The Bearing Group – helping to build a more liberal UK

In the wake of the electoral wipe out of the Liberal Democrats in May 2015 I was thoroughly disappointed. Disappointed by a national election campaign that was lacklustre and had lost the pulse of the British public. Disappointed by the voters so easily caught up in the scaremongering of a Labour/SNP alliance. Disappointed at those who ran to the Conservatives in blind hope of a stable economy that had been achieved not through Tory cuts but Liberal Democrat moderation.

In all honestly I lost faith in the ability of the Liberal Democrats to deliver the liberal Britain we need. The PR disaster was so staggeringly absolute that it seemed to sound the death knell for liberal politics at a national level for years to come. I was delighted that my expectations were exceeded by the surge of membership and a new leader who seems to have real change on his mind.

However, in that gap I decided to take a step myself – towards doing my best to personally shift public discourse back towards liberalism in a way not bound to the fortunes of political parties and the party political tactics which grow increasingly divisive as more parties join the fray. That initiative created The Bearing Group.

Initially by getting in touch with various liberal-minded people from my university days I built a group of cross-party liberals. Individuals with real vision but without the tendency towards outrage politics and political cheap shots too common in radical politics. We started off by hashing out various consensus positions and discussing wider topics from minimum wage to sex work.

Over time I have invited more individuals into the group, largely other Liberal Democrats but also others from across the political spectrum, of other parties or none. Members nominated to me by other members of the group. From this came the launch of our first social media platform.

Going forward I’m hoping to continue to bring together thought leaders across various parties who believe in a more liberal UK so that this platform can grow and begin to influence the conversation. It’s been far too long that groups such as UKIP and the BNP have dominated the success stories of online marketing with aggressive crusades, lies and scare mongering. It is time for liberalism to thrive on its own merits and with a truly positive message of what we can achieve.

I am hoping The Bearing Group can be a step in the right direction. For now as a place for discussing and promoting, in future maybe a producer of studies, opinion pieces and legislation in its own right. There is a lot of potential here with the right voice and the right message. If you have any ideas please get in touch via the Facebook page.

* The author is known to the Liberal Democrat Voice team but their identity is being kept private.

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34 Comments

  • Matt (Bristol) 15th Apr '16 - 3:01pm

    Crikey.

  • Matt (Bristol) 15th Apr '16 - 3:10pm

    Trying to be more constructive — I too often write convoluted sentences, so I am not blameless, but…

    … an invitation-only group of ‘thought leaders’ who are ‘disappointed’ in voters for not choosing the right options, and have created a ‘social media platform’ (sorry, a Facebook page)?

    It’s great that you have ideals and want to promote them and build friends across parties who share common values.

    However, I find the somewhat jargonish language you use here a bit odd and alienating considering you criticise the party for a PR disaster. (Not that I’m saying a PR disaster was absent, but the party’s recent battering was about a lot more than public relations, ie saying the right things to the right people … wasn’t it?)

  • Tony Greaves 15th Apr '16 - 3:32pm

    “Going forward…”

  • Tristan Gray 15th Apr '16 - 3:44pm

    That’s a fair point Matt, in the midst of campaigns and job hunting I didn’t put as much time into reviewing what I had written and putting it into simpler, and more sensible, language as I potentially should have! The social media platform (Facebook and Twitter) is only run by a couple of us, the rest is presently behind-the-scenes discussion looking at what we can manage better in future.

    Alex – Someone who’s not a “thought follower” who just goes along with what they’re told or read I guess? For this group specifically I have been looking for those who most closely fit what I was looking to achieve with the group. Creative individuals who put practical and modern solutions to liberal problems before being a keyboard warrior.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Apr '16 - 4:26pm

    Tristan’s idea for a politics based on less outrage, grandstanding and more thought is a good one. He doesn’t explicitly say grandstanding, but by political cheap-shots I think this is what he means. We have John McDonnell, for instance, who seems to be the main Labour Party strategist at the moment, calling for a resignation every time a Conservative minister makes a mistake. It can get annoying.

