Loss, connection and happiness. Is Liberal Democrat activism good for us?

Happiness, social psychologists like Jonathan Haidt have suggested, may be found more in the single-minded pursuit of good aims than in achieving them. If this is true, Liberal Democrats should be some of the happiest people around – always striving, always hoping, yet too often actually failing to achieve our aims.

Ridiculous, retorts common sense. We fail, and that is depressing and debilitating. Yet there must be something in the theory to keep some of us for fifty years or more committed to the cause of Liberalism – not always activists, deflected by our personal human dramas and careers and families, yet always resuming.

You’re just fanatics to do that, say scornful pragmatists. And it’s true that this commitment depends on your being a certain type of character, raised in certain circumstances such as, maybe, growing up in a politically concerned family.  Perhaps also you have to start young, when you can’t anticipate the long unproductive years to come.

There has to be resilience in your character to keep going, and certain social conditions to help sustain you. Liberal Democrats become used to long disappointment brightened by moments of triumph and joy, but actual loss is hard to bear.

The loss of a political position, whether a council or a parliamentary one, may never be as devastating as the loss of someone you love, or getting a life-threatening illness, or seeing your child come to grief, but it’s still a terrible blow. All that effort to get there, all that hard work in office, all that useful accomplishment, suddenly finished, seemingly wasted. How did our Liberal Democrat champions feel, as one by one they fell, from 2011 to 2015? The pain of having failed their closest associates, family, employees and fellow campaigners would have been combined with deep frustration and probable impotent suppressed anger. How many vowed never to subject themselves again to that? It took a certain cast of character to resolve to carry on, probably resisting the plea of loved ones not to be masochistic. They had the imperative of finding other paying work speedily, as well.

Did the personal problems along with enduring the successive falls of colleagues leave some with bitter lasting grief? If so the work to resume would be harder, black days more frequent, and happiness seem far away.  Bitterness would seek alleviation in allocating blame and demanding others accept their share of it..

The defeated heroes did, however, have a deep connection, not only to the Liberal cause, but to that close-knit circle of like-minded people with whom they had worked, who had inspired them, and whom they had inspired. There might, to be sure, have been individuals whom it was a temporary relief to see less of, and some relief, although guilt-tinged, at no longer having to meet the constant demands of voters. Yet their close connection with people who felt and thought like them would, psychologists confirm, tend to comfort and sustain them.

It’s a lonely enough life for many people in today’s Britain. Relationships don’t last as they used to. Families get divided as people move for work, while in close-knit communities internal differences can be keenly felt.  Moreover, since June 2016, we have realised that we didn’t know and understand each other as much as we thought.

So today, in spite of all our losses, the sustaining connection for Liberal Democrats of having people like ourselves to work hard for the same aims may provide a main source of happiness. And now we are connected more than ever in sharing the latest threat of loss, that of leaving the European Union. To lose Europe – its openness, its opportunity, its cultural familiarity – feels personal. We know that many fellow Liberal Democrats share that feeling, so we are far from alone.

* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Copeland and Workington.

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37 Comments

  • All very true. When I lost my council seat in 1988 after 12 years, it was very traumatic. My response was to walk away and leave the frontline for almost 10 years. With hindsight, always a perfect science, I now know that I gave up any real chance of progressing further in the party during that 10 year absence.
    I came back for a different ward in 1998 and held it until I stepped down in 2007. Stepping down, because it was my choice, was not the same gut wrenching experience as losing my seat almost 20 years earlier. I have to say that unlike 1988, when I missed being in the thick of things on the council, in 2007 I felt quite relieved to walk away.
    The one thing that ought to be made plain is that there is no support in our party for those who lose. No-one rings you to chat, no-one calls round to see how you are. It’s almost as if it’s your fault that you lost. What is expected is that you should pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back into the fray.
    In 1988 I was very defensive, put on a brave face in public and pretty well rejected any approach.
    Now when you’re in your 20s or 30s you have much more resilience than later on. I am certain that if the party invested time and resources in those who have been good Councillors and MPs, they could greatly increase the come back rate of people who lose largely because of factors out of their own control. [The merger and the poll tax in my 1988 case]. To do otherwise wastes the talents that people have or develop during public service.

