Do we need to be careful about “Liberal Drinks”?

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I wonder if anyone has had a think about “Liberal Drinks” and, in particular, about the impact of meeting up over drinks (or, these days, “virtual drinks”). Is it possible that this puts off some people from becoming more involved in the party?

Of course, “drinks” can mean non-alcoholic drinks. But the implication is that “drinks” means alcoholic drinks. This is underlined by such events normally being in pubs.

I’m not asking for such events to be curtailed.

But perhaps thought should be given to those who don’t drink alcohol.

There are many people who don’t feel comfortable with alcohol, and/or with being in an environment where it is drunk.

There are many people whose religion either forbids or discourages the consumption of alcohol.

There are recovering alcoholics, or those who have a family history of alcoholism. Perhaps they feel uncomfortable meeting in a pub over drinks?

Perhaps we should be seeking to balance our events in favour of such people, in order to widen the appeal of our party?

For example, could having an occasional “Liberal Meet-up” in a café help this balance?

Please try not to use the phrase “political correctness gone mad” in the comments.

Trying to be considerate, polite and inclusive is not political correctness. It is good manners and openness.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is currently taking a break from his role as one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Very true, and something that many local parties are well aware of, going back decades (certainly when I was a local party Chair in an inner London borough with a high muslim population).

    As ever, the answer is to mix it up: don’t just have one kind of social activity but a range – different kinds of events, different times of day etc. We’re Liberals so we believe in diversity rather than one-size fits all!

  • Most Lib Dem activists wear a variety of hats, which has to be good for our politics. Most credible politicians have their own hinterlands. I happen to be the most active CAMRA member on Bradford Council and a Methodist. As in many urban areas these days, teetotalism is represented more by Muslims than Methodists in the city. But I am content to have our church buildings remain alcohol-free zones. We have plenty of good pubs which deserve support for that dimension of our lives. Church weddings can easily be followed by the use of suitable alternative venues and there are political parallels to this. A diversity of potential venues for political events is good and sensitivity should be the name of the game.

  • Chris Bertram 28th Apr '20 - 10:53am

    Hmm, I’ve yet to find a pub that doesn’t serve soft drinks and fruit juices, and many will also do a decent cup of tea or coffee these days. Pubs are convenient because they have rooms that are suitable for social gatherings – but perhaps asking for a side room that doesn’t actually have a bar in it might be an option? IME cafés are less geared up in general for that sort of thing.

  • When I joined the SDP in 1986, we met in a room at a local hotel. We got the room free in exchange for supporting the bar. Everyone would drink what they wanted. It was also where I met my wife, even though we divorced in 2008.
    When the Alliance was agreed, we would meet the Trowbridge Liberals and they referred to us as The Social Drinking Party.
    That memory still makes me smile as we went on go take the Town and District Councils. I am always of the opinion that you get good ideas in a neutral environment and have a drink or 2.
    Equally, now we hold a variety of social events and it doesn’t always involve alcohol. The decision is that of the individual. No one forces anyone to drink alcohol any more than anyone forces anyone to eat a meat sandwich or a vegetarian/vegan one.
    Let’s just be Liberal and accept everyone’s right of choice and try to cater for as many as possible.

    PS. I suppose I should declare I am a card holding member of CAMRA as I support their aims.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 28th Apr '20 - 12:10pm

    I agree. Its true that you can get soft drinks at a pub, but many people do prefer to avoid pubs altogether. If our social events are mainly at pubs, this is likely to exclude Muslims, and others whose religion forbids alcoholic drinks.
    Also, as you mention, recovering alcoholics need to avoid any situation in which alcohol is being consumed.
    Social events at a cafe are far more inclusive, and tend to make for a more pleasant atmosphere.

  • James Moore 28th Apr '20 - 2:45pm

    We hold both Liberal Drinks and Liber-Tea events so people can choose their own adventure 🙂 It’s important to have a varied social calendar. Both cafes and pubs are often vital community hubs and should be supported.

