“Don’t forget the congregation…”

As a long time supporter of the party, through good times and bad, I was, like thousands of others, finally spurred to join the party on 8 May 2015. My contact with the party had, until this point, been limited to the odd email initiated by donations made during the 2011 and 2014 referenda. The tone of these communications was correctly pitched and gave potential and actual supporters plenty of good reasons to lend the party their vote – I can’t say the same about the (particularly electronic) communication with party members.

Confession time; I haven’t been at all active since joining the party, a dissertation followed by a change in job and relocation to a different part of the country interfered and I never found the time to engage with the ‘Lib Dem Pint’ or attend the meetings that I am assiduously contacted about. Given the more recent membership surge post Brexit I am sure there will be many others in a similar position. Now settled in my new home, and given the dire state of 2016 politics I am keen to become an active member, and probably will, but I am finding little in the communications sent to members (as opposed to potential supporters) that supportive but detached members can get excited about.

Winning elections is clearly of huge importance to the party and the membership is a massive asset rightly targeted to spread the Liberal Democrat message, and help bank the election wins necessary in order to implement Liberal Democrat policies to change people’s lives. The tone of the communications I have received of late though feed an unfair and wrong impression that the party just cares about winning elections.

For supportive, but detached members like myself where, in the six emails I have received this week, is the vision that will motivate me to get out and knock on the doors, pick up the phone or become active in the party, or even help me persuade my colleagues and friends to lend us their vote? The content of these emails has been incredibly focused on statistics (election wins, gains, swings, numbers of doors knocked), grants for campaigns and pleas for donations.

This is not necessarily a plea for sermons aimed at the choir, but instead for them to be directed at the loyal congregation.

* Pete Shallcross is a party member and a Business Analyst from Cardiff

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24 Comments

  • Jayne Mansfield 16th Nov '16 - 3:14pm

    @ Peter,
    I wish as I could say something to cheer you up. Instead, my over-riding thought concerns the response Tim Farron might have received had he used the religious references that you use.

    Its that bad.

  • Peter Watson 16th Nov '16 - 3:32pm

    “where … is the vision that will motivate me”
    Obviously it’s oppose Brexit and … errm, some other stuff probably.

  • David Evershed 16th Nov '16 - 4:13pm

    Promote Liberal values, freedom in its many guises such as free schooling, free health treatment, free markets, free trade, free speech, freedom to practice your own religion, freedom from state interference – all as far as is sensible.

    But if you don’t like what is being communicated get more involved in your local party and draft some communications for them to use. Join your local party Executive Committee.

  • I think David is right. If you sit back and wait for the party to come to you, it will be a long wait. Get out there, call the local Chair three times a week until he/she gives you something to do (or reports you to the police for stalking).

  • Peter Shallcross 16th Nov '16 - 7:50pm

    @ David & Chris, I entirely agree that I should get engaged, and definitely will. My view is simply that as an, until now, disengaged member the messaging I’m receiving from the party is not particularly inspiring. More of a focus on policy and less on election stats in emails to members is all I’m suggesting.

  • Clare Brown 16th Nov '16 - 9:22pm

    Get in touch with your local party and ask for their support to help you set up something to fill the gap you have identified. For example you could organise a Lib Dem Pint (or Social), or a Pizza and Politics evening, or a ‘learn how to phone bank’ session, or a ‘want to get involved but don’t know how’ event!
    All you need is a few tips from the local party to get you started and maybe a promise of a speaker or two. Find a venue, set up a Facebook event and see what happens!
    Elections are of course very important but so is feeling that you are part of a supportive network of Lib Dems. I’m sure your local party would welcome your input with open arms.
    Have fun!

  • Rosie Walker 17th Nov '16 - 9:38am

    Looks like you have done something, you’ve joined and you’ve written this post 🙂
    I am a very new member, am attending local AGM tomorrow to get started with getting started!

  • Adrian Collett 17th Nov '16 - 10:56am

    Peter is absolutely right. We don’t get our values across often enough in our communications. People may look at us and agree with our stance on particular issues, but how many people are really able to understand exactly what we stand for – what Liberalism is.

    If we were getting this right then I believe that many more people would be flocking to join us and to get involved, maybe in many cases instead of joining Momentum, the Greens or single issue groups. Seem to me that this is the real point of Peter’s posting.

