A fork in the road for the Lib Dems

The long predicted realignment in British politics has started. Whether it helps or harms the Lib Dems depends on how we respond to it. We can embrace the future with confidence and open arms or we can turn in on ourselves and stick to the old ways.

We are at a fork in the political road and our future success or failure depends on whether we make the right choices. Some important decisions will be made at Spring Conference and it is imperative that we get them right.

They are the keys to the success of our new Supporters Scheme. They will give it the features it needs to open up the Party and attract large numbers of liberals who share our values but prefer to not be members.

These changes will give a voice to the millions of voters who feel powerless and frustrated at the direction of our country. For every person willing to join the party as a member there are two more who are willing to commit to supporting and helping us.

The party has approximately 100,000 members and a further 250,000 people have recently backed our national campaigns. These are real people and many are genuinely committed to the Party and prepared to help us.

Some members worry that the Supporters Scheme will open the door to entryism but there will be robust defences against that. There will be simple and speedy methods for removing supporters who don’t share our values or risk damaging the Party.

Another concern is that allowing Supporters to vote in Leadership elections might tempt people to register in multiple names. But that risk has been eliminated by requiring Supporters to verify their identity with a bank card before they can vote.

The potential downsides of the Supporters Scheme are covered and the upsides are huge. A similar scheme played a big part in helping the Canadian Liberals to jump from a poor third to first and government in a single election.

The required changes will be debated and voted at Spring Conference on Saturday 15th March at 15:55. Whatever you are doing, please attend the York conference and vote in favour of all the motions. A two thirds majority is required and so every vote is crucial.

* Lord (Paul) Strasburger is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords

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This entry was posted in Conference and Party policy and internal matters.


  • Richard Underhill 11th Mar '19 - 12:57pm

    Former Apprentice winner Michelle Dewberry was on BBC Politics Live on 11/3/2019.
    She could present historical facts better.
    Which constituency did she stand in?
    What party did she represent?

  • @Richard Underhill: Sorry, but I fail to see the connection that you are seeking to make here. Perhaps you could explain how your comment is relevant to this particular thread? Which “historical facts” do you assert that Michelle Dewberry, of all people, could present better? Frankly, I’m mystified!

  • Tony Greaves 11th Mar '19 - 1:34pm

    I will ignore the fact that the Canadian Liberals are in a serious crisis at present that could lead to their collapse once more. Or the facile idea that all we have to do is copy one other party operating in a very different political environment…

    The idea that non-members could vote for the leader of the party is illiberal, dangerous and in practIcal terms just stupid. (And if there was a serious attempt at entryism, the party could not cope with it by scrutinising individuals and would simply have to suspend that right anyway).

    My guess is that the Supporters Scheme will be a damp squib. But the reasons are not connected with the scheme itself. We are not going to create a national campaigning movement at present because the party doe snot do any serious national campaigning. (Press releases and speeches, yes; emails to members mainly asking for more and more money, yes; serious campaigning no.)

    As for all these “large numbers of liberals who share our values but prefer to not be members” perhaps we should ask why this is (if it is so) and ask ourselves what we are doing about it? At present the party makes little effort to educate even its 100,000 members in what we stand for and why. What is it that makes Liberalism different from Labourism and Toryism in this country? And even less effort to create a campaigning movement that will attract both members and supporters. Until these things frae done attempts at quick constitutional fixes will achieve little and at some stage in the future cause bother.

  • Graham Jeffs 11th Mar '19 - 1:40pm

    My apologies for going off at a tangent. If only it were as simple as harnessing willing potential activists. But that is not the case. The ludicrous manner in which GDPR has been implemented in many places has made even the most simple tasks and those of record keeping so onerous that it creates near paralysis. If we cannot run ourselves more effectively, what chance that we can run anything else?

  • Mick Taylor 11th Mar '19 - 1:49pm

    I’m with Tony Greaves on this one. Happy to have a supporters scheme (we’ve had an unofficial one in my area for the past 40 years). Not willing for those supporters to vote for the leader. If they want to do that, they can join the party.

  • I don’t believe the downsides are covered. I raised one during the consultation that was never answered – the prominent availability of a registered supporters scheme might attract a significant proportion of people who might otherwise have joined as full members.

    Since supporters don’t pay any membership fees, this will cut the party’s income and then membership as current members drop out (or actively become supporters instead) through the normal churn. Can we afford that?

    I bet this is happening already – the home page of the national party’s web site gives much more prominence to pre-registering for a scheme that doesn’t exist yet than it does to joining the party proper. I’d be interested to see the effect that has had on the rate of new members joining.

    So I believe the proposals will lead to a drop in income, whilst also seeing extra cost to administer the scheme with it’s verification by bank card.

    I also don’t like the idea of allowing members of other parties to register as supporters and then letting them vote in leadership elections. The proposal says they will be required to resign their membership of the other party first, whilst admitting there is no way of enforcing that and having to “take this on trust”. What could possibly go wrong?

  • And +1 for what Tony Greaves says above……

  • In full agreement with everything Lord Greaves says.
    And with Andrew: dismissing concerns is not by any means the same as addressing them.

  • David Warren 11th Mar '19 - 2:09pm

    I also agree with Tony Greaves and would add the following comment.

    How can we expect the hard pressed membership team at HQ to administer a complex supporters scheme when they struggle already with the workload.

    Better to put some effort into harnessing the skills of existing members.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Mar '19 - 2:26pm

    To see Jennie agree with Andrew is no surprise.
    To see Jennie agree with Tony Greaves is.

    To result in me agreeing with all three at once is unheard of!!!!!!!

    I support a supporter organisation, but one that supports.

    How can a member of a party which puts candidates against a party be said to support the party it is stood against?!

