Campaign Corner: How can we talk more policy?

The Campaign Corner series looks to give three tips about commonly asked campaign issues. Do get in touch if you have any questions you would like to suggest.

Today’s Campaign Corner question: A strange question perhaps, but we seem to spend all the time in my local party talking about campaigning and never about policy. Maybe that didn’t matter in opposition, but it certainly matters in government! How can we get a better balance?

A very good question! It’s important both because in government knowing what our policies are and why is much more relevant day-to-day, and also because it is policy that interests many people in the party in the first place. If you don’t talk policy you miss out on chances to get more people interested and involved. Here, then, are three suggestions:

1. Set-up a Lib Dem book club: I’ve just done this with Dawn Barnes and others in London. We are taking the pace slowly – picking short books or parts of longer books and meeting every other month – so that busy activists can take part. If it is a cross-local party book club, then it is also a good way to foster links with neighbouring parties. If you want a pair of books to start off with, how about The Orange Book and the response to it, Reinventing the State (at least when it is available at decent second-hand prices)?

2. Run Pizza and Politics evenings: invite a guest speaker, order in some pizza and talk politics. These are particularly popular in the run-up to the party’s two federal conferences each year. Many local parties now have an appetising schedule all through the year.

3. Make sure your members and helpers know about Lib Dem Voice and Lib Dem Blogs: policy news and debates often feature heavily on both, making them a great way for people to both be informed and to debate.

Got any other tips? Please do share them in the comment thread below.

Want to know more about local campaigning? Campaigning In Your Community by myself and Shaun Roberts should be right up your street. It’s available for only £4 from ALDC and you can read an extract for free here.

 

* Mark Pack is Party President and is the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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2 Comments

  • Jonathan Hunt 26th Mar '12 - 5:49pm

    Grassroutes to Government is in the process of being established with this as one of its main aims.

    We believe the party and its activists has become more remote from the leadership, and Grassroutes to Government wishes to reverse this process and ensure that ordinary members all over the country have the opportunity to make their views known to the leadership and ministers.

    It is seeking ways in which members can give their thoughts on policy, as well as strategy and campaigning.

    Watch one of these spaces for more information.

  • Simon Titley 26th Mar '12 - 9:41pm

    Mark Pack is right to ask this question. But the fact that it needs asking at all is a sad indictment of the party. If there is a significant number of members who never discuss policy, it shows the extent to which politics has been hollowed out and emptied of meaning.

    Mark’s advice is therefore useful but will remain only a palliative unless we understand the root causes of this problem.

    It is a problem common to British politics and not unique to the Liberal Democrats. The alleged ‘end of history’ (when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989) led many to assume that all the basic political questions had been settled for good. Politics could therefore be reduced to a question of efficient management and marketing. Instead of leading public opinion, politicians began to follow public opinion and competed with one another to agree with whatever the polls and focus groups said. Hence mainstream politicians converged on the same ‘centre ground’ and sounded more and more alike. Far from mollifying public opinion, however, this trend has alienated the public still further, who see less reason to vote when whoever gets elected follows similar policies. No wonder the media represent Westminster politics in terms of personality clashes, because that’s what politics is reduced to when politicians fail to offer genuine alternatives.

    But the Liberal Democrats added some ingredients of their own. Following the creation of the party in 1988, the leadership was terrified that the merger might unravel, so any serious ideological or policy discussion was discouraged, and conference debates were reduced to bland ‘take it or leave it’ debates on green papers. To make matters worse, successive party leaders surrounded themselves with kitchen cabinets of people who thought politics was all about manoeuvring and positioning. At the grassroots, meanwhile, community politics had mutated into little more than an electoral technique, and the party was rightly lampooned as a ‘leaflet delivery cult’.

    So if we want to revitalise political thinking and discussion in the party, Mark Pack’s suggestions are necessary but not sufficient. What this problem really demands is a culture change. We need to develop and offer a distinct alternative instead of trying to blend in with the scenery. We need to think more about how we can make the Liberal cause something that will enthuse and motivate people, and worry less about toning down everything to avoid causing controversy or offence. We need to kill the anti-intellectual culture that prizes brawn over brain. And people in positions of leadership (whether MPs, PPCs, council group leaders or local party officers) need to set a good example by regularly discussing political ideas instead of talking only about Risographs and delivery rounds.

    After all, the whole purpose of being involved in politics is, well, politics. And politics is basically about making moral choices. So if we want to win power to make those choices, we need some coherent ideas of what we want to do, and the membership needs to be fully engaged in that intellectual process.

    I therefore suggest we start a new party faction: the Campaign for Real Politics.

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