  • David Garlick 17th Nov '16 - 11:19am

    Whilst I agree with all of the ways to get involved and the encouragement to do so it seems to me as a member of many decades that what we are lacking is the inspirational vision of what the future should or could look like. In order to give members new and old the passion to fight and win elections to deliver ‘it’ is not going to be found by illuminating our values (good as they are) but by tapping in to the mood of the voter and the non voter. To then use that to blend it with our values and experience to bring forward a new vision or new contract to deliver a future where globalisation is controlled by Governments not by big business, where ‘local’ is taken full account of and cherished and where short term political advantage does not threaten the destruction of our planet home and our future.

  • Just go along to the LibDem pint and meet local activists, if that doesn’t get you going …..and do you want to be an armchair commentator? I don’t think you do…. so just get out there, reservations and all..

  • Pete, Peter Watson, Adrian – exactly right, all of you!

    Pete – I gave up on my local party during my second maternity leave. The “baby” was eight years old before anyone from the local party knocked on my door again and I had been the parliamentary candidate!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Christopher Clayton 17th Nov '16 - 12:43pm

    Peter Shallcross and Adrian Collett are right. Too much of what is put out and about is at the level of a football supporters’ club, urging the orange team to victory. It is vacuous and uninspiring. And no, blind support for a desire to remain in the EU is not an effective substitute for a clear identification of general values and principles from which the nitty-gritty of policies spring – in some ways at least, the EU represents bureaucratic, unresponsive, top-down, self-serving procedures which should be anathema to Liberal (note the capital L – not always the same as “liberal”) values. (And yes, I did nevertheless vote and campaign to remain.) We need leadership which identifies what it means to be a Liberal, values -which do draw from religious / spiritual values- underpinned with intellectual coherence and clarity, transformative of individuals and communities, a challenge to all vested interests and smug, bureaucratic, unresponsive, unaccountable managerialist complacency. In short, we need a Jo Grimond.

  • Peter, you are right. We get involved in politics because we care about the issues and most of us have very clear policy positions. But we find that our actual lives within the party are focused on winning elections. While it is no good just being a debating society, neither is there any point in winning power if you have no real idea what you are going to do with it ? Our party claims to have a democratic policy making process, but in practice few of us have any access to the policy making process (which is why LDV is such a wonderful institution !).
    The party should offer members vigorous and challenging debate (and not just a couple of times a year at conferences that take up too much time and money for most members) which will then enthuse us to take the message out on the street.

  • Sue Sutherland 17th Nov '16 - 1:21pm

    Mmmmm. I think several of the comments here could be taken as ” we’re not going to change so you’ll have to”, but Pete is making a clear appeal for us to motivate new members, when we all tend to think if you join us we must have motivated you already. Unfortunately as a small party we do get tied up in campaigning rather than talking about our vision with other Lib Dems and at the moment the party has just had the Witney by election and is now heavily engaged with trying to win back the Richmond Park seat. If we can do this our public profile will be much enhanced and the media will take much more notice of us and that in turn will help us win back seats, both local and national, that we used to hold and also some new ones. So if you contact your local party there may be a group of people with a space in their car to go to Richmond this weekend. I think Tim Farron was the only person to put some passion into the Referendum campaign and if you value openness and diversity and equality of opportunity it would be well worth while joining the fight against Goldsmith who is a Brexiteer.
    On the other hand, you’re a business analyst, so you may find a role on one of the Policy committees that are being set up, or on one of the federal groups that run the party, which also has to act as a business, of course, or you could maybe contact a member of the new Federal exec to offer your ideas on how to engage new members.
    The party has also been looking at its vision and a grass roots group has been collecting comments for a document called Lib Dem vision. They may well welcome some help. Hopefully all this information will be on the website.
    Good luck. When I joined in 1986 it took me 3 phone calls before anyone got back to me about how I could help. I subsequently became Leader of our group on the Council and later Chair of Housing. Obviously from all the comments you have to be very determined to be a Lib Dem…. but then we all already knew that didn’t we?

  • @David
    “…………what we are lacking is the inspirational vision of what the future should or could look like. In order to give members new and old the passion to fight and win elections to deliver ‘it’ is not going to be found by illuminating our values (good as they are) but by tapping in to the mood of the voter and the non voter. To then use that to blend it with our values and experience to bring forward a new vision or new contract………………

    For me this is the real issue.