    Tristan has the right idea with a principle based politics. I would just ask to make sure it is economically diverse. A lot of left leaning groups in the past have suffered from a lack of private sector workers and self-employed people and it seems to lead to a disconnect between the electorate with certain groups not mixing with each other much.

    Even readers of different newspapers seem to not talk to each other much. Some Daily Mail readers, even innocently minded average people, see the likes of Katie Hopkins as brave truth tellers. They aren’t aware that she is highly misleading because they don’t read the other side.

  • Tristan Gray 15th Apr '16 - 5:04pm

    Thank you Eddie.

    On economics/connecting – We have a diverse group behind it from a variety of backgrounds and we’ve come to the conclusion that building economic consensus between us will be difficult on most matters. Some work in charities or government, others in the private sector and/or are self-employed. A minority are actually political figures which I think is helpful, and despite my own tendency towards “alienating” language we have a rule that we have to produce material that doesn’t speak over people’s heads or come across elitist or arrogant.

  • “Disappointed by the voters so easily caught up in the scaremongering of a Labour/SNP alliance”.

    ????? No invitation to Joe, then ?

    “And on the SNP – I am convinced this cost Labour and us many seats. Sheffield Hallam is an exception – with a large Tory vote to squeeze, we used the ‘SNP fear’ and it worked. I used it on the doorstep many times, and the Conservatives on the doorstep agreed, and turned out for us. And because it is something to fear, the tactic will probably work again in 2020” Councillor Joe Otten, Acolyte of this Parish. LDV 19 January, 1916.

  • PS Typo….. should be 2016 not the Battle of the Somme with the Sheffield Pals..

  • Conor McGovern 15th Apr '16 - 5:54pm

    Disconnected professional class jargon, anyone?

  • Barry Snelson 15th Apr '16 - 7:44pm

    I liked the motives and the general sense of direction. I would just give the Thesaurus a bit of a rest and stick to English.
    It has the feeling of Andreas Whittam-Whazzaname’s proposal for a party called ‘Democracy 2015’ which, I think, hung round ‘Evidence based policies’. The danger is that it can feel a bit bland. The thought leaders need to come up with edge to the message, but some promise here.

  • Tristan Gray 15th Apr '16 - 9:43pm

    Conor, Barry – I’ve answered the point on language in my first response.

  • Rightsaidfredfan 15th Apr '16 - 10:24pm

    I honestly wish you well with this and am impressed by your desire to avoid the petty outrage politics so common on the left. Regressive lefty outrage politics has nothing to do with liberalism, but it is rather worrying how many people seemingly can’t tell the difference between outrage lefty nonsense and liberalism, especially when most of the authoritarians these days are on the political left. Has everyone really forgotten what labour look like in government?

    But reading your article it seems to me that you don’t understand why the lib dems lost. The Tories might have won partly because of a fear of the SNP being in coalition, but that’s not the main reason why the lib dems have 8 MPs.

    The lib dems lost because they betrayed their core supporters by promising to vote against any increase in tuition fees and then voting to triple them. This would be like the Tories promising the elderly triple locked pensions the reducing the state pension by two thirds. The party simply isn’t trusted anymore by people who previously were its core support bases, almost a year later has this still not fully sunk in?

  • Stephen Booth 16th Apr '16 - 12:30pm

    Amazing what an agreeable set of chums can come up with when Jeeve. . . sorry Greaves is not there. This is textbook marketing stuff (see Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner for the benchmark stuff). We need a bit more deep thought going on.

  • Sue Sutherland 16th Apr '16 - 2:23pm

    Rot and piffle my lord! We need all the thinking we can get! However I am concerned that this group’s downfall will be that they can’t agree on economics because an alternative valid view of how to make a Liberal society affordable is desperately needed it seems to me. Are there any innovative economists in your group?

  • Neil Sandison 16th Apr '16 - 3:01pm

    My concern is that you do not cover a broad enough spectrum of British society and only talking to your friends limits your understanding of some very basic issues .But we shouldn’t pre-judge I await with interest any publications you may produce.

  • Adrian Sanders 16th Apr '16 - 3:08pm

    I’m afraid there are a few essential errors made in this post that repeat the mistakes that led to the destruction of our Party last May.