    I want an alliance with the current named TIG.

    I see them as my friends and yet would not see them as supporters of the Liberal Democrats if they put up candidates against the mps of this party.

    I think it so absurd to concentrate on Trudeau as some role model, have never liked him politically or personally since he madated all Liberal candidates to vote for unlimited access at any number of weeks, no limits, to abortion, fine support the view, but not as a dictat, he is no more a Liberal than his left socialist father who loved Fidel !!

  • David Evans 11th Mar '19 - 3:24pm

    Sorry Paul, You have simply produced another article in support of the party establishment to enable them to kick their can yet further along the road to oblivion.

    Theresa May’s strategy, once it became clear that her dream of a wonderful Brexit deal for the UK disappeared, has been to keep kicking her can along the road and run down the clock until there is no time to develop anything else. She will deliver on her promise “Brexit means Brexit” and built her legacy – at least in her own mind. So she has steadfastly continued to refused to consider any alternatives that mean she was wrong and had to change, pretending that everything will work out fine if only people would do what she wants – Oh yes, and hang the consequences for the United Kingdom and its citizens.

    Sadly, the Supporters’ scheme is no more than the latest stage our leaders’ equivalent disaster, but ours has been going on much longer, pretending a new dawn for Liberal Democracy is just over the horizon for those prepared to believe it will all work out. First we had the ‘We must prove coalition works’ – It didn’t. Then we had the we have to prove ‘We are a party of government’ – people soon decided they didn’t want us in government. Then we had the it was ‘Grown Up government’ – anything to make those pointing out the problems were seen as being childish. Then ‘It’s too late to change,’ – as out vote in by elections fell to 0.9%. Most recently we have had ‘Let’s have a Graduate Tax (but not one that applies to older graduates)’ to fix things and now we have a ‘Supporters Scheme.’ Each and every step designed to avoid facing up to the real problems the party faces. To give time for all those involved to leave the stage with reputation intact, at least in their own minds.

    The simple fact is that our leaders and the party establishment allowed the party to be destroyed around them. They all saw it happening but refused to believe it was going wrong. Now their reputation depends upon simply never admitting it, even to themselves, while our party continues to decline, Brexit creeps ever closer, while the one party with a vision of Britain in Europe has been so weakened it can do nothing but hope something turns up.

    A Supporters Scheme with its pretence of a great revival just over the horizon is just another kick for the Lib Dem can towards the dustbin of history.

  • Sean Hyland 11th Mar '19 - 3:34pm

    Is there any indication of a large number of people looking to join a supporters scheme? Those local parties that have an “informal” scheme -is there any demand from those supporters for this?
    Has there been any indication of how many people have pre-registered on the party site and has this continued beyond the initial launch and reporting in the media?

  • Martin Land 11th Mar '19 - 4:35pm

    The problem is that with the supporters scheme we are once again imitating our competitors. There is nothing Liberal about it. It’s Labour Centralism all over again. We need a structured system of local supporters – let’s call them Lib Dem Focus Supporters clubs or groups – set up to agreed criteria and designed to support local campaigns and campaigners.

  • Paul Barker 11th Mar '19 - 4:47pm

    I am not wholly convinced that the Supporters scheme myself but it seems worth trying. The reaction in the thread so far seems confined to some very familiar names & carries a strong whiff of paranoia. Some people in the Party just dont agree with any sort of Leadership unless its them doing the leading. Its not only MPs who have Egos.
    It will be damaging if these proposals are defeated at Conference but I am much more worried about the reaction to any proposed Electoral Alliance/Umbrella arrangement with TIG when it becomes a Party – that really will be a “Fork in The Road”.
    We face a choice between another Decade or two of life on the fringes or the real possibility of breaking the Tory/Labour duopoly in the near future.

  • David Evershed 11th Mar '19 - 6:01pm

    There are no barriers to supporters becoming members. It is simple to join online and they have done so in tens of thousands in recent years.

    Consequently there is no justification for a second class supporter membership scheme which only adds to the bureaucracy at local level, regional level and at the centre.

    Our leaders would better spend their time promoting liberal values amongst members and the public alike. Most voters don’t know what the principles of being a Liberal are, nor how they are different from those of Labour or Conservative.

  • Richard O'Neill 11th Mar '19 - 10:21pm

    The more I look at this scheme, the worse it seems. So many good arguments above.

    There seem to be so many risks and very few benefits. It is another top-down scheme.

  • chris moore 12th Mar '19 - 8:42am

    The scheme is a very small plus in my view, but has beeen massively over-sold.

  • Graham Jeffs 12th Mar '19 - 8:56am

    David Evershed – you have hit the nail on the head. My current experience of the LDs at my local level is one of overwhelming bureaucracy and negativity (propped by a slavish interpretation of GDPR). Let’s not make it any worse!!

  • Peter Hirst 12th Mar '19 - 2:56pm

    The Supporters’ Scheme and how we deal with TIG are indeed pivotal decisions for our Party. The first is obvious and I would like it to be as generous to those who don’t want yet to join us as possible. The second is more tricky and again we should be as generous as possible in working with them. These opportunities do not come along very often and we should grasp them with both hands. Politics is not for the faint hearted.

  • Stephen Yolland 14th Mar '19 - 9:35am

    This plan is insanity. It is a recipe for entryists and other political party members to join in and divert and wreck us. If people want to support us then let them join the party and work for it.

    And I sincerely trust Lib Dem voice is going to run articles arguing against the proposed change.

  • Richard Underhill 17th Mar '19 - 8:36pm

    Sean Hagan 11th Mar ’19 – 1:13pm
    Sorry, somewhat understated.
    I will try harder, in Lent.
    Did you see the show?

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