    May I also make some observations on Lib Dem voice generally which I think are related to this post.
    1. I try to contribute here, but when I ask direct questions to gain clarification very rarely are they taken up.
    2. I find 90% of people here, simply want to ram their own views down others necks.
    After a while you know exactly by the name what faction they are a member off.
    This is sad
    3. Very rarely am I finding anyone shifting position as a result of the excellent debate on here. This is worrying.
    4. There are notable exceptions of people who listen and are willing to think outside the box – Katharine particularly spring to mind over the last few days
    5. This is why I tried to engage with Joe a couple of days ago, so that he felt safe to bring some new thinking to the table. I’ve never met him, but was concerned at a couple of comments that appeared to want to rubbish him – he’s not the only one.
    6. I shifted my position on Article 50 the other day after listening to all the debate – I have not seen *one* other person willing to do that (either way). Given all the threads, that is astounding – entrenched views, unwillingness to listen & compromise spring to mind
    7. There are obviously some very intelligent people contributing here, but I worry how the Lib Dems will ever be able to communicate a clear vision to the electorate (and new members) when they appear so entrenched in their own factions themselves?
    8. Finally I wonder how many new members are probably following this site, but are scared to contribute due to the high brow nature of much of the debate – impenetrable at times to ordinary Lib Dem supporters trying to find their way and vision I would think?
    9. Given that it would appear compromises with the electorate will have to be made now if we are to evolve with the world we now live in and remain relevant – I wonder if a massive step back and more ‘big picture’ thinking would be useful?

  • Sue – real practical support here – lovely to see & hear

  • Simon Banks 17th Nov '16 - 3:38pm

    Pete – I can relate to what you say in two very different ways. One is because as Chair of my local party, I’ve seen engaging and encouraging new members as hugely important. I think we’ve been quite successful: about half our key activists now joined the party after the general election. But it’s sometimes been hard work as I think you understand.

    The other is that it’s some veterans as well as new members who feel the party at local level (including county level) has rather lost its way in becoming obsessed by winning elections to the extent that there is little LOCAL discussion of what we stand for and little effort to convey it in focus leaflets. There have been efforts around the country to engage members in discussions on “Your Liberal Britain” and I understand some of these have been very successful, but sometimes also a saying about blood and stones comes to mind; and the same goes for trying to provoke electronic discussion at the local level.

    However, there is an answer. Get involved and volunteer to put this right in your area. Others are right: for good reasons, you haven’t become active quickly, but the local activists don’t know those reasons and they’re probably assuming you’re going to be an inactive member. Put them right.

  • “where … is the vision … ?”

    Sad to say the party is indeed mainly focussed on winning elections but has no real idea of what it wants to do with power when achieved. It hasn’t come up with any vision worth the name in the over 30 years I’ve been a member. Quite why this should be the case is a mystery that others can perhaps shed light on.

    One possibility is the party’s committee-infested approach to policy-making; it reminds me strongly of a large company I once worked for. That too was also a disaster, a sea of red ink and unable to get anything right until a big change at the top brought in a new approach that turned it completely around it around in only three years. That could happen for the Lib Dems but would require better leadership. As Christopher Clayton says, we need a Jo Grimond.

    Another thing that strikes me is the uncomfortable parallel with the Democrats in the US. Several commentators have noted they have become an unlikely coalition between an ‘identity politics’ wing and a corporatist/Wall Street wing. The identity politics folk keep themselves busy campaigning for minorities etc. and arguing how to split the welfare pot (all of which is fine but only appeals to a minority) and tend to ignore economics. In contrast the corporatist wing is happy to give the identity politics lot their head as long as they don’t get in the way of the accumulation of yet more wealth and power by the already rich and powerful who use a bastardised version of economics as propaganda to justify this, hence Thatcher’s famous TINA.

    It used to be clear that Liberals stood against vested interests and for bottom-up, people-empowering policies. If we returned to those values we could terrorise the government much as UKIP has done so successfully – but to a much more worthwhile end.

  • Pete Shallcross 17th Nov '16 - 8:34pm

    I’m pleased to see some very active discussion on this – thanks for all the tips and advice on getting involved – it IS going to happen, like I say I have just had a very hectic year or so.

    I can see that other members share my concern that the party may be construed as being overly focussed on winning at the expense of explaining ‘why’ we want to win, but am reassured to see ideas for how to correct this impression (I do believe it is a false impression rather than a reality).