  • Peter McCarthy 14th Oct '17 - 10:51am

    Thank you, Katharine, for thoughtful and moving presentation of the sorrows as well as the joys of being a Liberal Democrat! Perhaps there is a particular Liberal Democrat gift that you did not mention. This is the talent that Liberal Democrats have for working with people who are not quite within our fold but who have common objectives with us. David Laws in ‘Coalition’ paints a picture of Tory ministers who had a real respect for their Liberal colleagues as well as others who ‘did the dirty on us’.

    One of the best things about Liberal Democrats is that we are not ‘tribal’ in the way that Conservatives and Labour are. Instead, we can see the point of view of those who are not ‘of us’ and we are willing to work together for the common good. This is why you will find ex Liberal Democrat members still working within the community and bringing the best of Liberalism to what they do.

    So maybe this why we are not sunk in depression. After all, as you point out, there is still a job to do and our society needs the openness and passion of the Liberal Democrats as we face an uncertain future!

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Oct '17 - 10:56am

    Thanks, Mick, you make very good points, which I hope will be heeded and acted on. But in your own case, you are never too old to progress in the party – witness our Leader!

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Oct '17 - 12:22pm

    The trouble is, Peter, not being tribal may allow us to feel better in ourselves, but I’m not sure it’s good for the party. I think it helped us to be walked over in the General Election, when I think we should have been passionate about staying in the EU and the need for a referendum on the deal as a necessary and democratic way forward.

    To give an example of my point, one of our West Cumbrian candidates in the GE told us not to campaign for him, because we have a reasonably good Labour MP and he himself having failed to win in the county elections wants to devote all his time now to local community affairs, which he is much involved in and where he does much good. The Labour MP was duly re-elected, and we lost our deposit. Our man had no chance of being elected, but our vote share in that constituency dropped more, arguably, than it would have done had he campaigned – and to the voters it just appears like a bad Lib Dem result, and even less hope for us than before. I think we should have campaigned.

  • Peter Chambers 14th Oct '17 - 12:25pm

    @Mick Taylor

    +1

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 14th Oct '17 - 1:13pm

    Katharine, a very thought provoking article.
    For an MP or a Councillor to lose their seat can be quite devastating, even if it is the nature of politics that everyone knows it is always a possibility.
    There was the tragic case of Charles Kennedy. Politics had been his life, since he was elected as an MP at the age of 23 (an age which is surely almost always too young). He had no experience of adult life outside Westminster. This loss literally killed him, although he had much to live for outside politics – a young son, and a new relationship – and indeed a good possibility of returning to Westminster one day.
    I’m sure friends and colleagues did try to support Charles Kennedy, although tragically no amount of support could reach him. But others who lost their seats, who appeared to be coping well, receiving little or no support from the party.
    Far more support should be offered to unsuccessful candidates, including those who have never actually held office, but who may have given up two years or more of their lives to an ultimately unsuccessful campaign. I remember very soon after the 2015 election, it was reported that unsuccessful candidates had been sent a questionaire to fill in, with a threat that if they did not complete it, within a very short time, they might not be allowed to stand as candidates again. People who had given so much time and effort to the party, surely deserved better.

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Oct '17 - 4:47pm

    It was sobering to be reminded of our leader who in the end couldn’t stand defeat, Catherine, but consoling to think of our present leader’s triumphant return, as it was to hear of Mick’s after ten years away. I call them all heroes, winning against the odds, and not in the game for personal gain. I hope many of the councillors and MPs defeated during the Coalition years will be sharing with us again by now.

  • Thanks Katharine. As one of the 50 years and more brigade who first stood for parliament in his late twenties and is daft enough to want to defend a never safe council seat I’m May, I believe that struggle is a perfectly normal part of the human condition. That belief is somewhat counter cultural these days, but we are a movement with things to fight for that mean we shall have things to do until we finally offer up our last breath – good news surely!

  • Personally I think it was quite bad for me. At least the last 3-4 years involvment which (looking back) were pretty unhappy and unenjoyable. That was more to do with the people I had to work many of whom were pretty unpleasant. It’s only having walked away that I realise how much that was the case – and the extent to which it was like being trapped in a cult you didn’t think you could leave. Certainly the channels to help with that – like Jeanne and the Regional parties were unhelpful and uninterested.

