Four remarkable years of Lib Dem Newbies

One thing that the last few years in politics have taught me – among others – is that, surprisingly, computers can’t count.  Or at least, Facebook’s computers can’t reliably tell you how many people are in a group, once it gets above a certain size.

On the morning of the 8th  May, 2015, I was absolutely devastated.  Not only had my party been all but wiped out, but Liberalism had been written off and my non-Lib Dem friends, while supportive of me, struggled to hide their belief that the drubbing was deserved.

And then something odd happened: thousands of new members flocked to the party, inspired by our principles and Nick Clegg’s remarkable resignation speech.  As Sal Brinton, our redoubtable (and now outgoing) President wrote, Libby, our popular bird-of-liberty logo, had become a phoenix.

One of those new members, joining a grieving and shell-shocked Lib Dems, started a Facebook group for newcomers to orient themselves, meet other members, and get involved in rebuilding our shattered party.  These ‘Newbies’ were a few-hundred strong, and started attending pints and meetings with Lib Dems who were surprised and delighted to welcome them. The group grew and required moderating, and soon, I and a few others were recruited by other volunteers, to help Admin the group and keep it ticking.

At the time, I think we all expected Lib Dem Newbies to last a couple of years and then peter out – the membership would fall back, our volunteer Admins would move on.  Members now established in the party (or leaving it, having decided it wasn’t for them) would drift away, and the group would slip quietly into obscurity. These things have a shelf life, after all.

…British politics has a funny way of subverting expectations.  Successive surges – particularly after the second shattering defeat of the Referendum – have seen us welcome thousands, and four years on, we are on the cusp of welcoming our eight-thousandth member.  We ask new applicants what inspired them to join, and where they are – and if, as is sadly often the case, they are yet to make contact with their local party, we’re so big now that someone else in the group is usually in their area with the right contact.

Since 2015, we’ve welcomed, linked-up, informed, and encouraged our new and returning members, and longer-serving ones too.  I’ve welcomed at least two “Newbies” who joined under Jo Grimond and felt reinvigorated by our energy, proving that Newbie-ness is about mindset, not joining date.  We’ve also helped Newbies get elected to everything from parish councils, to principal authorities, to Westminster, and now the European Parliament.

As I write, the other Admins and I are eagerly watching the membership counter as it flirts with the magic 8,000 number.  Some time ago, Newbies (or, ‘Newbies main’ as we call it, to distinguish it from the sister group we created as a safe space to debate away from the welcome mat) became the largest Facebook group affiliated to the party – and it seems that, as we dust off the celebratory fireworks GIFs again, it’s not going anywhere just yet.


* John Grout is a admin of the Lib Dem Newbies Facebook group and lives in Reading.

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  • Thank you for everything you and the rest of the team do. You’ve had a massive impact on the party and helped many new members becomes activists and even win elections to public office. The party and our cause is much stronger as a result.

  • I’d heard about this group but had no idea how big it was. Wow! Sounds like you’ve had a massive impact on growing our party. Thankyou, and well done! Any newbies reading this who are not members of this group now know what to do. Maybe you will be the 8,000th!

  • Lib Dem Newbies has played a huge part in the Membership (and Party) resurgence. Where the Federal party simply did not have the resources (especially immediately post-2015) to reach out to new members as much as we would have liked Lib dem Newbies provided a real resource and – more importantly – community for newcomers (and returnees). Being membership-led means that it is entirely in the best spirit of the Party – and it has helped mark us out as a friendly party to join (see the comments from those fleeing our increasingly poisonous peers). Thank you for all that you do and have done.

  • William Wallace 1st Oct '19 - 1:41pm

    Tim, don’t follow Boris Johnson down the road towards loose political language: who do you mean by ‘our increasingly poisonous peers’? (I think of myself as an increasingly friendly peer.)

  • Sue Sutherland 1st Oct '19 - 2:00pm

    William Wallace Tim’s comment took me aback as well, but then I realised he was referring to other parties as peers rather than our own Lib Dem Peers.
    I think Lib Dem Newbies is a marvellous group and provides a lot of help with finding out how the party works. I joined because I moved to Manchester from Bath a few years ago and it took me quite a while to discover exactly which local party I belonged to: my problem, not anybody else’s. I wish all new members would join and benefit from the enthusiasm and energy displayed by the group.

  • Hi William, Our Peers are utterly non-toxic (although obviously still packing a mean legislative punch) but our (Labour, Tory) peers are increasingly unhappy places (for moderates at least). Precision is all.

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