    Retaining and engaging new members surely has to be very high on the priority list for the party. Corbyn has dramatically shown that it can be relatively easy to get people to join a party (especially when all it takes is a few clicks and a nominal subscription fee after a political earthquake) but weary Labour veterans will testify that converting a groundswell in membership into a groundswell in activism is a wholly separate (and much more challenging) endeavour.

    Articulating clearly to new members what liberalism is, and how these views guide our policies – rather than just charting electoral progress and appealing for phone bank volunteers would surely yield better results in engaging newer members? Would be interested to see what others think…

  • Hi Pete
    I agree completely with your summary.
    I hope this post has proved useful for everyone today.
    Sometimes it’s easy to make assumptions when you’ve been around the block a few times – I get that.
    I’m sure it’s not easy for people to evolve and change with the times, particularly if they feel closely held values are been compromised.
    But Political Parties (I guess like business) must, I believe evolve, be creative, communicate a clear vision to the ‘customers’ or get left behind.
    It’s a fast moving world unfortunately.

  • Peter Watson 18th Nov '16 - 12:36am

    “where … is the vision that will motivate me”
    I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned the preamble and the noble vision that “no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”. But like any good vision, this is a destination rather than a route-map.
    My first response earlier in the thread was a bit flippant but reflects my concerns that the party strongly gives the impression that Lib Dems are all about the UK remaining in the EU without describing the sort of UK (or the sort of EU) that it wants. And if Brexit goes ahead the party looks like it has little to offer.
    Perhaps conveniently, rallying around the anti-Brexit flag gives the appearance of a unified party, but below the surface have the divisions disappeared between the competing interpretations of Lib Demmery that were a feature of debates on this site during the coalition years (right vs. left, economic liberalism vs. social liberalism, libertarians vs. liberals, Liberals vs. Social Democrats, “bookers” vs. “lefties”)? Is Tim Farron the saviour of the left of the party or does his claim that “We are the free market, free trade pro-business party now.” mean that the economic liberals hold sway?
    In 2010 it looked like Lib Dems were no longer the party I’d voted for (and once joined) but did at least have a sort of “Tories with a social conscience” identity. In 2016 I don’t really know what the Lib Dems are for. Is the party’s raison d’être simply to campaign for anti-Tory votes in one election and anti-Labour votes in another, or does it have a purpose?

  • Peter Watson 19th Nov '16 - 5:07pm

    “where … is the vision that will motivate me”
    I’m probably talking to myself now as the tumbleweed blows around this thread, but it seems to me that the Lib Dems might be, surprisingly, the least radical and the most conservative party in British politics at the moment.
    Its major policies in the last three years seem overwhelmingly to be about maintaining the status quo and opposing change: no to Scottish independence, no to Brexit or changing the relationship with the EU, no to fracking, no to airport expansion, no to scrapping Trident, no to grammar schools, no to change …
    Even the clarion call on the front-page of the Lib Dem website is “The only party fighting to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.” Noble, yes, but hardly radical. Why not be the only party fighting to make Britain more open, tolerant and united?
    This all looks like a drift towards comfortable, inoffensive, soggy centrism. As the author of this article asks, “where is the vision?”

  • @ Peter Watson

    You are correct the divisions that were clear during the coalition still exist. Also from your list of things we support we appear very conservative. I am sure we could make a case for why all of the things you list (except for Trident) are in the best interest for the UK. It is also clear from the autumn conference decision to reject both negative income tax and a basic citizens income that we are not radical, but still want to change things only at the margins, which I think has been our policy since about 2005.

    I think we need to have policies that will improve the social and economic conditions for most people in the UK, especially those who feel left behind. This will mean we will have to re-consider our position on the free movement of people and be less supportive of “the free market(s)”, privatisation and globalisation. We will need to recognise that we have to put the interests of the people of the UK before the interests the owners of businesses or the people of the rest of the world.

  • @Peter Watson. I live on the Isle of Wight, so tumbleweed is my constant companion. You are right – it’s easy to tell people what you don’t like, to tune into their essentially luddite thinking. We need to come up with policies that will excite people, and as Michael said, these need to be focused on peoples economic concerns. Here’s three to start with.
    – Basic Citizens Income. Conference may have rejected it, but it is an idea whose time has come. Accept the principle, we have until 2020 (probably) to work out the detail.
    – Using payrole taxes to encourage companies to pay fairer wages.
    – Reforming student loans. We haven’t even begun to see the anger of a generation whose lives will be blighted by an extra 9% deduction on their earnings.

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