What would you change about the Ashdown Prize?

Last year, Paddy Ashdown and Your Liberal Britain decided to set up a policy innovation prize. Paddy and I both knew that there thousands of Lib Dems out there who were bursting with good ideas but didn’t know where to send them or what to do with them. We wanted to see if we could help.

Why? Well, Your Liberal Britain aims to convince the Liberal Democrats to become a powerful and inspirational political movement, above all by empowering its members and supporters. We want the party to say to its members: “you share our passion for building a Liberal Britain: we’re here to help you do it”.

The Party’s definitely moving in the right direction: from the new strategy agreed at Spring Conference, to the extremely impressive people-powered Exit from Brexit campaign, to the many ways in which the Federal Policy Committee (FPC) is working to involve members in policymaking, to the greater use of competitions, interactive content and digital campaigning. 

But there is still much to do, and we want to help the party out where we can. We don’t think it’s all that useful – or particularly fair – for us to just stand on the sidelines and criticise the party. The challenge we’ve laid down is difficult, after all, and no-one has all the answers (including us). So instead, we’ve decided to run some experimental projects aimed at helping the party make the most use of its members, and at helping members get the most out of the party. Many of these projects have worked; some of them haven’t; all of them provide useful lessons.

Policymaking in particular is one area where the gap between members’ desire to do something and the party’s ability to use them is particularly wide, despite the great work going on in the FPC. To help out, Your Liberal Britain runs a number of projects designed to help members get more involved in policymaking. We distribute free motion summaries at Conference, to help cut through the jargon; we run high-energy policy brainstorm events, getting Lib Dems to work together in groups to hash out big ideas; and we have an online forum in the works that will help people polish these ideas into robust policy.

The Ashdown Prize was set up in this spirit. Its first year has now mostly run its course, and we’re now looking ahead to year two. It had some great successes, but some parts of the design do need improving too. We want to keep the good bits, change up the bad bits, and give you the competition that you want.

Everything we do at YLB is about learning both from what’s worked and what hasn’t, so next year’s prize will look a bit different. But before we settle on a design, we want to hear from you. How would you have us run it?

To help you out, head here to learn what we did, and how the prize worked. It also sets out what we know about what worked and what didn’t. The more you know about how it worked, the more we’ll be able to put your feedback to use. So please have a read!

If you’d like to skip those though and go straight to the consultation, you can do so here. We’ll genuinely be able to make more use of what you tell us though, if you know how the prize was administered first time round.

* Jim Williams is the founder of Your Liberal Britain

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Interesting that it’s mandatory to hand over your data before you even get to see what questions are being asked…

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th Jul '18 - 10:35am

    Initially I was very excited about Your Liberal Britain.
    But am I allowed to say that I don’t understand how an internal Lib Dem group aimed at empowering members doesn’t have any internal democracy re: it’s leadership?

    YLB seems to be basically EnMarcheomentum at the moment.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Jul '18 - 11:10am

    Joe Otten: Careful now,
    Paddy Ashdown explained that his family came home (from India) to Northern Ireland and he was asked whether he was a Protestant or a Catholic.
    He tried to say that he was neither, then said he was a Buddhist.
    So, “are you a Protestant Buddhist or a Catholic Buddhist?”
    “whose side you are on?” sounds like the MPs’ classic dilemma of voting with either the Tories or with Labour.

  • Adam Bernard 24th Jul '18 - 11:53am

    Apart from the prize money, what’s the actual advantage of submitting to YLB rather than direct to FCC?*

    I guess it’s the drafting support? Though the mess they made of their winning motion (e.g. introducing the whole tax breaks element) suggests that might not be all they crack it up to be.

    Would a better solution not be to produce a nicely-written guide to How To Draft A Motion? The party’s Drafting Advice Service is already quite helpful; making it better known would be a good start.

    *The advantage to the person submitting the motion, I mean. The advantage to YLB is pretty clear.

  • @Dave

    Is it actually that they are short of ideas, or that local parties may not be particularly well humanly/time resourced so that ideas can can be debated and formulated correctly, so that they can be taken to conference? If the local party is for some reason not functional, how should isolated members share their ideas?

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th Jul '18 - 2:59pm

    On a more constructive note than my earlier comment, YLB has talked about ‘crowd sourcing’. Would it be able to help the party (or YLB members, I guess, if it wanted a measure of exclusivity, but I’m not sure why) produce a crowd-sourcing hub online for people to basically pitch and trade support for conference motions peer-to-peer, without the mediating role of the YLB board?

    If it was important to YLB that its values (based on the crowd-sourced process that went on previously and presumably will be reviewed at some point) were inserted into the process, their board could award a star-ranking to the proposals as to how closely they were felt to meet the YLB values, but the decisions as to what to submit to conference would be in the hands of individual members.

    Something like that (expensive as I’m sure it would be) would radically change LD conference motions, and be genuinely democratising, and possibly helpful to FCC as well?

    YLB would be enhancing the existing process, therefore, rather than setting up the Ashdown process as an arguably superfluous ornamental gateway to it.

    Even grumpy gits like me would have less qualms about that, even if subscription to YLB’s processes and values were the price of entry.