    I’m not sure why that was so much more true in recent years than before or linked to a feeling that little worthwhile was being acheived.

  • Jane Ann Liston 15th Oct '17 - 12:12am

    Being not reselected after 3 terms of office is also very hurtful; one couldn’t look at fellow party members without wondering whether they had marked me down in the democratic vote, but couldn’t say anything in case it upset people or rocked the boat. However, I am now back in office, doing my best to make up for a 10 year absence, and can report that subsequent electoral success is the best cure for loss.

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Oct '17 - 12:15am

    Let’s hear the downside, by all means. Having to work with people one finds unpleasant is one of life’s hazards, but there certainly should be channels to allow help and advice. You felt the pull, OnceALibDem, and still do to some extent, or you wouldn’t continue engaging with LDV. If you can see where an HR input is needed, why not raise this with our Chief Executive, for instance? Life may be a struggle, as Geoff Reid says, but to feel that you were in a cult wasn’t good, and surely needs addressing. Thanks to you both for contributing (and obviously you’re unstoppable, Geoff!) .

  • “You felt the pull, OnceALibDem, and still do to some extent, or you wouldn’t continue engaging with LDV. If you can see where an HR input is needed, why not raise this with our Chief Executive, for instance”

    I enagage because I’m still interested in politics and campaigns (more time spend on other, neutral, forums though). What is missing is the enjoyment I used to get being greater than the unpleasantness of the people I had to deal with to do that (the former reduced and the latter increased)

    Points have been raised both formally and informally though – with two formal complaints were not progressed by Jeanne and follow up emails went unreplied to.

  • Humphrey Hawksley 15th Oct '17 - 11:06am

    Thank you, Katherine Pindar, for helping me understand the mystery of the Liberal Democrats. You recently referred to one of my posts as ‘unhelpul nonsense’ because it tossed around new ideas with the aim of changing things. Your post has underpinned my growing view that the ballast of this party, the glue that holds it together, does not want change. Political disappointment is a cherished sanctuary, a cycle of life that you reference with terms like loss and grief. Your cause, it seems, is not Liberalism as such but protecting the status quo, and I have witnessed long-standing members, fight tooth and nail for this, sometimes in the most illiberal way to achieve their aims. This, I suspect, is why we have failed to make traction in filling the current political vacuum and why six or so months from now, the ground will have been taken by moderate wings within the Conservative and Labour parties, as Nick Clegg suggested. In that respect, the Liberal Democrats, as much as the other two parties, will have played its part in betraying the British voters.

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Oct '17 - 3:16pm

    Well, Humphrey, that’s certainly a different take on my post, which I would be glad to debate with you (perhaps on the Facebook Chat stream?). You find that the piece confirms your view that the party is too much wedded to the status quo, and does not want change. I can’t see myself that recognising the pain and grief that comes with loss is the same as accepting the loss, and I, along with many long-standing members, will continue to fight with all vigour to try to prevent any further loss and help with winning more votes and seats by active involvement.

    What you have seen you have seen, but maybe not all our colleagues seeing the same things would have reached the same conclusions. How we view things is of course affected by our own nature, and by the particular circumstances and associates we have over a period of time, which only you will know for yourself.

    For myself I am lucky enough to be cheered still by my long association with a party of consistent values, well expressed in the Agenda 2020 documents recently, but also by observing over the last couple of years real change in the party governance towards increasing involvement and democratic participation by ordinary members. I am struck by the readiness of leading party figures to consider further developments, and to listen and respond to suggestions, Then, I was heartened at Bournemouth by the constant vigorous and purposeful activity, by the succession of new members who took part in the debates, by the MPs’ speeches and good question-and-answer sessions, and by excellent fringe meetings such as that organised by My Liberal Britain. I don’t know whether you were able to come to Bournemouth, Humphrey, but I would be surprised if any members who went there felt that they were seeing a party stuck in its ways and unable to grow.

