We must shake this party up

I am tired of being told my ‘natural home’ is the Labour Party just because I’m brown. I am tired of being pointed to the Conservative Party, and told it boasts a diverse set of MPs. I am tired of being told the Liberal Democrats are fine just as we are because the truth is we aren’t. 

We must demand better of ourselves. Despite the scepticism that the new slogan ‘Demand Better’ makes us prone to criticism, it’s this attitude of self-improvement that has kept me in the Party, even when my faith has wavered.

We demand better at every conference, every time we’re on the doorstep, or even when we meet in our local areas. That’s why I think brutal honesty will go a long way.

I’m never going to be an MP if I stay with the Lib Dems. I’m never going to see a brown, queer, disabled person as a frontrunner in the leadership race. I will never lead us. Or at least, that’s how I have come to feel since I joined the Party as a seven-year-old. It’s sad that I feel that way, but I’m not alone. I believe in the Liberal Democrat vision, and there are countless others out there, poised to effect change, falling short at the first hurdle of daring to dream they could lead us one day.

That day will come a lot sooner if we open up the Party and launch a free supporter scheme for anyone who believes in a free, fair and open society. Make it easier to stand for office, so you don’t have to have been a paid member for 9-12 months depending on where you live before you’re even eligible for the approval process. Changing how we elect our leader would be even better. We can debate the finer points of voting powers or keeping such systems in check, but I want us to rise to the challenge necessitated by our political situation.

The argument that those who are worthy will inevitably progress to the helm is outdated and untrue. With a snap General Election seeming unlikely, we’re not getting a huge contingent of MPs any time soon. If we are to choose our next leader, and really choose them this time, we need more competition. We need people who have been candidates, in local and national elections, to be able to put their name forward. We need new supporters, bringing their wealth of expertise, to reform our image. We need young people to influence the direction of the Party in a way that acknowledges that older age does not necessarily mean most experienced. We need a bold vision which means that underrepresented groups can direct our Party into a braver future. This isn’t a threat for us. This is a threat for the other political parties out there, who know we have a lot to gain from such radical changes.

From Inspiration Days to local election leadership programmes, members themselves have been a driving force for change. We even voted in shortlists to improve our selections. Yet, these brilliant people are not going to become MPs any time soon, and they cannot compete in a future leadership race at present. Some might fear insidious influence from ill-meaning opposition, but risks can be calculated sensibly. Through open, rigorous debate, we can create a system that both opens us up to supporters and new leadership without compromising our Liberal Democrat values.

We must shake things up. Shake off the accusations that we’re pale and stale. We have great policies and our anti-Brexit campaign appeals to many disaffected voters. However, I also believe that a good MP does not always a good leader make. We all know brilliant leaders, some whom may never even desire to be MP, but are invested in the future of the Party.

Let’s give them a chance to lead us. 

Let’s demand better.

* Maria Munir is an international human rights campaigner who uses the pronouns they/them.

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  • It is not the first time I have read, that someone has to be a paid member for 9-12 months depending on where they live before they can stand for election within the party or something similar. I don’t believe it is true. I expect lots of new members are ‘elected’ to their Local Party Executive within their first year. I couldn’t even see any rules about the length someone in England has to be a member before they can stand as a candidate for us in a local election. I couldn’t find the current rules for the selection of PPC’s so there might be a rule about having to be a member of the party for a period of time depending on which nation a person lives in.

  • Sue Sutherland 7th Sep '18 - 1:28pm

    I agree that we need a shake up but I’m not sure I agree that these proposals will do it.
    I think the shake up we need is to change our party’s ethos and ways of working so the Leaders of the party can’t go off on their own and become as disconnected from the rest of the party as they did when we were in Coalition.
    We need a party that values its existing membership and then we might succeed in following Vince’s and Maria’s Vision. We are a Liberal party and we say we value each individual and their unique contribution to society but we don’t treat our membership in the same way. I have been horrified to learn, for example, that a couple of Lib Dem interest groups were not consulted when policies that most concerned them were being drafted. I think the situation has been resolved but what does this show about the attitude of the great and the good in the party towards ordinary members?
    Vince wants to see a movement arising from supporters but what is the use of a movement if it has no official input into its own party’s policy making machine? The group Your Liberal Vision consulted members about the sort of society we wished to see. I don’t know if the results were passed on to policy working groups but members could be consulted in this way to give a broad steer to our policy makers and to position the party in the way it should go to sort out injustices and inequalities in our society.
    Personally I think our nation has veered too far in favour of the wealthy and powerful and that we should be making adjustments to help those who are poor and weak. I think there are policies coming to this next conference that are in support of this goal but there should be procedures for members to give a broad thrust to policy making.
    It is no longer enough to have one member one vote if the end result is that our Leaders can waltz off into the political twilight without a care for the view of those members. Before the Brexit vote there was a feeling in the party best expressed as trust the people. We now know we can’t do that when they have been misled for years but I think we should make a start on a new belief – trust the members.

