Help us strengthen the role of affiliated organisations

Our party is a bit like a family, including the fights, factions, and fallouts.  But like a family, there are lots of different interests that bind us together alongside our belief in liberal democracy.

In the past, interest groups who wanted to formalise and become recognised by the party had to go through a process to become an “Associated Organisation” or a “Specified Associated Organisation”.   Back in 2020, however, the Federal Board asked for a review of the way this worked, and how these groups interact and work together with the wider party.

Since then we (Flo Clucas, Tim Pickstone, Bess Mayhew and Steffan Aquarone, ably assisted by Jack Coulson) have spoken to dozens of party organisations and surveyed hundreds of their members – from the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors, to Liberal Democrat Women, and everything in between.  We found a number of consistent themes.

There were lots of ways we identified that could make the process simpler, and more broadly appealing to the richly diverse range of interests that are aligned to our cause as Liberal Democrats – resulting in the simple status of “Affiliated Organisation”.

We found huge dedication, diversity, and passion amongst the people we spoke to.  Yet whilst for some people membership of such a group was as important as their membership of the party, a great many members were unaware such groups exist.

With a bit more support, we found that Affiliated Organisations could play a bigger role in the party – for example growing our party membership, as well as making it easier for members of the party to join by including a list of Affiliated Organisations in new members packs.

We also found that many groups felt disconnected from the wider party, and that by setting up a Party Body Forum, Affiliated Organisations would be able to input into the corporate decisions of the party more easily and do more to support its wider strategy.

All these findings were turned into a set of recommendations back to Federal Board earlier this year.  And now, at Autumn Conference, they’re ready to be debated by members.

Coupled with enhanced technological support and promotion of Affiliated Organisations from the Federal Party, these changes would:

  • End the unfair two-tier system which discriminates against certain groups such as the Lib Dem Disability Association
  • Reduce the complexity for party members and increase the ability for Affiliated Organisations to recruit members to their cause
  • Allow more groups to play a bigger role in the party, including through Conference, whilst ensuring we protect the integrity of our organisation”

The motions are quite lengthy – it turns out even doing a ‘find and replace’ in the Party Constitution for the new name “Affiliated Organisation” is quite hard!  But we hope you’ll attend and hear the debate – or take part if you have something to say. 

This project has been hugely enjoyable and enriching of our understanding of our party.  We hope these proposed changes will help us to modernise, become easier to do business with, and attract a greater number of people to our cause.


* Steffan Aquarone is a member of the Party Bodies Review Group and is the Parliamentary Spokesperson for North Norfolk.

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Aug '21 - 2:53pm

    A good piece Steffan.

    My view is simplicity and flexibility ought, for Liberals, democrats, to be the watch words .

    My question, associated groups implied groups of members associated with an issue. Affiliated organisations implies non members can join those, ie registered supporters. Or is that non registered supports as well?

  • A good article, Steffan, and a good question, Lorenzo. We ought to be reaching out to people who have similar views on some issues, so a greater role in the Party for LD-led groups that include non-members and non-registered-supporters makes sense to me, especially if there is a modest subscription. Such groups are very unlikely to get dominated by people who don’t share our values.

    One area of activity Steffan doesn’t discuss is policy. At present our policy-making process largely consists of gathering a diverse group of Liberal Democrat experts on or fans of a subject, with maybe a few friendly outsiders added, and producing a set of proposals none of them disagree with. Unsurprisingly, these are rarely very controversial within the party and rarely very original. Special groups with a deep commitment on one area of policy are fed into the over-consensual mix. If our policy function promoted, and our conference function didn’t run scared from, original and controversial motions from such groups, we might even get back to the old Liberal days when the Party was a fount of daring ideas.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 16th Aug '21 - 9:43pm

    I only hope that new ways of doing things mean proper working relationships between the parliamentary party, party press department, and policy unit.
    It would be to the advantage of the list I have given, and certainly the party.

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