You have a pothole in your road. You suffer from a council like mine and fixing it becomes a long-running saga. You involve a local Liberal Democrat campaigner. They get it sorted. You like them and as a result end up joining the party.
That sort of sequence is pretty common, especially amongst those who then end up being local activists and councillors. But if this is the route you’ve taken, how do you end up finding out what the party actually believes and why?
You get a membership card with part of our constitution’s preamble, a new member pack including some of the party’s history and, well that is about it. It is a pretty thin serving of ideology and all sorts of problems flow from the widespread hope (if it is thought about at all) that people will somehow pick up by osmosis what the party’s core beliefs – as opposed to current headline policies – really are.
So in my usual spirit of only wanting to criticise others in the party if solutions can also be offered, here are three suggestions for what you can do in your local party over the summer – and indeed future months too.
First, run a pizza and politics event every now and again about what the party believes and why. Pizza (or pasta, or potatoes) and politics events a great way of getting people talking about politics, getting members and supporters to feel more connected to the party and also of raising money. With the rise of groups such as the Social Liberal Forum and Liberal Reform, not to mention the many non-MPs who have contributed chapters to books like Britain After Blair and Reinventing the State, there is a good pool of people available to ask, most of whom are very happy to do local party events (and usually do not even ask for travel expenses).
Second, set up a local ‘liberal book club’, just like normal book clubs save that you choose books with a political relevance. The one in North London that Dawn Barnes and I got going has gone for the obvious topics such as On Liberty but the next is Nudge – relevant to current news and politics and also something that gets you thinking about how government should or shouldn’t seek to alter people’s behaviour. That gets to the heart of what liberalism is about.
Third, after each Focus or newspaper, do a prize draw amongst your deliverers and give the winner a copy of a title such as An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Liberalism or On Liberty. It’s a good way of saying “thank you” to key helpers and also is a nice way of getting a better understanding of liberalism to a vital group of helpers, especially as this is the group from which future local party officers and council candidates are often recruited.
Will doing these three magic up a full solution to the problems I outlined? On their own, of course not. But they all bring their own benefits and will play their own part in that wider aim. So why not get stuck in and order some copies of On Liberty now?