  • Nicole van Lieverloo 28th Apr '20 - 3:17pm

    Short answer: yes! When I was living in Kent the local chapter had a monthly pint night.
    I wasn’t offended by that but I had to drive to the hosting pub and wouldn’t be able to drink. Furthermore if you’re having a political get together why do you want to call it after an alcoholic drink which most of us will not drink? Why not discussion night or after whoever is guest speaker or whatever the meeting is going to be about?

  • Paul Holmes 28th Apr '20 - 3:44pm

    On the other hand I have a strong averse reaction to paying over the odds for ‘fashionable’ coffee with or without froth and sprinkles. Neither can you have a free and frank ‘political’ discussion in a cafe -unless you have booked it for exclusive use. It is on the other hand fairly easy to find pubs that will provide a free private room on the basis that they get extra customers at the bar (where coffee etc is often available too).

    For most of my life, squeezed between family, work and politics, my free social time was at a premium so I have always much preferred social events that included decent Real Ale or Wine as well as political discussion. That is less of a problem now I no longer work full time and my children are all adults but I still prefer good beer/wine to expensive (but not necessarily great) coffee I’m afraid.

    We have experimented with coffee and politics recently but with few takers. Also, way back in the 1980’s we had a PPC who moved up north from Devon where ‘house meetings’ with coffee and cake were a big thing. They were more or less a complete flop here though.

    As others have suggested its ‘horses for courses’.

    PS If you are holding an event with a visiting speaker you absolutely need a private room/venue. I have been to one or two very difficult events over the years (both as speaker and attendee) where the speaker had to compete with background noise in a public room and where people couldn’t speak frankly because they had no idea who might be sat at other tables in the Pub/Restaurant.

  • Sue Sutherland 28th Apr '20 - 4:04pm

    Let’s have variety so people can choose which event to attend. Liberteas can be successful. I agree with Catherine that people dealing with alcoholism shouldn’t be put in a situation of temptation and a meeting in a pub is exactly that.

  • Excellent piece. Not I’m not teetotal, but I fully endorse stopping liberal drinks as official approach, it is non inclusive and sends wrong message. Supporting local pubs is important but should we in 2020 really be trying to engage new members through alcohol and in a venue many feel uncomfortable for variety of reasons?For me focus on cafe or tea rooms and leave the pub visits to ad hoc trip with those who are comfortable there.

  • Ann-Marie Barker 28th Apr '20 - 7:56pm

    A mix of events is important and you often need to try a new style of event a number of times before they take off. One of the reasons pubs work so well is because they are open into the evening. In most area there are few cafes that open at night. I would like to get away from Lib Dem Pint which definitely implies alcohol more than Liberal Drinks.

  • @Stephen Howse “If you’re worried about getting too drunk and making a fool of yourself, stick to Coke.”

    I’m led to believe Coke makes you self important and boring; two qualities any party meeting already has in sufficient quantities, without needing to be amplified 😉

  • Richard Underhill 29th Apr '20 - 11:16am

    Low alcohol cider is available from my nearest supermarket. They also employ staff aged under 18 at their tills, causing slight delays while an adult supervisor arrives to approve the purchase. I joke that I am over 18, but get few laughs. My grey hair is an hereditary trait. My father used to say that he went grey in the year that he got married, which was 1940. He was in the RAF.

  • Kieran Seale 29th Apr '20 - 11:34am

    Totally agree Paul. It is enough that some people are uncomfortable by describing things in this way. But there are also the much bigger problem of people who are struggling with alcohol as a result of isolation and then the terrible problem of domestic violence associated with people drinking more. People should never be put in the position where they feel they have to drink alcohol to fit in.

  • Moyra Forrest 1st May '20 - 11:12am

    Edinburgh North East and Leith have been enjoying Lib. Dem. Pastries in local cafes for a few years now, thanks to the sterling work of our then Membership Secretary [and now Convenor] Elaine Ford. These have now moved online, courtesy of Vita Zaporozcenko’s skill with Zoom. During lockdown Elaine and Vita are providing a friendly and welcoming gathering every Saturday morning – much appreciated!

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