything, which doesn’t mean to say we won’t, at times, sound off about issues affecting activists. We will be sensitive to the views of the grassroots and react accordingly.
Initially, our aim is really quite boringly benign. We simply want to see a resumption of normal Liberal Democrat service so we can each fulfil our individual roles within our party.
We want to restore some democratic equilibrium.
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* Jock Gallagher is a writer, President of the West Midlands Region, founder editor of Who's Who in the Liberal Democrats and Interim Director of Grassroutes to Government