    Yet I wrote this post to reach out a little to those who have lost their valued positions and perhaps not been able to bounce back with the same vigour, and discuss how it was and how it is and what comfort there may be for them. Because we need everyone on board to pursue our great cause, of getting Liberal Democrat values and policies into the mainstream of British political life.

  • David Evans 15th Oct '17 - 3:17pm

    Katharine, the answer to your question is Not when the leadership make such a mess in government that you lose your seat due to no fault other than you have been totally undermined by those supposedly on your side, and you realise that the 50 years’ work has now been squandered that you spent on rebuilding a movement that has helped hold this country together.

    Even worse, it took the party 50 years to rebuild from the moment it decided it had been going the wrong way for the previous 50 years, and that right now most people in the party do not want to admit that since 2010 we have been going in the wrong direction: usually because it was their heroes and heroines who led them in that direction.

    There can be a lot of debate on how to “build a fair, free and open society,” and so there should be,but one thing is true: You don’t do it by sacrificing losing most of your support, troops and values being a stooge for a Conservative party, whose sole aim was to destroy the Lib Dems, and is now gleefully taking the UK out of the EU, whatever the cost.

  • David Evans is as always bang on the money Caron we need Lib Dem Voice to say loud and clear that we got it appallingly wrong from 2011 to 2015 and cease to treat those who led us there as best mates by calling them by their christian names only. They are no mates of ours, 70 odd parliamentary seats gone, thousands of councillors lost, influence at rock bottom, media interest a joke, opinion polls an embarresment and they themselves seemingly are more interested in people joining other parties .

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Oct '17 - 4:17pm

    Hi, David, welcome! I wondered when you would be joining in, as you were much in my mind when I wrote some of this, as you may have guessed. I have of course a rather different view of the last 50 years, the work of which I also contributed a tiny bit to and don’t see as having been squandered. But my view, as I have accepted all along, is rosier than that of colleagues who actually suffered loss in the Coalition years. It must have been horrendous to be closely involved then and see the successive loss of 49 MPs, eleven MEPs and numerous councillors, and I understand that the comforts I describe of determined pursuit of our aims and collegiality do seem threadbare to you.

    Yet you don’t have to be young and starry-eyed to be keen to fight on, as witness Geoff Reid’s contribution above (14th October, 8.29 pm) – best wishes for next May, Geoff – and others, including I suppose your good self, will go on serving the local communities regardless of pessimistic feelings, which is courageous and admirable. I hope at least you may feel that the years 2015 to 2017 have begun the slow build-up of progress again, and that there is no danger of us ever again being Conservative stooges, even if they were to recover from their present desperate, entirely deserved precarious state. The ‘fair, free and open society’ and its achievement within the EU is still, we agree, our great goal to strive for.

  • nigel hunter 15th Oct '17 - 4:43pm

    Considering that it looks like the media is taking no notice of us we must try to ‘bang the drum’ more. We must show we are the future in our leaflets etc’ Show people we are their community support. That the country comes first for without it we all go down together (except Tory millionaires)..
    The position the country is in at the moment is cos we ended up as stooges for the Tories and got punished accordingly and the consequences are now being shown for all to see. Keep fighting the wheel will,is turning.

  • Interesting piece. Two random thoughts that came to me while reading it : Perhaps losing your council seat wouldn’t be such a disaster if there were other clear and easily accessible ways in which you could contribute meaningfully to the cause and secondly, the only reason we should seek elected office is so that we can change society for the better. GIven the present arrangements, being an opposition back bencher on a local council is one of the most soul destroying jobs going. So glad when my four years was up I ran without once turning back !

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Oct '17 - 8:17pm

    Constructive thoughts, thank you, Nigel and Chris. I suppose to ‘contribute meaningfully to the cause’ other than by holding a council seat may be by ‘showing people we are their community support’, to put your ideas together. I guess we are trying to do that in this rather politically benighted area of West Cumbria, as best we can – our defeated County Council candidate, Phill, is very active in local societies and drives the community minibus, while our successful County Council candidate, Rebecca (who was, as she said, luckier than Phill in that an opponent was retiring), calls on us who didn’t stand to support her campaigning, which is continual. They are both giving our party a good name, and some publicity. I note your comment about being an opposition back-bencher being soul-destroying, though, Chris. I should think you will have needed the adrenalin-boost of our conferences, as well as good comradeship!

