Author Archives: Anonymous Young Liberal

What the Thornhill report should mean for Young Liberals

Many have rightly heralded the party’s open and honest attempt to understand our defeat as a gamechanger for the Lib Dems. This is a chance to address not just the damp, but the dry-rot and subsidence too. In the spirit of Dorothy Thornhill, I think it’s time we addressed all of the party’s structural problems. The report repeatedly and rightly mentioned the need for greater BAME involvement in the party, which is holding back our ability to win seats and appeal to a broader base of liberally-minded people. We are also being held back, however, by an absence of young people in the party.

In statistical terms, the Lib Dems are quite a young party; as of 2018, 27% of our members were between the ages of 18-39. If you look at the 18-24 age-range, which is when most young people who go to university will do so, only 6% of our party come from this group, relative to almost twice that in the population at large. Considering how many of our target seats have universities in them, there is huge opportunity for growth here. We do have a relatively young membership compared to Labour and the Conservatives. But this is like being the tallest penguin: our party is still overwhelmingly reliant on older, experienced, members who are dwindling in number. Unless young members stay within the party, we risk brain-drain to the two larger parties amongst ambitious young liberals. Unless we can recruit and maintain a cadre of young members who become integrated into party structures, we risk losing institutional memory whilst also campaigning with methods stuck in the past. The view that we can win in the 2020s with the same methods that won the by-elections of the ‘90s is beyond delusional. Young liberals are vital to future campaigns, and not just doing the grunt work.

Young Liberals should offer a natural recruitment ground in the party for such talent, and it should be a place where young members can gather experience of how to run serious campaigns effectively. But too often it falls short; irrelevant to the lives of most young members, YL is the preserve of a small clique of insiders. YL needs major reform; too few branches are learning best practice from each other about how to grow, too many positions go uncontested, or contested by the same old faces. Turnout in YL elections is shockingly low, when turnout is published at all. The Chair of Welsh Young Liberals was elected with 13 votes. 7 positions on the federal executive went uncontested last election season, other positions are vacant. The atmosphere inside YL, including the shutting down of the infamous Chatbox, certainly coheres with what many were saying in the Thornhill report: we’re quick to criticise each other and the party, and slow to encourage one another. YL at the moment is not fit for purpose; how will it make a credible case that it should keep its seat on Federal Board, whilst it continues to spend so much money on its conferences, and so little on developing branches and winning campaigns?

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