    The first is to completely misunderstand why we lost seats in 2015.

    In many of our lost seats there was no great swing to the Tories – they gained around 500 votes in my seat. It was the other 6,500 votes we lost that handed victory and a majority Government to Mr Cameron.

    Those 6,500 votes were largely folk who voted for us in 2010 but could not bring themselves to do so in 2015 because we went into coalition with the Tories and got nothing out of it for them. Until we apologise for letting down those who voted for us tactically and promise we will never ever enter a coalition again with anyone unless they are prepared to vote for a proportional voting system on the statute book within in a year, and no referendum malarkey, we won’t win them back again.

    It is essential that we do this so they (and millions of squeezed Liberal Democrat voters elsewhere) need never vote tactically again, and if after another coalition we still end up on 8 per cent of the vote we will at least have around 50 MPs and the platform that gives us.

    The second error is blaming the electorate for not being members of the Cambridge Debating Society – what I call the Clegg error.

    A large sector of the electorate are not swayed by intellectual discourse but by gut and tribal reactions. Something we forgot about from the moment Clegg became leader. I fear the StrongerIn Campaign is making that same error, but then look at who’s running it.

    The third error is to think talking/debating politics with like-minded people is a substitute for political activism – that may not be the author’s intent but there is no mention of how to engage the wider electorate beyond invited friends. This is why community politics is so important to the rebuilding of our Party and reestablishing our pre-Clegg tried and tested branding.

  • clive english 16th Apr '16 - 3:18pm

    quite right I have just been canvassing in Maidstone and our vote seems not too bad, indeed improving, but that has NOTHING to do with anything other than good old fashioned community campaigning (well perhaps a smidgeon of dislike of George Osborne).
    We need to stop navel gazing and imitating pale blue and get back to campaigning FOR Liberalism

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Apr '16 - 3:27pm

    Adrian Sanders, if you are so much better at electoral politics then why did you tell me to join the Tories after I asked for a slightly tougher approach to the refugee crisis?

    All I asked for was background checks for refugees. You talk about the importance of proportional representation but Ireland still doesn’t have a government and other countries who have adopted it have come across problems too. It shouldn’t be the party’s number one policy goal.

  • Sue Sutherland 16th Apr '16 - 6:18pm

    Before we go into a Coalition again we need to have persuaded the electorate of the lack of democracy in the present system. Ironically the rise of UKIP may help us in this because their supporters were cross at how the system distorted their results. The Greens too of course. We made a fundamental error when we agreed a referendum, almost as if we were following a set of rules without considering the political and economic position we were in. There was a recession and we pushed for a referendum about something that most people weren’t interested in and if they were, many of them thought we were trying to change the status quo to benefit our own party, not them.

  • Stephen Hesketh 16th Apr '16 - 8:23pm

    Eddie Sammon 16th Apr ’16 – 3:27pm
    “Adrian Sanders … You talk about the importance of proportional representation but Ireland still doesn’t have a government and other countries who have adopted it have come across problems too. It shouldn’t be the party’s number one policy goal.”

    Hi Eddie, the problem for you and others of your general political persuasion is that Britain doesn’t have a centre party. The Liberal Democrats are not such a party and do not exist to create the sort of society you appear to desire. This is why you often state you couldn’t support us!

    Once we have proportional representation I expect someone will form such a party but, having almost been electorally wiped out due to the actions and positioning of a centrist leader and his economically centre-right allies, please don’t expect us to do anything but rebuild our social justice Liberal Democratic party in the manner we instinctively and democratically decide.

    And while I am in rant mode (and not directed at you Eddie), I am a Liberal Democrat because I wish to see a particular sort of society [refer to the Preamble]. I do not do so on the basis of a mantra of ‘evidence-based policy’ but from a belief that everyone has the right to be free and to be who or what they wish provided it does not harm or limit the same freedoms of others – or perhaps to put it another way – because I believe in the need to ‘balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community’.

    Regarding PR (as in proportional representation), when was AV ever party policy and, perhaps even worse, when did anyone ever regard it as being a proportional system?

