Christine Jardine MP writes….Let’s invite people in who want to help us build a movement

It was when Charles Kennedy was standing to be leader that I found it most frustrating not to be a member.

I had supported the Liberal Democrats since I was old enough to vote.

Here was a man whose political ideals epitomised what I believed in and I desperately wanted him to leader.

But I couldn’t do anything to help him, or support the party.

I was a journalist. I worked for the BBC, often covered politics and, throughout my career, my impartiality had to be transparent.

When I was eventually able to join the party it was at a point in my career where I had moved away from reporting.

It still took some time to persuade my husband that there would be a professional life after joining and, significantly, that it would not damage his career or reflect on him.

If only there had been a supporters scheme then I could have been involved, voted for the leader and done my bit to help without jeopardising my livelihood.

And I was not alone in that.

I remember losing an active, and effective campaigner, in the highlands because he was promoted and his new role was politically restricted.

A successful former campaign organiser who joined the party as a teenager is now no longer able to contribute. Again his job is restricted.

And several committed members of Liberal Youth who helped get those of us in parliament elected can no longer be members.

These are all people who could easily, and happily, be supporters if that door were opened to them.

And then there are the people out there looking for a political home.

They like what we have to say, they want to help but maybe cannot afford full membership or are either wary or restricted from membership.

Surely we want to make it easier for them?

I have heard the arguments against.

But what if they aren’t really Liberal Democrats?

How do we know they share our views?

What about entryism?

I’m afraid that, while I understand why some people are concerned, those are arguments that I don’t accept.

After all how do we know that anyone joining us actually shares our views?

And if we take the argument to its logical conclusion we would never admit any new members but restrict the party to a small private club of approved members.

Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous but we need to be careful not to give that impression.

Instead let’s invite people in who want to help us build a movement.

Let’s reach out to people out there who feel, like I did all those years ago, that here is a party they want to succeed.

A party they want to help win.

If you want to find out more about the details of the scheme, go here.

* Christine Jardine is MP for Edinburgh West and spokesperson for Women & Equalities, Scotland and the Cabinet Office, which includes political and constitutional reform.

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  • James Baillie 25th Feb '19 - 5:22pm

    I find the suggestion that in a role where people’s “impartiality has to be transparent”, it would somehow be OK to be a registered supporter of a political party and, if certain people get their way, get a vote for the leader of that party, to be a very strange one. Would we really shrug it off and declare it didn’t affect their partiality if it was discovered that someone in a senior politically restricted role was registered in a similar scheme with one of our opponents?

    This “we can use it to get around political restriction rules” thing doesn’t feel like one of the stronger arguments for a supporter scheme that I’ve heard. Certainly I think that if we’re intending to market the supporter scheme to those who are politically restricted, then we absolutely can’t combine that with supporters being able to vote for leader. Political restrictions in jobs generally exist for good reason and we of all parties shouldn’t be encouraging circumvention of them.

  • John Marriott 25th Feb '19 - 6:21pm

    Now I don’t want to rain on your parade, Ms Jardine, but I’m not really sure who should be doing the reaching out. The Lib Dems have had plenty of time to gain traction; but have been stuck stubbornly in single figures in most opinion polls for quite a while. It could be that this is where a purely liberal party actually belongs (whatever ‘liberal’ is). I ‘d like to think I’m wrong.

    However, ‘liberals’ should be big enough to play their part in the unscrambling of party politics here. If they choose to take their bat and ball home and just keep trying to convince themselves that only they have the answer, then they will continue to be disappointed.

  • nigel hunter 25th Feb '19 - 6:28pm

    Is their a social housing supporters scheme that Council house tenants can belong. How can this supporters scheme be sold to them?. Their is enormous potential in this area for support. I hear a lot about ‘broad churches’ this is a way we could reach out to others.

  • I don’t understand the premise of this article. Political Restriction doesn’t usually prevent passive membership of a political party. It does ban standing as a candidate, being an officer of a party, or campaigning. For example see: for local government or for the BBC.

    So in Christine’s examples, those lost campaigners still won’t be able to campaign if they are registered supporters, and there is nothing stopping them from continuing to be members.

    Political Restriction of some jobs is not an argument in favour of a registered supporters scheme.

  • Richard O'Neill 25th Feb '19 - 10:11pm

    Agree with comments above. My parents are a civil servant and soldier respectively. Both have strong views, but for very good liberal reasons they should not get involved with public politics.

    Also, Lib Dem membership has mushroomed in recent years. Generally people committed to a party should be encouraged to join. This whole campaign may go wrong either a) because nobody signs up or b) organised groups with no basic loyalty to the party do.

  • David Becket 25th Feb '19 - 11:26pm

    TIGgers will be creating a movement, and there is not room for two. We need better promotion of our party to attract more members.

  • Nom de Plume 26th Feb '19 - 5:37am

    Promotion, yes. Proposed scheme, no. Membership is a supporters registration scheme. The proposed scheme is unnecessary and open to abuse. TIGgers might be paper tigers.

  • Lawrence Fullick 26th Feb '19 - 9:47am

    I urge conference delegates to reject the supporters’ scheme. Why create what is effectively a second class of membership. Do not dilute the membership system and give voting rights to people about whom local memers may know little. Will the supporters be verified in the way we are supposed to verify members?

  • Peter Hirst 26th Feb '19 - 1:14pm

    Let’s be clear; we’re going to be competing with the new TIG for votes and support as long as they exist. On the one hand we want to cooperate and on the other we must face political reality. We must draw up some clear distinctions to attract and retain members.

  • Mrs Rita Watson 26th Feb '19 - 3:25pm

    Supporters have always been welcome to our meetings, and encouraged to contribute with ideas and opinions. But if you want to vote for the leader, you join the party. You pay what you can, most local parties have schemes to help; if you are restricted, you do not campaign, but you can still be a member.

  • This article starts from an erroneous point.

    The current BBC rules (as posted above) don’t prevent inactive membership. They do prevent active partisan involvement – and that would be the case whether you were a member, registered supporter or nothing.

    Nothing stopped Christine joining the LIb Dems to vote for Charles in 1999. It was her employers rules that stopped her openly campaigning for him. Absolutely nothing to do with the party rules.

    It is simply false to claim – as Christine does:
    “If only there had been a supporters scheme then I could have been involved, voted for the leader and done my bit to help without jeopardising my livelihood.”

    She couldn’t. The BBC rules are quite clear on that (though I am assuming they were the same at the time but that seems probable)

    Political restriction in local government (which may be different in Scotland) also doesn’t prohibit party membership. Just open political involvement – which again would cover activity by non-members. There is case law on that which would probably apply to most other ‘political restrictions’ though some employers may reasonably apply such a restriction (eg Mark LIttlewood had to resign from the party to take up his role at IEA – but he was in a very senior role)

    Such situations are though rather rare. Given the apparent inaccuracy of her other assertions it would be good to know what the circumstances are for:
    “And several committed members of Liberal Youth who helped get those of us in parliament elected can no longer be members.”

    Having a supporters scheme wouldn’t be a loophole in those restrictions that magically allow people to get round the law or their contracts. Restrictions on public activity are substantially more common (and sustainable in human rights terms) than ones on membership.

    So what is this article actually trying to acheive?

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