  • Neil Sandison 24th Jul '18 - 7:31pm

    Your Liberal Britain good idea attaching it to a yesterday MP or Lord bad idea .It is not a fresh idea if its led by a former this or that we must move forward as a party without doffing the cap to the establishment .

  • OnceALibDem 24th Jul '18 - 8:20pm

    The most obvious way is to agree a setup with the FCC where they agree to reserve a debate slot for the motion which wins. Thus creating alternate routes to getting motions on the agenda than being approved by FCC.

    Though basically this is a grander version of the ‘all the Lib Dems need is to find the right policy(ies) and they’ll be back’ idea of strategy.

  • Mark Blackburn 24th Jul '18 - 8:37pm

    Plenty of times I don’t agree with Joe, but this time I think he’s spot on. Just what IS Your Liberal Britain? And what value does it add to the party, when I can bring a motion to conference any time I like, with help from colleagues and local parties? The foodbanks proposal was admirable but hardly one which would have driven us new members in droves as a fundamental new policy initiative. What does YLB actually stand for? The Social Liberal Forum clearly works hard to ensure the party is more socially liberal, obviously, and I love them for it, while it’s clear that Liberal Reform are driving in a more economic liberal direction, which while I disagree with I understand and try to respect. YLB meanwhile seems rather vague, and almost like an official party spin-off – I think I saw that its correspondence address is even c/o party HQ. I’m not trying to knock it – I realise there’s a lot of hard work and commitment going on – but my grumpy old bloke cynicism and suspicion needs some reassurance.

  • William Fowler 25th Jul '18 - 7:08am

    It seems like it is constructed in a way that only ideas from active Liberal members, often wannabe career politico’s with all the vested self-interest such types sport, are funneled towards the higher echelons of the party whereas what you actually need is some kind of online forum where the broader church of members are able to actively vote on such ideas on an ongoing basis, thus the good ideas will rise to the top in an unusually democratic manner and come to the attention of the actual MP’s, whether or not you need a free hat to eat from Mr Ashdown then being a moot point.

  • Nonconformistradical 25th Jul '18 - 8:47am

    “whereas what you actually need is some kind of online forum where the broader church of members are able to actively vote on such ideas on an ongoing basis”


  • Phil Beesley 25th Jul '18 - 10:51am

    If I was to establish a book prize for local authors, it would be easy to establish a winner. Lots of people write worthy books every year.

    Great, transformational ideas — the motivation behind the Ashdown Prize — don’t turn up all that often. Most Lib Dem manifesto concepts in 2018 were established policy or floating ideas when I first reached voting age.

    You can’t set up a prize and not award it in the first year of establishment. So in the first year, the Ashdown Prize was awarded for a worthy but obvious proposal. Try harder next time, please.

    Consider liberal concern about misuse of personal data, for example, and develop liberal solutions. Is there a fix for NHS funding other than more money?

  • New ideas come in many flavours, some just an idea, others well thought through. It’s an unenviable task to create a winner from all the entries. Perhaps next time there should be various categories such as moving forward on an old idea and a new take on an existing issue or even a completely new idea.

  • Your Liberal Britain: “To save Britain’s future, the Liberal Democrats must reinvent themselves as a fast-moving and inspirational movement that no one can ignore.”

    Nohh. No re-invention is necessary, if the Lib Dems wish to be liberal cultural successors.

  • Sean Hyland 25th Jul '18 - 2:31pm

    Would be interested to know the YLB response to some of the points raised in response to the original post.

  • Simon Banks 13th Sep '18 - 9:28pm

    I agree with Joe. What?? Yes.

    The Ashdown Prize process was announced with fanfares of trumpets, it attracted lots of ideas and it ended with the choice of an idea that could be a textbook example of an idea not big or radical (and not necessarily workable, since many food banks are constrained by premises or lack of volunteers rather than lack of food). YLB has some recovering to do from that. It does seem to be trying to learn and may understand that the shortlisting process needs to be more rigorous.

    There is big potential for a group that does not have an ideological flavour other than Liberal and that brings together small groups of people with particular knowledge or ideas to develop policy proposals. The problem with the current policymaking process is that it’s so meticulously participative and often ends with long motions that don’t annoy many people and don’t say anything very distinctive. This is not how the old Liberal Party got a reputation for taking risks with innovative policies, often condemned by the others and then adopted.

    However, I’m not sure YLB is achieving that.

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.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

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


Recent Comments

  • Dominic
    Couldn't disagree more with this. Where to start ... for one thing, in a well-organised area Focus and Lib Dem tabloids (not "fake", thank you!) have a much bi...
  • Richard S
    Peter, Yes, it's called the European Health Union. https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/promoting-our-european-way-life/european-health-u...
  • neil James sandison
    Peter Davison playing devils advocate do you have some or any suggestions ? Can we surcharge amazon ,ebay for the additional cost of packaging , China for imp...
  • Nigel Jones
    Am I the only frustrated activist ? I cannot find any party guidance on the matter of delivering leaflets on our website, nor have I as secretary of a local par...
  • theakes
    If there was a Referendum now people, after the problems in the EU over the vaccine roll out would almost certainly vote to stay out of the EU. Time for us to ...