  • Mick Taylor 15th Oct '17 - 8:43pm

    Actually, the most enjoyable years of my 22 years as a district councillor were as an opposition councillor, waging guerrilla warfare against a Tory administration, whilst using the officers to help my constituents.
    Whilst I achieved a lot more during my time as council leader and later as a cabinet member, it did become far too much like a second full time job. I was continually exhausted with having to be a good ward councillor, an innovative and efficient cabinet member, a manager/mentor to very senior officers and an active member of my local party. Looking back I have no idea where I found the time and the energy except almost certainly at the expense of my family and my marriage.
    The coalition was not an unmitigated disaster because we did succeed in getting many of our policies implemented and we shouldn’t be afraid to take credit for that. The problem was the total naivety with which we went into coalition, the avoidable mistakes we made and the failure to tell our story. For some people on LDV to go on and on about the failures and not to accept and promote the successes is very bad politics. We are in politics to take and use power. Only the hopelessly optimistic will believe that we can make it into majority government in one go. So at some stage we may be faced with a choice of going into coalition as a stage on the road. How we handle that and whether we learn from the mistakes we made between 2010 and 2015 will be the test.

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Oct '17 - 10:33pm

    That’s a very interesting insight into how it was for you as a councillor both in opposition and in leadership, thank you, Mick, and also I think you give an excellent brief summation of the Coalition experience for the party, to point us to the future. We should not forget, either, your wise advice in your first comment here (October 14th, 10.43 am) , that the party should offer more support, in time and resources, to those who have been good MPs and councillors and lose through factors largely out of their control, so as to uphold them and to encourage them to try again later. I hope the powers that be may take note of this.

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Oct '17 - 10:10pm

    Thoughtful as ever, George, thank you for joining in. People do want to find support and comradeship in their local parties, I suppose, and if anyone is unlucky in that respect, you sensibly suggest joining one of the associated party organisations.

    I guess there will always be grumbling, even in successful local parties, for instance if some local councillors have a different focus of effort from others, but fortunately elections come along and it’s all hands on deck. And then I suppose that joint purposeful effort against opponents brings out the best in us, and despite all that work and stress, it can be a joyous and life-enhancing experience.

  • Ruth Bright 17th Oct '17 - 9:00am

    Katharine – you have brought about a valuable and moving discussion here but it is not enough for the emphasis to be on a victim moving elsewhere within in the party if they experience bullying or problems in their constituency. When I was a PPC I had many positive and lovely people in my patch but one local branch in particular was rife with sexism and ignoring it and going elsewhere was not an option. George – this is not rare.

  • Richard Underhill 17th Oct '17 - 2:17pm

    Mick Taylor: At the Harrogate Assembly I asked former MP Clement Freud whether he would stand again. He replied “You can ask.” and walked away. He did not stand again. He remained popular on the radio.
    The Boundary Commissions are reporting now, so that the number of seats in the Commons would be reduced from 650 to 600. The chairman of the Commons Procedure Committee (a tory) thinks that the necessary legislation will not achieve a majority in this parliament and that proportional representation would not achieve a government within a majority, which he thinks desirable.
    This is an opportunity to advance the case for a fair voting system, which first past the post is not, and which party list PR fails to achieve. A mixed system, as in Scotland or Wales and has produced stable government in Germany. Using the existing boundaries and grouping constituencies to elect three, four or five MPs chosen by the Single Transferable Vote, deals with issues of stability over time and with the number of
    electors represented. For the voter it is simple as 1,2,3. The Alternative Vote does not achieve any of these objectives.
    A referendum can have more than two choices. The Scottish referendum of 2014 could have had choices of status quo, full independence and third way. In practice it did because no became third way after the vote and because of the Scotland Act, as predicted by opinion polls.
    On the UK’s EU membership the choices could be
    1) hard Brexit
    2) Soft Brexit
    3) Remain full membership.
    Electors should be allowed to vote preferentially.