  • Michael Bukola 7th Sep '18 - 1:37pm

    Maria, I share your heartfelt sentiment about making our Party more open and inclusive and encourage you to join the Lib Dem Campaign for Race Equality [LDCRE] (https://ldcre.org.uk/en/). Many of us still carry the scars of the past and look forward to the day when BAME Party members are commonplace at every level of the organisation. I am skeptical whether the proposal to introduce a Supporters scheme,”free” at the point of access, for the moderate minded is the right approach largely due to the threat of entryism.

    The developmental strategy within the Party at the moment is about growth and creating a movement, but to me, the operating model is a busted flush due to the credibility gap between ourselves as party members and the wider electorate. You don’t vote for Lib Dems because your a moderate(!), you vote Lib Dem if your liberal, or a radical or a nonconformist. This is beautifully explained in the SLF article shorty after the collapse that was the 2015 UK General Election

  • marcstevens 7th Sep '18 - 2:32pm

    I get a bit sad when I see the ageism cropping up again. Surely it should be about recognising someone’s talent, skills and abilities whatever their age. When it comes to influencing the direction of travel of the party we should value the views of people whatever their age, older people, younger people and people in between.

  • Shake up absolutely. We can start by being far less reverential to leaders, especially their Lordships, get away from this syndrome that we are a family, which in itself is an obstacle to growth, stop this Vince this and Nick that, and ensure that we always operate as a purely professional political machine. Opening the system up is a positive step.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th Sep '18 - 3:06pm

    I agree with Maria, but do want the view to prevail, that minority status and isolation, is possible amongst white, middle aged, educated, males! I have been through a lot, have lost out a lot, have experienced a lot of injustice, and am all those things and have a lot to offer. I want a party that does not say you have to be on approved list for the right to stand for parliament or mayor, but insists you be a member, not one that argues the supporter can stand if on a list.

    Michael you should not tell us who does or does not join us, they are individuals and have their own reasons. Many do join who are moderate.

    Stop the denigration of the centre. It is to the left of there also, a wide area and not centrism, but Liberalism.

    The greatest exponent of modern liberalism in the country that knows it’s loss, the USA, was a moderate in the centre, a Liberal, John F Kennedy.

    The centre is not the extremes. If you want the extremes you do not vote for us, you have several alternatives.

    Moderate and progressive, centre and radical, can combine. We are all this.

  • Mick Taylor 7th Sep '18 - 5:23pm

    I have given the whole of my adult life to working for the Lib Dems, now a member for 54 years and a lot of my money as well.
    I believe that one of our best features as a party is that all members can be involved in decision making and internal party elections including the leader.
    I want to find ways of bringing more people on board to help us build a bigger radical Liberal voice in UK politics. The problem with the proposals is that they have the potential to make us just like the Labour Party, which has now been taken over by people who do not share Labour’s core values, but rather the Trotskyist ones of J Corbyn. What an opportunity for people who wish our party harm or who with to neuter it, to join as supporters and do just that. Any registered supporters scheme must have adequate safeguards to prevent us being damaged as Labour has been and I see no evidence that those who are trying to bounce the party into this new world have even thought about these issues at all.
    Ans what about the existing and future members? If any Tom, Sarah, Najeeb and AN OTHER can become supporters for nothing and have rights to make policy and elect the leader, then what point will there be in being a member?
    When I first joined the Liberals in 1964 i was told that being active in the community and working to improve the lives of those around me would bring in supporters and that if they got involved then they would soon be willing to become members. I have found that still to be the case.
    Will someone please tell me how we are going to use ‘supporters’ to revitalise the party when we can’t even involve our own members properly?
    Let’s be clear. No change can be made to the way you become a supporter of our party without an agreed constitutional amendment and this cannot be done before Autumn 2019 and then only by a 2/3 majority at conference.
    So, Maria, we must indeed move our party forward and we must welcome new supporters. But don’t kid yourself that organisational change is the answer. What will bring people to vote for the Lib Dems is the policies we espouse and the ideas we champion. Wrecking party democracy and giving anyone, even our opponents, an easy way to change our policies and elect our leader(s) is not going to hack it.

  • Margaret Joachim 7th Sep '18 - 5:29pm

    Let’s get one thing straight. It has never been necessary to wait nine or twelve months before you can start the process to become an approved candidate (which is necessary if you want to be a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate – PPC). You can do this at any time after joining.

    It’s a good idea for anyone who wants to be a PPC to have some knowledge of party policy, campaigning and how the party works, and to feel that they ‘fit’, before representing it in public (which is what a good PPC does from the moment they are selected). So, in general, people who have been successful at a candidate assessment day can go onto the approved list after they have been a party member for a year. But this isn’t an absolute rule, and it can be (and is) waived by a Regional Candidates’ Chair if there is a good reason – for example the person has been a known supporter but has been in a politically-restricted job.

