Brave New World – How the Liberal Democrats must use multipotentialism to survive

Political parties and their structures developed from the transformation of society in the nineteenth century, and as such are based along the structured hierarchies of the factory floor. While the factory was perfected to make a product it stripped away identity, with workers being components in the machines they worked. While such certainties have given both Labour and the Conservatives strength by dominating their position within this system, they are also trapped by the very system that gives them that strength. To use another industrial analogy; while their parties are huge and powerful locomotives, they are confined to the tracks they roll upon.

But we no longer live in an industrial age. Instead we grapple with complex, multi-dimensional problems of a post-industrial interconnected world. Hierarchical structures in business and industry have been replaced by networks that constantly evolve and reshape themselves to meet the needs of the world around them. In order to deal with the issues that face us as a nation and as a society we need creative, out-of-the-box thinking – something the Liberal Democrat Party used to be famed for.

If the Liberal Democrats are to survive as a party then it must move its practices into a new age based on three key principles of polymathic, multipotentialist evolution rather than on linear process:

Broad-based policy deliberation

Our local parties are made up of people from a variety of different backgrounds and professions whose outlooks and practices need to be utilised. Through using a combination of different skills to produce new ways of thinking, new concepts and approaches can develop at the intersections of where skills and knowledge overlap. While such concepts are not new they must go much further than before. Working groups on a massive range of policies and topics need to be created (the ‘networks’ of the party) and while headed by a specialist/expert they should be filled with a broad range of contributors – from archaeologists to physiotherapists to violin makers – rather than purely by those with a background in the subject of discussion.


While everyone has their own strengths it is important that people can (and are shown how to) adapt to new and changing situations in order to fill ‘gaps’ in skills and knowledge that need to be filled. We need to be flexible in our approaches in order to help as many people as possible and be prepared to learn a whole variety of new skills in order to shift focus and resources to where they are needed the most. This needs to happen throughout the entire organisation, from HQ to small local parties, if we are going to maximise the effectiveness and efficiency of the party’s now limited resources. For example, while once there was a Membership Officer that dealt purely with membership issues, there should be a Membership Officer that oversees a group brought together to assist in a specific membership drive etc before those members are reallocated to other groups as needed.

Rapid Knowledge Dissemination

While there are already systems in place for spreading ideas on campaigning tactics and general information (such as the ALDC and on various social media forums) this needs to be expanded and intensified. As stated above we need to make sure members are constantly learning new skills in order for them to assist in any area that is needed. New ideas, campaigning techniques and their results need to be shared, adapted, reviewed and reformatted constantly in order to allow us to keep pace with the shifting demands of peoples’ lives.

The greatest strengths of the Liberal Democrats are our ability to debate and discuss new ideas and to experiment in finding new ways to help people in our communities, to push forward with new ideas and new ways of thinking. We are not confined to the hierarchical structures that the two main parties are so dependent on and so we have the opportunity to be bold and dynamic. Let’s be brave.


* Ian Thomas is the pseudonym for a party member. His identity is known to the Lib Dem Voice editorial team.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Thomas Shakespeare 28th Dec '15 - 6:51pm

    Great ideas Alex. In relation to your last point I think we need a clear ‘script’ of suggestions for explaining what liberalism is. After all it’s more of a complex explanation than ‘ I’m a Tory and I believe in a strong economy’ or ‘I’m Labour and I think we need more socially beneficial policies’. We need a clear answer to the question “but what do the Lib Dems stand for?”, especially as we lost some of our identity in coalition.

  • “If the Liberal Democrats are to survive as a party then it must move its practices into a new age based on three key principles of polymathic, multipotentialist evolution rather than on linear process”:

    Yes – I can see how that will help you connect to the man in the street.

  • There’s a prize for the first person to get the full gist of all that into a 50 word focus leaflet.

    Wot do we want….multipotentialism…. when do we want it ?

    We want it now…………………..

    Err…. isn’t it multipotentiality ?

  • Tony Dawson 28th Dec '15 - 8:32pm

    @Thomas Shakespeare

    ” We need a clear answer to the question “but what do the Lib Dems stand for?”

    Not a problem I have ever encountered.

  • Just to say that this is an excersise in political theory and not Focus material lol

  • Tony Dawson 29th Dec '15 - 1:16pm

    @Alex H:

    “Just to say that this is an exersise in political theory and not Focus material”

    I would suggest it is neither.