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Oct '17 - 2:46pm

    Richard, let us by all means start once again insisting on the desirability of PR, whether by STV or whatever system can make the voters see that their votes will count. We surely need to persuade the Labour Party on this, and with politics in a state of flux now and the two main parties both holding together their own coalitions by dint of fear of the other, perhaps it is not a bad time for that campaign to be revived. Except for one problem of timing. Surely our major task for the next year, exactly, is to persuade the country that a referendum on the deal, on the facts as Vince put it, is desirable and possibly essential as a means of stopping Brexit. And I don’t myself see referendums working except with a binary choice. The three choices you suggest would surely have to have enormous explanations attached. A referendum is really a blunt instrument. The facts need to be debated beforehand, as they were not before June last year, but the choice be simple: do you accept the negotiated deal, or prefer to stay in the EU?

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Oct '17 - 3:07pm

    Ruth, thank you for highlighting the problem you faced as a PPC. What do you think we should do about such problems, and the similar ones raised by other contributors here? How would it be if we asked the President and Chief Executive, for example, about extending the Human Resources function which I suppose there must be at HQ to the Regional Centres? Should there be an HR person dedicated to each? Should there be means, by telephone or on line,, for councillors and candidates to contact some responsibile person, perhaps with a formal mediation or counselling role? Should there be a person in each region responsible for the care of defeated counsellors?

    I have no knowledge at all about the inter-personal roles of party employees, and whether there are any who have personnel or counselling functions, but perhaps you are better informed. I seem to remember though that when a problem arose about sexism in the party there was an official report made and the Leader acted on it, so perhaps a new report should be commissioned by the present Leader to consider such problems as have been raised here.

  • Ruth Bright 18th Oct '17 - 3:18pm

    All those ideas would help Katharine and there is certainly more awareness now. Like OnceaLibDem I did feel a bit of a chump when I took things to my region and still nothing happened!!

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Oct '17 - 4:18pm

    Hi, Ruth, I’m glad that you think my ideas would be useful, but who will take them up? I am only an ordinary member, not a councillor or candidate or on the Federal Board. The party is welcome to utilise my counselling skills if they could be of any help, but when it comes to party management, it isn’t my call. Will some of you who have contributed to this thread advance ideas for improvement with the party hierarchy, or any other member help through their contacts? It would be good if something positive came out of this discussion.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 19th Oct '17 - 10:24am

    Katharine, you say that as “an ordinary member”, it “isn’t your call”. But “ordinary” members are supposed to make policy, including policy about how the party is run. Had you thought about putting forward a motion for Spring Conference about some of the issues that have been raised here? Perhaps suggesting that the party should offer counselling to all MPs and Councillors who lose their seats, and to other unsuccessful candidates too. Perhaps counselling could also be offered to candidates who become stressed during a campaign. I’m sure there are a number of party members who, like yourself, are qualified counsellors who would be happy to offer their services.

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Oct '17 - 1:10pm

    This is not a question of policy, I think, Catherine, though thank you for your ideas. It seems to me a question of resources, and of management. If members are to be given support of the kind discussed, there have to be people in post for whom that is part of their responsibility. I have no knowledge of party employment structures, as for instance whether there are human resources staff at HQ, and whether a caring and support function of any kind is part of the employment duties of any workers at the regional centres. Voluntary counselling or mediation could possibly be an ancillary part of support from qualified members, conceivably on line and by telephone rather than directly, but there needs to be a defined function agreed by the party and paid members of staff to initiate such work, or it may be to extend what they are already doing, who could ask for the volunteer support. Clearly this is not for me to define or progress, but I have written to our party president to ask her to take note of the concerns raised here.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th Oct '17 - 2:17pm

    Catherine and Katharine

    I believe that your comments , throughout herein,are very appropriate and could well be avoided by those who do not see them or do , but not their real value.

    We are in a party , in a society, in a country, where the skills of individuals, even when together in a group, are not fulfilled.

    Our party is better than many, but, though the negative experiences of terrific proponents of it like Mick Taylor and Ruth Bright, are not my experiences, because I am not one who has been a parliamentary candidate or councillor, I have been a council candidate and served on local committees. My view of the party is it needs to embrace the ways more of the Five Star Movement in Italy, though not all their policies by any means ! Personalities , like that of their founder, make a huge difference, but so too, it is the same , with , participation. We should have far more e democracy, not as an alternative, but as a regular feature of our way forward. Every time we take part here, we blaze a trail, but are probably ignored by the so called power in the party.

