A supporters’ scheme: an alternative plan

Liberal parties have a long history of enabling people. We invented Parish Councils, we are Britain’s only independent mutualist co-operative party, and we champion devolution of power.  Vince Cable proposes change that is very liberal, very enabling and poses little change to the way that our party works. Indeed, most of what he proposes already exists and all he asks is that we give it structure.

This party has supporters’ clubs promoting policy, we call them Associated Organisations (AO’s).  They range from the association of Liberal Democrat Trades Unionists. and the Green Liberal Democrats through to the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel and the Liberal Democrats Friends of Palestine.  You don’t have to be a party member to join them, and yet they create policy and take it to the conference floor where fully subscribed party members vote to make them party policy.

We also have informal local supporters’ clubs that help deliver leaflets and participate with our local parties and Liberal Clubs, where you do not have to be a party member to join but which contribute to the life and politics and funding of the party to a substantial degree.  We are grateful to them all for their help and support all year round and involving them in a formal AO for supporters is not so radical an idea; we should have done it years ago and It doesn’t even require a constitutional change, just a new constitution for the AO.

Then there is the question of whether the Leader of the Party should have to be an MP.  In the Liberal Democrats the equivalent of the Leaders of the Green Party and the SNP is the President, and any member can stand for that post; indeed, three past presidents of the Party were not in Westminster when they were elected to the role.

What is wrong in extending the electorate for the Party President to members of the Green Lib Dems, ALDTU, or Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary.  They may not be full party members, but they participate fully in the life of the party.  Come to that, why shouldn’t local supporters who stuff envelopes and deliver leaflets have a say in who is our President?

So, Vince, set up your new AO called ‘Liberal Democrats Registered Supporters’ and table an amendment to our constitution that enables registered members of our AO’s to:

  1. Vote in the election for the President of the Party;
  2. Join our Specified Associated Organisations

It will require moving substantial funding from campaigns to update our record systems, and LDHQ increasing its support to AO’s and SAO’s but it will be money well spent.


* Ian is VC Campaigns for NW Liberal Democrats, and a member of the ECE, EFAC and FCEC.

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  • Richard Underhill 9th Sep '18 - 2:23pm

    Is there really now an AO called “Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary”?
    If so they have a problem with their name.
    A Sinhala who claimed to support minorities in Sri Lanka claimed asylum in the UK, was refused and sought sanctuary in Manchester. It did him no good because he was removed from the cathedral and flown to Colombo. Photographs of him resting on a beach in Sri Lanka were published in the Daily Mail (a tabloid newspaper in the UK).
    The BBC report below has a spelling error or typo: “fond” should nor be spelt “found”,

  • Iain Donaldson 9th Sep '18 - 2:31pm

    You will need to take that up with them Richard. Their details should be on the Federal Party website.

  • Sue Sutherland 9th Sep '18 - 2:52pm

    Your suggestion seems like a good one Iain. I am feeling very low about the way the party treats its members, which I feel is the lesson to be learned from the moderate furore about Vince’s suggestion. You present an ideal picture about how AOs work and how they influence policy, but I have heard of two whose views have been ignored by those making policy until they started to protest. It should be part of our constitution that AOs and interest groups within the party should be automatically consulted as part of any policy making process. If conference is unhappy with a policy and asks for a re-think it should not be possible for that to be overturned.
    At the moment I’m feeling that members aren’t regarded with respect by the great and the good of the party and yet respect for the individual is at the heart of our political thinking. It’s about time we started to walk our talk within our party.

  • Philip Knowles 10th Sep '18 - 8:30am

    I think Iain’s view is a good way of assuaging some fears. I also think that Sue’s points are well founded (and I know that Iain agrees) that the Party tends to talk at the members rather than listen to us. If that happens to Registered Supporters too they will soon get fed up and move on. We have 100,000+ members but everything seems to come from HQ and often has a south east focus which sometimes doesn’t play well up here. LD success generally come from the grass roots day-to-day work that we do. There needs to be a lt better filtering up of best practice then leading to supportive centre enabling us to work smarter. With both the Tories and Labour beset with troubles we should be doing better (although a stunning victory in Knaresborough the other week shows the promise that is there). I want to know what we are going to be doing BEYOND Brexit. We need to be able to easily translate national policy into local effects. That means that some of us need notice of announcements BEFORE they happen so that we can reinforce the message locally. Demand Better could’ve have resulted in lots of local stories in local press and Focus.
    However, it’s the leadership issue is the one that worries me most. Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t sit in the House of Commons so the theory is fine. When Nick Clegg stepped down I said that it was unfortunate because we had very few candidates to choose from. We had a few more to choose from when Tim stood down but still a limited field.
    I would like to see a rule which was, ‘In the event of a leadership election being called and the party has fewer than (say) 50 MPs then non-MP members will be eligible to stand. In the event of a non-MP being elected Leader, the Deputy Leader must be an MP and will lead the party in the House of Commons.’
    If our long term aim is to secure power we must have a procedure in place to handle eventualities. When we get back to having 50+ MPs I’m sure the Leader who gets us there will have little difficulty in finding a seat which will get her (or him) there.

  • Neil Sandison 10th Sep '18 - 9:03am

    Well done Iain and Sue .This does make a lot of sense and does not undermine the principle of one member one vote which is the bedrock of this party ,linked to the presidency it could enable this associated organisation of supporters to be consultees on policy and other structural changes we may or may not wish to make without undermining the core priniciple and values of the Liberal Democrats as a party of equals and not a leadership fan club .

  • Peter Hirst 11th Sep '18 - 8:16pm

    What a great idea. By forming an AO, we would give supporters an independent voice. The size of it is of some concern. It could have its own rules and elect officers just like our constituencies. However, its sole purpose would be to assist the Party and there would need to be some oversight that it kept to this. What we did if it didn’t is also not certain to me at least.

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