#NewMembersDay: The Lib Dem Lowdown – what you need to know about our party

Welcome to the thousands of people who have joined the Liberal Democrats since the polls closed last week.  We have already heard from some of you about what inspired them to sign up and we will have more such posts throughout the day. I thought it might be useful to tell you a little bit about how it works and give you a bit of an idea of the opportunities open to you.

What do we believe?

Before we get into the nitty gritty of organisation, the best statement of who we are and what we’re about can be found in the Preamble to our Constitution which underlines how we believe in freedom, opportunity, diversity,  decentralisation and internationalism. Here’s a snippet:

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.

We look forward to a world in which all people share the same basic rights, in which they live together in peace and in which their different cultures will be able to develop freely. We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long term continuity of life in all its forms. Upholding these values of individual and social justice, we reject allprejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.

We have a fierce respect for individuality, with no expectation that fellow Liberal Democrats will agree with us on every issue. We expect our views to be challenged and feel free to challenge others without rancour. We can have a robust debate and head to the pub afterwards, the very best of friends.

Your rights as a member

The Liberal Democrats gives its members a great deal of say. You will have a vote in the forthcoming leadership election and also for party president. You will also have the right to a say in choosing your local party office bearers. The party is moving towards giving all members a vote at Conference and for party committees but at the moment each local party has a set number of voting representatives. They are not bound to vote any particular way and there may be places left in your area. I’d definitely recommend that you check that out with your local party.


Any member can attend our UK-wide, Scottish, Welsh or regional conferences. We have two UK wide events a year, a weekend in March and a five day event in September. This year’s is being held in Bournemouth from 19th-23rd September. We have proper debates and members decide the policy of the party. MPs and ordinary members are on the same level, each with a vote on every issue. We have proper debates, too. Many of the motions come from local parties and are amended by others. We take our debates very seriously.

Attending Conference is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the party and meet people. There are usually about 5 things you want to do in every time slot throughout the day whether it’s debating in the hall, attending fringe meetings or training. You might find my annually updated guide to the craziness of conference useful to read.

Conference can be an expensive business but there are ways to do it on the cheap. One such way is to volunteer to be a steward as our Paul Walter has done. He says:

You don’t have to pay for registration, they refund you for a certain amount of travel and accommodation and you get paid a small subsistence amount for each half day you steward for.

Join one of the party interest groups

There are very many groups representing every topic and interest imaginable. All would be very happy to have you as a member. Some have special status in the party.

If you want to get involved in campaigning, membership of ALDC (the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors and Campaigners) is pretty essential. It’s a brave person who faces the electorate without their advice and support – and figures show that ALDC members are more likely to be elected.

Liberal Democrat Women aims to ensure that our policy reflects women’s views and needs and to ensure higher representation at all levels of the party and government.

The amazing Liberal Youth  have made fantastic contributions on policy and to campaigning over the years. They are a fair bit better behaved than they were in my day, however.

LGBT+ Lib Dems played a huge role in the campaign for equal marriage and are there to ensure that our policy has a liberal approach to LGBTQI people and engage with LGBTQI groups outside the party.

Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats represents the interests of and tries to increase the representation of BAME Liberal Democrats.

Outside these five there is a huge array of interest groups from Green Lib Dems to  Humanist and Secularist Liberal Democrats to the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum to friends of various countries to campaign groups for electoral reform and land value taxation. There’s also not entirely serious carbohydrate-laden rivalry as Lib Dem Friends of Biscuit engage in a highly amusing turf war with Lib Dem Friends of Cake. There truly is something for everybody.

Our little quirks

I would never wish to enslave anyone by conformity but the party certainly has more than its fair share of Doctor Who fans. There’s something about that slightly socially awkward guy who spreads a message of live and let live and peace throughout time and space that seems to appeal to us.

We tend to like beer, too, especially if it’s real ale produced by some small, independent micro brewery.

It’s fair to say that we have more constitutional and electoral systems geeks than are probably necessary, but we love them anyway.

Getting involved locally

Your first resource is the party website. As a member, you can sign up to the members’ only section which has all sorts of information about the way the party works. If you want to find details of the local party in your area, you can do so here. The local party is the first building block in the structure of the party and is usually based on a parliamentary constituency but it can be a council area or a number of constituencies. In England you then have 9 regions. They look after things like candidate selection. The state parties of England, Wales and Scotland are responsible for, among other things, membership and policy affecting each state. They are autonomous. We are not hierarchical – the Federal Party does not tell states and regions what to do.

There may not be an active local party, in which case you will find details of your regional or state party contacts. Those regions and state parties should be making efforts to get you involved in your area – but that might take time, so bear with them.

Online opportunities

As a member, you can take part in our members’ Forum which is private. Sign up here, but it can take a while for your membership to be confirmed so bear with us.

There are numerous Facebook groups you can get involved in and if you have a blog, why not add it to the Lib Dem Blogs aggregator which is run by our technical wizard, Ryan.

This has been a very quick whistle-stop tour round the party. It’s barely scratched the surface.  I hope it has been useful. What else would you like to know?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Cake and Biscuits are all well and good, but I think you’ll find the real rivalry is between pies and tarts 😉

    Seriously, though, Caron, that’s a really useful primer, and I may have to pinch bits of it for the one I’m about to send out to new members in my area 🙂

  • David Evans 13th May '15 - 4:27pm

    Caron, 1,300 words!! That’s wicked! 🙂 🙂

  • Stephen Hesketh 13th May '15 - 4:31pm

    Caron, “We have a fierce respect for individuality, with no expectation that fellow Liberal Democrats will agree with us on every issue. ”

    You forgot the bit about us being big on understatement as well 🙂

  • I agree with everything and nothing but remain committed to the Party.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 13th May '15 - 4:39pm

    Go ahead, Jennie.

