Chris Rennard writes… Liberal Democrat News RIP

In 1945 the Liberal News was a receipt for your weekly Liberal Party subscription. As a weekly newspaper, it outlasted Conservative and Labour Party rivals by some decades. Week by week party members, and a handful of others, were reminded of what the Liberal Party was up to when the mainstream media paid scant attention to it.

At times, when Liberal members could only dream of the days when the party might return to Government, Liberal News (and then Liberal Democrat News) reported on the great by-election breakthroughs like Orpington, Edge Hill, Eastbourne, Newbury and Brent East. At other times, the best that it could do to sustain hope was to feature an occasional parish council by-election win.

As someone who helped to organise many of the most spectacular by-election wins, I knew that the party paper also helped to bring many of them about by alerting party activists to the prospects. When Leaders were often sceptical about the chances of victory, I could get the party paper to tell every member to get to where they were needed to give the party the boost that it needed.

For much of my time working at Cowley Street, I was responsible for Liberal Democrat News. We managed to produce a profit for the party in many of those years as well as encourage a healthy democratic debate about the issues of the day. We also helped to keep up the morale of our Councillors and parliamentarians by featuring what they hoped the mainstream national media would pay more attention to.

I helped to appoint and manage three editors in my time. Mike Harskin, David Boyle and Deirdre Razzall played major roles in keeping members informed about their party and maintaining their commitment to their membership and activity. It was a sad moment for me when Deirdre told me of her plans to retire having been at the helm for the last 14 years. It was also time for the party to face the reality that a weekly printed paper was no longer financially sustainable in an era when many mainstream papers require massive subsidies.

A handful of people kept Liberal Democrat News going on a continuously shortening shoestring. Most recently, Deirdre Razzall and Heather James worked miracles each week as we continued to read about the previous week’s council by-election results, about our parliamentarians’ activities, the work of policy groups, the opinions of an excellent series of columnists and of course the funny activities of party members in the People column (occasionally edited over the last 20 years by Ann McTegart).

Liberal Democrat News will be missed, but a new magazine, social media and forums such as Liberal Democrat Voice will keep us all in touch. Deirdre’s last week as Editor was this week and I am sure that her political experience (she became a Councillor in the London Borough of Richmond in 1977) will not be lost to the party. Her very able designer Heather James produced a front page spoof tribute this week. This is available to view in PDF format here or by clicking on the photo above.

* Chris Rennard is a former Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats. He has led for the Party in the House of Lords on the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill

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4 Comments

  • Not sure about Liberal Democrat Voice as a substitute.
    Luckily there are also less formal groupings.

  • Tony Dawson 19th Nov '12 - 5:07pm

    Chris is right about the role of Lib Dem News in getting people to come to by-elections in which we stood a chance (and also, sometimes, ones where we had no hope). Some of us have long memories! ;-)

    But besides that, for many years it was an awful publication in both style and content.

  • The subscribers to Lib Dem News have been treated appallingly; no direct communication about the closure; no explaination about what happens to their subscription; no encouragement to receive its replacement; nothing. My partner will almost certainly cancel his subscription in protest.

  • My hope was always that we could find a way of funding LDN so that it could be sent free to every member, funded by advertising . The disappointment was that there was rarely any drive to increase circulation, and it was a trifle bizarre that within its pages most weeks was the info on how to get the paper regularly, which I suppose was worthwhile only if we managed to pass it on once read to friends or workmates. I would take recent editions with me to meetings and would get asked ‘where do you get that?’.. or it was assumed it was sent to me because I was Chair.
    It seemed to me that LDN was a tool, not a commodity, a means of speaking directly to members, better than a letter from the leader(obviously written by an aide), and more reliably informed than the version according to Wapping. But we lost so many members simply because of that… they heard about the Party through the daily tabloid, and ‘always believing what we read in the paper’ would lapse their membership as a result.
    Our members should be spokespersons for the party, our ambassadors, but they need to be enabled, kept informed without having to pay extra to get it. The true value of LDN was not what it cost to produce, but our money people couldn’t see that.
    So we are going to rely on email etc… yes fine, but what about the 50% who are not logged in? How do we get to them, or are they going to be forever susceptible to the version according to Wapping?… or is Ad-Lib going to every member, funded by advertising?
    Whoever made this decison, I sincerely hope he has not made a mistake..

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