Launch: Engage, the new Lib Dem Policy Network

The chances are that when you join the Liberal Democrats, just about the first thing that will happen to you is that a friendly local member will welcome you to the party, and ask you if you’d be willing to help out by delivering a round of leaflets in your area. Or would you perhaps be willing to come out and knock on some doors one evening? It’s certainly what happened to me when I joined the party nineteen years ago in a ‘black hole’ seat.

This overwhelming focus on campaigning has served the party well: it’s been the engine of our progress from the ‘all our MPs in a black cab’ era to the formidable organisation running Councils the length and breadth of the country, in government in Scotland for eight years and with dozens of MPs which it is today. The last thing we should do is abandon it.

But the vital importance of successful campaigning can sometimes make us forget that most people did not actually join because they just love the click of letter boxes closing over a well-delivered leaflet. People, by and large, join political parties because they believe in their values, ideas and policies, and disagree with those of their opponents.

Members of a political party expect to have the chance to talk about ideas, about policy and politics.
A group of us want to help more of our members to do just that.

And so we are announcing today the launch of Engage, the Lib Dem Policy Network:

We have three aims:

  • To promote more discussion of policy and politics and ideas within the party, especially at a local level. Politics is about which ideas and which policies offer the best way forward for our society.
  • Helping every member be heard: all of us should be able to speak up and contribute: we are considerably more open and democratic than the other major parties, and we want many more members to be heard in our discussions
  • Opening up policy making: If contributing to making policy in our party seems difficult, we want to open it up! There are genuinely lots of opportunities for members to feed ideas in which don’t get taken up. We want more people to use those opportunities.
  • We have a range of activities to help us achieve these aims.

    We’re particularly focusing on supporting political discussions organised by local parties and others. Our Instant Policy Discussion Kit contains everything a local group should need to get a discussion going – briefings on a few areas of interest to structure a discussion, a list of potential guest speakers, and the opportunity to report back the outcome of the meeting. We’ll then follow that up, if wanted, with advice on taking the ideas generated forward into the party’s formal policy-making structures. Take a look at it at

    We’re producing an email newsletter with news on the latest developments in policy in the party and analysis on what’s coming up. If you’d like to come on to the mailing list, just email [email protected].
    We’re also going to produce a range of other materials to support discussion, provide help and advice to anyone wanting to get involved, and generally make the case for talking about policy and politics to be an important part of our party.

    Of course, Lib Dem Voice itself does a huge amount to open up discussion for party members, including those who live in weaker Lib Dem areas. So we’re particularly pleased to be working in partnership with them on this, and are grateful for some online support they are providing us with.

    If you would also like to help support more policy and political discussion in the party, please do three things to help us:

  • Sign up to our newsletter: drop an email to [email protected]
  • Send on to your friends and contacts a link to our webpage:
  • Find out about a local discussion event near you – is the place to look. If there isn’t one, maybe with the help of our Instant Policy Discussion Kit you could set one up?
  • More of our members engaging in talking about and creating our policies would make us a larger and stronger party, with better policies and ideas. I hope you will join us in helping to achieve that.

    * Jeremy Hargreaves is Director of Engage. You can email him at [email protected] and find out more about Engage at

    Read more by .
    This entry was posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters.


    • Tony Greaves 12th Jul '09 - 2:47pm

      Forgive me if I suggest that the word “Engage” gives the game away. This looks, sounds and feels like New Labour type “engagement” – let them discuss things but let’s make sure it’s all carefully structured and managed so it doesn’t cause any ripples, and it allows us to snuff out anything we think is a bit dangerous. Above all, let’s not have anything the media might report as a “row” or even worse a “challenge to the leader’s authority”.

      The truth is that this will all be a damp squib. If you want proper policy debate you have to open up the structures of the party to democratic argument and conflict, allow it to happen, end the usual cowardly tactic of retreating behind the leader’s reputation, and say boo to the media. Even more important, people who want to see it happen should stop trying to organise soft discussion of this kind and go out and organise factions in the party and camapign for what they believe in an open and honest way.

      Of course all this is anathema to the managerialist anti-political and undemocratic approach which has taken over most of the party at top levels, where campaigning for what we believe in has been sidelined in favour of narrow vote-catching, and even that has more and more been seriously restricted to no more than a sixth of the constituencies. Policy-making is too often no longer about what we believe but it’s about what will “play well” in those target seats (and even more so in the seats we hold).

      Of course, as a member of the House of Lords I don’t have to play these games, and I have neither the time nor energy any longer to try to do anything about the state of the party as a whole. But it’s all rather sad and in the longer run will do us no good.

      Tony Greaves

    • Andrew Davis 12th Jul '09 - 4:38pm

      disagreement in the party have been actively discouraged and hopefully this will help the movement to change that.

      If I had any reservations about it, then the fact that Tony Greaves is against it would have resolved them! It is entirely typical of him that after spending years arguing for more open discussion in the party, when something comes along which rather than just complaining might actually do that, he is against it!

    • Too many references to too many other sites. This needs simplification.

      Where do we start?

    • I joined the party about a month ago and not a peep from my local party. I have sent an e-mail direct and filled the form thingy on the party’s website. They must have a bountiful supply of local volunteers already…

      I will no doubt “Engage” with them in due course.

      The Engage Policy Network sounds ideal for a newbie like me but I do see the risk of it being taken over by a faction within the party – “The Engage Group” anyone?


    • I also heartily agree with geoffrey. A great initiative and best of luck to those promoting it.

    • I also joined the party not so long ago and nary a peep has been heard from the locals either.

    • Yes, I have run a Policy Forum both in Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks and this is an excellent idea. People usually join a political party because they are interested in politics, not always to be an unpaid postman. Well done Jeremy. As local membership officer in T Wells I send a welcome e-mail to all new and moved members and invite them along to meetings. Clearly this is unfortunately not happening in all local parties, judging by some of the above comments.

    • Tony Greaves has fought more elections than most of us have had hot dinners, so take note of what he says – even if you don’t agree.
      I support Engage, but let us treat Local as the internet rather than a geographical thing. Be geographically local as well, but we need ‘experts’ on this to guide us.
      Let us start all debates from the following premis:- ‘This Country has had 30 years of Thatcherite social (no such thing as society) and economic (loadsamoney) policies. only the Liberal Democrats – – – – – – ‘
      With politics in such a state of flux and disrepute now could not be a better time to develop new radical policies.

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