  • Hi Caron – thank you for writing this post, I was about to do something similar for the 40 new people that have joined us locally 🙂

    Now I’ll just snip bits of yours and add some local bits and bobs to make up the email. Tar very much!!

  • We are also good on sharing – especially campaign ideas and artwork!

  • Is there a section for Cat photos ?.

  • @Caron “oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.” Caron, are you sure. Opposing inequality sounds like social democracy to me, the sort of thing that ex-MPs like Charles Kennedy would have believed. But surely economic liberals don’t believe that, because neo-liberalism causes those very things?

    Would it not be more accurate to say in these postcodes the party believes xyz and in other postcodes it believe abc?

  • All super and positive but a major risk is that some enthusiasts sometimes back the objectives beyond the point when common sense should have kicked in. This can really anger the public if they think that the LD position is always on the side of the terrorist, the welfare cheat or the illegal migrant.

    Responsible government frequently involves making decisions about such matters and good judgement is required on all sides of the debate including by opposition parties.

  • @Peter. I’m not sure the public even know who the Liberal Democrats even are any more, in fact, I don’t even think the Lib Dems know that themselves. As a party aiming at national government they do need to work that out though.

    If the Lib Dem can work out who they are and what they stand for then (and I hope they do) then I might start voting for them again, if they decide they are some that I like which in my case would be social liberal and socially democratic party based on principles.

    I do think the Lib Dems need to become more ambitious though. I remember seeing certain Tory ministers on TV in the run up to the election and they were being asked by the interviewers who they would like a coalition deal with and they said, no it’s not like that we’re aiming for a majority here. The interviewer basically said you can’t have a majority and you’re not going to get one to which the woman responded something like “now that’s up to the voters, not you”. The Tories believed in themselves even if the pundits didn’t.

    During the Scottish TV debates the Lib Dem (can’t even remember his name) called for anti-SNP tactical voting which Ruth Davidson challenged strongly. One of the things Ruth said about it was that it was down-right hypocritical to ask for tactical voting in your own seats but not support other parties candidates in seats that are not strong in. She is right.

    The SNP came from third to a landslide. In some seats they came from 4th place to win too. They didn’t do it by telling voters that in their seat it was a two horse race and that they had to pick them if they happened to hate the other guy more. I cannot honestly think of a more unprincipled and uninspiring message than that to be honest. I cannot think of a bigger turn off towards voting than saying the candidate you want can’t possibly win. As the Tories and the SNP showed that message is not true either, anyone can win, and only the voters can decide it.

    The SNP sold people a vision that many, but not most, believed in. So they won. Visions that people can believe in win elections, not two horse race, do you hate x more than us.

    I really hope this election point can be a turning point for the Liberal Democrats, and that the party can work out what it stands for and offer people a vision to vote for based on that.

  • @George not yet, so this is your opportunity to found one!

  • I’ll have to photo my 3 first.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 13th May '15 - 9:20pm

    Flaxman, I see your cats and I raise you puppies:-).

  • “Getting involved locally”

    1….If there is no local party where you live – set one up yourself.
    2….Meet with other Liberal Democrats (some you might hate, some you might like, some you might marry)
    3….Talk, discuss, socialise, have a good time, do things with other Liberal Democrats that you enjoy doing (this will vary depending on age, locality, quantity of spare cash) in the cause of building up the party.
    4….Avoid becoming a dogsbody for someone else, especially pompous old farts who say they know the answer to everything but have never been elected to anything.
    5….Check out when the next elections are going to be in your area. Stand as a candidate. Work with people in your community. Take power and use it. 🙂

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th May '15 - 2:19pm

    Caron Lindsay

    I would never wish to enslave anyone by conformity but the party certainly has more than its fair share of Doctor Who fans. There’s something about that slightly socially awkward guy who spreads a message of live and let live and peace throughout time and space that seems to appeal to us.

    Ah, well I was never a Doctor Who fan, but I can very much recognise what is being said here, as it’s another aspect of what attracted me to and kept me in the Liberal Party and then the Liberal Democrats. It’s something we don’t like to talk about very much, but I think most of us, particularly long-term members, know exactly what you mean here. The party has often been a place where “socially awkward people” (mainly men) have found a happy home. There is a classic male pattern (oh, come on, I’m a Computer Scientist, it’s practically a requirement for my job) a little bit down the Asperger’s syndrome path, of people who find conventional informal social activity difficult, and are much happier when involved in something which enables them to work with other people in an organised framework.

  • I’m a computer programmer too and Doctor Who is fine, but let’s not forget Star Trek or Babylon 5. It can be very therapeutic delivering leaflets whilst contemplating existence.

  • Neil Sandison 14th May '15 - 6:13pm

    AH but just like the Doctor our leader keeps re-incarnating in a different body!

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 14th May '15 - 8:01pm

    But which Star Trek, George Flaxman? All of them have their place in liberalism, but which is your favourite?

    Babylon 5 was never a favourite of mine but it led to me meeting Harlan Ellison which was a wonderful experience.

  • Ben Egryn Nicholas 18th May '15 - 10:52pm

    I previously stood in the local Elections in my local area of Weston-super-Mare and as a person with Autism I’m constantly fighting for a Fairer Society for Autism in my local Area. as a First time Candidate I failed to win a parish seat this time but still managed to get 1 third of the local ward Majority I stood for and will work even harder between now and the next local elections in 2019 to get myself known and fight for the people and continue my fight for people on the spectrum in Weston-super-Mare & North Somerset.

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