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Oct '17 - 8:47pm

    Thank you, Lorenzo, for as so often offering positive affirmation once again. I’m not familiar with the ways of the Italian party you mention, but of course agree with your call for participative democracy. There is surely no doubt that there are powers in our party, which perhaps have a metropolitan stance, but I hope they do not ignore the suggestions made here. It would be good though if some of our thoughtful contributors above were also to contact them to reinforce their points. I attend our North Western Conference this Saturday at Lancaster, and shall try to make relevant enquiries then.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 20th Oct '17 - 7:22am

    Lorenzo, thank you for your comments 🙂
    Katharine, my suggestion about a motion for conference was only a suggestion. You have already done a great deal by opening a discussion in this article. But I feel that this probably *is* a policy issue. Several comments above suggest that the party does not provide sufficient support to unsuccessful candidates, and also that people who try to make complaints, like OnceaLibDem and Ruth, do not feel that they are listened to. This does suggest that the party needs new policy about offering support to people who may be experiencing stress as a result of their work for the party, and about making sure that any complaints are listened to and dealt with fairly.
    As a party we aim to achieve a fairer, more caring and compassionate society. As a first step, we should ensure that the party is fair, caring and compassionate in the way it treats its members.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Oct '17 - 2:56pm

    Should the party be giving more support to unsuccessful candidates for office, and also in helping candidates who experience problems with colleagues in their constituencies? Is this a management problem, and could it be aided by having staff and senior members in the regional offices part of whose function would be to contact unsuccessful candidates and to take up inter-personal constituency problems?

    There are obviously resource implications here, which would have to be considered, but if candidates are dropping out for lack of support that is a serious loss to the party.

    To me, though I am not familiar with regional office set-ups, I ask if this could possibly be a question of extending the personnel/mediation/counselling functions of regional officers, with perhaps outsourcing to various kinds of support from qualified members in neighbouring constituencies in the case of constituency difficulties. Catherine Jane, however, feels that there should be new party policy to state that providing appropriate support for candidates and ex-candidates is needed, and should therefore be organised.

    Perhaps both these approaches could be followed. However, I feel that the initiative should now be taken by members who have been or are now active as party candidates or in office, who have experienced or observed the problems mentioned, and not by activist members however sympathetic who haven’t. What do colleagues think? Will the party’s health and growth be aided by acting on this? If so, please help.

  • Katharine Pindar 22nd Oct '17 - 6:07pm

    Looking back finally at the comments there have been on this thread about the experiences of activists who have been or still are councillors or candidates, I am struck with admiration at the dedication and commitment colleagues have shown and are still showing. There is an overall feeling here of, ‘No, I am NOT going to be stopped in following this worthwhile path!’ Chris Cory seemed to sum up what many people’s ideal is, in writing, ‘The only reason we should seek elected office is to change society for the better.’ How proud colleagues should be of knowing they are following that aim.

    However, it does seem to have emerged from the comments that even more effort might be made if there were greater support in the party for candidates, especially if they have held office for a while and then lose. Mick Taylor, describing his own experiences, concluded that ‘I am certain that if the party invested time and resources in those who have been good counsellors and MPs, they could greatly increase the come-back rate.’ Other commentators then went on to discuss discouraging experiences they had had while serving as candidates or counsellors, in lack of back-up from colleagues, or in finding insufficient response to appeals to senior people outside their constituencies.

    All this did suggest that the party might benefit from making care and support of candidates and office-holders a greater priority than it may be at present. There should perhaps be a Human Resources post, or part-post, in each Regional Centre. Perhaps such a staff member could be asked to contact members who suffer defeat as a priority, to ask their circumstances and offer support, but also be expected to be available to offer advice or perhaps arrange counselling or mediation in inter-personal problems. It would be good also if there could be help-lines, either telephone or on line, for councillors or candidates to contact some responsible person at HQ who has a formal mediation or/and counselling role. I will write to our Chief Executive to make suggestions along these lines. Thanks to everyone for contributing so helpfully here.

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