    As far as I know there are no rules at all about the length of time you have to have been a member before you can stand for internal party office. Local parties run their own candidate approval processes – it is up to them whether they feel a minimum length of membership is needed.

  • John Marriott 7th Sep '18 - 5:38pm

    @Joseph Bourke
    It’s no use looking to Local Government to solve our housing problems unless you give it some clout. That’s why we need a minor revolution that restores to councils many of the powers that successive governments over the past hundred years or so have taken away.

    At the same time, unless local government is fit to receive the kind of powers required and has the ability to generate the kind of funds needed we will get nowhere. As I said many times before, we need to reform and streamline local government structure, certainly in England and follow the example of the three other ‘nations’ that make up the U.K. by having Unitary Councils and, in addition, by reforming Local Government Finance.

  • @Mick Taylor

    There is a great urge to feel protective and indeed a bit proprietorial towards one’s party. I certainly do! I don’t want my money, time and work to disappear down the drain! And I want it to espouse policies that I believe in.


    The only way to protect that investment of one’s time and money is to see it grow. I would urge you to think about it: Particularly:
    1. It is proposed only members would have a vote on policy
    2. In Canada it worked well for the Liberals – without a threat to its identity from outsiders.
    3. We may not see it as members but a lot of people are weary of becoming a member of a political party – a registered supporter is a way of them dipping a toe in the journey to becoming one.

  • OnceALibDem 7th Sep '18 - 7:27pm

    At the heart of the idea of people being able to stand for Parliament after less than a year’s membership and non-members being leader is the idea that political skills are something that either don’t exist or which people have instinctively or acquire without experience.

    It’s an idea that has been tested a few times and the evidence for it is a little sketchy. See the various non-Farage leaders of UKIP, Anthony Cook in Darlington and more recently Jody Dunn in Hartlepool all stand as examples of this failing quite seriously.

  • Bruce Milton 7th Sep '18 - 9:55pm

    Albert Einstein is broadly credited with exclaiming “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. It truly doesn’t make a difference that there’s truly no proof that Einstein really put forth this expression; it’s still an awesome quote!

    Demand better.

  • I understand why people are nervous of entryism. But politics is changing, there are plenty of potential Lib Dem’s out there they just need energising and this could be the right move to make. Yes it’s a gamble but will th only 12 MPs its a gamble we should take.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Sep '18 - 8:48am

    We are a democratic Party that means all members are equal in voting for options. It is a matter or persuading others that you are their preferred candidate. It is a secret ballot so there is no need to justify how you vote. I’m all for extending the range of people who can stand as long as these principles prevail. If too many people stand then perhaps thresholds should apply or the criteria for standing strengthened. What we should be after is a set of options on the ballot paper that allow members to fully exercise their preferences.

  • The Blair comment, the Cable speech and now Chuck this morning. Is it really going to happen, let’s hope so.

  • Thank you Maria, you provide some good food for thought.

    Entryism is a legitimate concern, especially the disingenuous kind, and that shouldn’t be ignored, but there are ways and means to make that less likely, or plain pointless. There will always be a balancing act between opening up the process to make it accessible to all of the under-represented groups we are eager to hear from, and putting processes in place to ensure that our candidates really are as good as we need them to be.

    We need to challenge the processes to work out which ones are there because they’ve always been there, or just make things easier, and which ones genuinely add value. Expecting individuals to have been a member for a certain period of time is a handy way of testing their commitment, but not necessarily the best, and definitely not the quickest.

    @John, I get nervous when people talk of ‘streamlining’ local government, as this is often code for cutting services that aren’t easily understood, but unitary authorities that aren’t too big are, IMO, the way forward. However, I’d also say the best way to have good Local Government accountability will come about should England adopt STV for the election of councillors. I know I’m preaching to the converted here, but getting away from those super-majority administrations, and making it harder for lazy councillors to keep their seats keeps everyone on their toes.

  • theakes. 8.49 on 8th. Please, who or what is ‘Chuck’? If it is the nickname of a frequent contributor it gives the regrettable impression that this forum is a clique, since those not in the know cannot grasp the point: if it is not a nickname, please educate my ignorance — I have scanned twice and found no Chuck. Is it Mr Umunna the Labour MP and his ‘call off the dogs’?

    This question of mine illustrates a problem for Lib Dems, highlighted for me by Michael Gove — not a man I generally approve of — and that is that the country is fed up with ‘experts’. What-ever Gove meant, the value of it is to suggest, correctly, that however necessary Experts may be, they can sometimes do more harm than good, from the electoral perspective, if their grown up language baffles, or even misleads, the non-expert voter. For example the man on the bus (may I use that shorthand? It includes me.) thinks that INVESTMENT is the term for what the rich do to get richer by outsmarting the poor. Or it may be buying the services of the local “Turf Accountant”.