    Liberal Democrats need to engage with electorates in a Liberal and Democratic manner in order to not only survive but to prosper. The fact that for the past six years neither our parliamentary leadership nor 90-odd percent of our Local Parties did this is not a reasonable excuse for more navel-gazing.

  • Bill le Breton 29th Dec '15 - 1:53pm

    This is the best piece of thinking that I’ve encountered since May.

    My one question would be ‘why an HQ’? Or what is the smallest HQ imaginable? Certainly why national committees?

    I hope Alex is willing and able to develop his ideas further.

  • Matt (Bristol) 29th Dec '15 - 3:39pm

    Let’s say this short piece bamce a manifesto for a politicval movement, or at least, what we currently call the ‘party’ over the next few years.

    If the plural, diverse, creative, eclectic thinking it sketches out were to be followed through, at what point would one federal party become a federation of parties, and would (and why would) those parties necessarily be based on geography?

  • Matt (Bristol) 29th Dec '15 - 3:41pm

    David, Raw, (if Alex H doesn’t mind) to create a buzzword (OK, maybe based on last-decade technology) around the complex idea of ‘multipotentiality’ — how about ‘wikipolitics’?

  • Bill le Breton 29th Dec '15 - 6:14pm

    Alex – a mail box, yes.

    The party was best when from 1980 onwards it was characteristically nomadic.

    What centre it had was ‘decentered’ around Hebden Bridge.

    I am not sure we should surrender to the ‘Westminster based’ politics.

    a) we wont win there and b) that is not where things are actually happening now, nor in the future.

    The old politics clings to such a belief, but actually it is not working,is it?

    The vacancy gets filled with what some people call ‘identity politics’ and we have to but the total opposite.

    The whole trend of the last 10 years has been to move away from physical places to virtual ones.

    Our weakness in Westminster, Brussels, Edinburgh, Cardiff could be a virtue. It was in the 70s and 80s when Young Liberal pioneers built a new politics. And they chose deliberately to by-pass the party structures where ever they encountered them.

    Our major influence on the lives and liberties of people will not be achieved through the present centralized structures.

    Our structures must become provisional. When we help people take and use power that is what happens.

    What we have been doing since 2007 is taking power and imposing the ideas of an elite.

    Without a more imaginative approach the rejection of the elites will facilitate the passing of power to demagogues.

    Political activity without the ‘factory’ structures you allude to in your piece must rely on social media and must therefore follow the grain on the types of involvement created in that environment, in that medium.

  • Paul In Wokingham 31st Dec '15 - 9:42am


    Delivering the UCLA economics faculty commencement speech in 2012, Dr. Michael Burry (the same person as in Michael Lewis’ book “The Big Short” a film version of which is coming to cinemas in January) said to the new graduate class: “Information swarms us, it comforts us, it disrupts us. It’s an age of infinite distraction for those so willing. You are the generation that has had instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and Angry Birds nagging your fingertips at every moment.”

    Talking about the political turmoil engulfing the Eurozone periphery at that moment, Burry commented: “When the entitled elect themselves, the party accelerates, the brutal hangover is inevitable.”

    These trenchant observations underpin an existential crisis that is facing not only the Liberal Democrats, but also Labour and even the Conservatives.

    The way in which people consume information is changing so rapidly – will hard-print newspapers and broadcast TV as we know them even exist in 10 years time?

    The relationship of people to the self-electing “entitled” is changing so rapidly- we see surging support in Europe and the USA for those on both left and right that promise change, whatever that means.

    And in particular the relationship of young people to the state is changing so rapidly – we oldies exchanged long-term risk for short-term benefit, which Burry describes as “the gospel of drunk drivers and cheating spouses”, and it is the young, for whom home ownership, job security and pension security seem like fantasy, who must pay for the party their parents enjoyed.

    How does a political party of the old consensus survive? I don’t know. Does it deserve to? I don’t know that either.

  • Bill le Breton 2nd Jan '16 - 9:14am

    Paul, a fantastically articulate contribution … and a conclusion very similar to mine. Let’s hope in 2016 things get a little clearer.

  • Bill le Breton 2nd Jan '16 - 10:28am

    Alex H, Paul in W and any other members interested in developing ideas for a totally new politics that respond to the new age we are living in might wish to contribute to a thread I have created in the members forum.

    Just follow this path:

    You won’t find an answer there, just a blank piece of paper on which to sketch ideas.

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