    I am totally with what Adrian Sanders writes and specifically no proportional representation, no coalition!

  • Simon Banks 17th Apr '16 - 9:45am

    Yes, the alienating language has been criticised and Tristan’s taken the point. Beyond the language, though, there is a danger of such a group being elitist. It must connect widely and learn as much as it teaches, listen as much as it talks. It must also take care to allow for different political environments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland from London-focused English.

    Basically I think it’s a good idea. There are certainly people in other parties and none who share our Liberal ideals and a group as described could find it easier to connect to voluntary sector organisations and pressure groups than any political party does.

    Just on that Sheffield/SNP point: yes, sometimes voters buy cheap arguments from Liberal Democrats too.

  • Eddie Sammon 17th Apr '16 - 10:28am

    Thanks Stephen Hesketh. I will budge on PR, there is just something about it that sits uneasily with me. I still support it, I just wish we could modify it somehow because I’m not a big fan of ranking voting.

    On the centrism stuff: yes there are differences of opinion, but on matters where I instinctively feel sympathy, such as with poverty and violence against innocents, I think I’m quite progressive.

  • Adrian Sanders 17th Apr '16 - 5:05pm

    There is hope for you yet Eddie Sammon

  • Rightsaidfredfan 17th Apr '16 - 5:08pm

    There is no prospect of changing the voting system without a referendum and nor should there be. No other electable party would agree to that.

    For a party to get into power via a coalition with a minority of the votes and then change the electoral system to one that benefits themselves without putting it to the public in a referendum would be a democratic disgrace.

    I think the public probably would agree to a regional list top up to balance parliament, but AV wasn’t something that the supporters of electoral reform were ever going to get excited about and without wide spread enthusiasm it was always unlikely to pass. AV would have made parliament look pretty much like it does now or if anything even less proportional, but I think we all know why the lib dems wanted it at the time.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Apr '16 - 6:03pm

    Stephen Hesketh ,Adrian Sanders
    and or to whom it may concern

    Unlike Eddie Sammon, I am a member of this party , and not one who likes being labelled by others , as right wing or centrist or anything , other than what I myself say I am , to me views in the radical centre are indeed utterly compatible with our preamble , because they are Liberalism , and indeed , social democracy !

    I do not think anybody has the right to alienate others because they do not conform to their view of what our or any mainstream party is about .For goodness sake our preamble calls out against conformity !Eddie is a good and decent fellow of moderate views , in many Liberal International members parties , he would be considered a lefty !

  • Eddie Sammon 17th Apr '16 - 9:01pm

    Lorenzo, thanks for your support. I don’t like to talk about myself here rather than the issues, so I’ll keep it brief:

    I’m fine with criticism or people questioning whether I’m commenting on the right website. I commented again under this thread because I felt the author’s reasonable idea, even if I don’t agree with it entirely, was getting dismissed too easily.

    Best regards

  • So the future of liberalism lies in getting a bunch of friends together, plus a few invited guests and thrashing it all out. So much for democratic politics. Isn’t this how companies find their non executive directors ? What a depressing vision – feel like opening another bottle of Montrachet.

  • Matt (Bristol) 19th Apr '16 - 8:08pm

    Thanks Tristan for tolerantly answering my point.

    I look forward to reading what you produce.

    But I do feel strongly that your group need to recognise that politics is about communication – and critically, about communication across social and cultural groups…

    PS – if you are the Tristan standing for the party as a Scottish List MSP – I wish you all the best.

    Chris Cory – I am not a thought leader, that I know of (unless something’s gone seriously wrong), but some of us out here are drinking own-brand real ale from a prominent German discount supermarket. It’s certainly cheaper than Montrachet.

  • Bill, sorry, I was merely speculating that Montrachet was what thought leaders drank. I’m sure my taste in drink is actually as plebeian as yours, but don’t want to get involved in a variant of the 4 Yorkshiremen sketch.

  • Typo, Bill should of course be Matt.

  • Matt (Bristol) 20th Apr '16 - 2:46pm

    Sorry Chris, I though I was agreeing to your point.

    I’ll get back to my septic tank now.

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