    Dear Auntie Maggie told us across the kitchen table that we can’t get out of debt by borrowing more. Well, anyone can see that!

    You can, though, if you’re a self employed taxi-driver, and you get your taxi back on the road by buying a new tyre with a credit card. That is, by borrowing ; and it is much better than pinching and scraping for a month or a decade to get cash for the tyre. How many of us on the bus know that that elementary principle is an instance of sensible “borrowing to get out of debt”, and is what the ‘experts’ call ‘investment’. Gove is half right: the man on the bus does need the expert; but he needs explanation in language that is simple and down to earth. And I don’t think we do get enough of that.

  • Mick Taylor 9th Sep '18 - 11:19am

    @Michael1. It isn’t proposed that only members should decide policy. Indeed it is suggested that all supporters should be involved.
    It is also proposed that all supporters should elect the leader and that the leader need not be a parliamentarian.
    Sorry, but that’s just not acceptable to me, nor many others I suspect. Someone is trying to bounce us into this. You only have to look at our website which is already asking people to preregister as party supporters before there has been any discussion of these ideas by the party conference, which will make the decision in the form of a constitutional amendment. This most likely cannot take place before Autumn 2019 and will require a 2/3 majority.
    I don’t rule out having a register of supporters and getting them involved in campaigning and hopefully transferring to full membership after working with us for a while. I am cognisant of the fact that we can’t get all our members involved in campaigning so why will we be able to supporters to do more?
    This looks to me like a desperate attempt to find a quick fix to the party’s current low poll ratings and minimal numbers of MPs. As a rather long standing member, my experience tells me that to get more support, more councillors and more MPs needs a prolonged period of hard work led by councillors, MPs, council candidates and PPCs digging in to their local communities and convincing local people that we are their best option for councillors (some success here already) and MPs. It also requires distinctive radical policies that we currently lack in place of the miasma of well meaning inoffensive motherhood and apple pie nonsense that those in search of the mythical centre ground seem to want.

  • What exactly are radical policies from the centre? Surely, anything that is radical, by its very nature, cannot be from a central perspective?

  • Mick Taylor 9th Sep '18 - 8:42pm

    Russ Kent. I am not suggesting radical policies from the centre. Liberal Democracy has little to do with left/right politics and indeed that whole straight line idea has little relevance in modern politics anyway. We are not and never can be a centre party, we are Liberals and that means a radical party.
    No. I am calling for radical policies to tackle the real problems of our society: Devolution of power; proper democratic electoral systems; a big increase in mutual ownership of business and services, with real democratic employee involvement; big decreases in the income and wealth gaps in our society using taxation and redistribution; zero tolerance of homelessness, poverty and low pay leading to an end for the need for food banks; a basic minimum income for everyone, with a welfare system that treats people as people not cheats. In short policies that speak to the disenchanted and the disillusioned as well as the many people who are starting to despair of the ‘big two’ parties.

  • Innocent Bystander 10th Sep '18 - 8:50am

    I agree with Mr Raw. I hate dishonesty and simulation. The party should campaign under these themes in which its members so fervently believe – that is much increased taxation and wealth redistribution. Then the voters will know what they are in for.
    My own belief, FWIW, is that a party with a compelling wealth creation agenda, not just wealth redistribution, is more of what the public is looking for.
    Please don’t refer me to ” Good Jobs, Better Businesses, Stronger Communities”. I read it.
    It is a major increase in employee rights (and yet more obligations for employers) with no, absolutely no, advantages for business (oh forgot! “Approved” employers will get a “kite mark”)

  • We need to be intolerant of our failings. Yes. We cannot advance unless we recognise failings. Yes. These propositions do not relieve us of the responsibility to think critically about proposals for institutional change. My local party appears about to choose as a PPC a keen, intelligent, committed young man in his early 20s, a description that also fits our current Chair. We have one minority ethnic member of our Executive (which means BME people are overrepresented on the Exec compared to the local population), but she’s our President. We currently have only one district councillor, but have four target wards. None of that required institutional change.

    A supporters’ group? Good, if we’ve thought about how to link supporters to local parties and make the supporters’ scheme contribute to actual membership instead of reducing it. Supporters voting for the leader? Good, provided there are adequate safeguards against entryism, such as the requirement (not in Vince’s proposals) for them not to be current members of rival parties. A leader not in the Commons? A route to disaster, not because there aren’t people of talent, diverse backgrounds and experience outside the Commons (as there are inside, such as Layla), but because we’d still need a leader in the Commons and a dual leadership would be a gift to opponents and media, as it was with Owne and Steel in the Alliance.

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