Opinion: From Daffodil Lament to Dandelion Revolution

In my first blog post, I argued about the need for the party to have a grassroots resurgence in the wake of the General Election, and spread like wild flowers across the country. It has therefore been incredibly encouraging to not only see a surge of new members, but also see this theme picked up by both leadership candidates – most notably in Tim Farron’s article in politics home today suggesting we should set a target of over 100,000 members.

Such bold claims are likely to be met with a degree of cynicism in certain quarters but I would fully agree with Tim that this ambition is not only achievable but entirely right and absolutely necessary…

One advantage, if the word can be used, of hitting an electoral nadir is that a party now has a reasonable idea the size of its die-hard core support. In our case that’s around two and half million – so it’s a question of turning around five per cent of those hardcore voters into members. In terms of why should they become members… I can only speak for myself, but the result on 7th May was a fairly glaring illustration that for anyone who supports the party and cherishes its values, then tacit support is not enough. I suspect there are lots of small L liberals (and small SD social democrats), including those who did not vote Lib Dem this time round, who found the result deeply disturbing and don’t want the party to wither away – many of whom would have been profoundly touched by Nick Clegg’s elegant and compelling resignation speech – something that probably helps explain the recent surge in new members.

Add those factors together and the potential for a real and enduring surge in membership has rarely been greater… So is it necessary?

Again, I think the answer is unequivocal. Firstly, it sends a hugely powerful message to the media that we are very much alive, kicking and relevant. This membership surge has already generated some very positive coverage which is helping to turn around the narrative of a party at its lowest ebb…To those that ask, in modern vernacular, whether the Lib Dems are still “a thing”, the answer already appears to be that we’re very much a thing – a vibrant, grassroots and surprisingly cool thing at a time when certain other parties are looking and sounding decidedly tired and outdated. Secondly, a large membership and the momentum it provides, will give the party a voice and an energy that it will be denied in Parliament for the next five years and enable us to defend our values and get our message across in spite of the reduced attention in Westminster. Thirdly – and perhaps most importantly – it means that the party will have to become the living embodiment of its own values – truly democratic, championing local issues and empowering local communities and being a strong and irrepressible grassroots voice in defence of liberal values and rights in the face of a government in Westminster that is already showing a callous disdain for those very things that we hold most dear..

Finally, it provides all current members with a clear mission – to keep championing liberal values far and wide and blowing those dandelion seeds until the whole country is awash with yellow.

* Ben Maitland is a new member

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7 Comments

  • “… I would fully agree with Tim that this ambition is not only achievable but entirely right and absolutely necessary…”

    I too agree and do not regard it as that ambitious.

    I will let someone else do the arithmetic but 100,000 is not too big a percentage of the number who voted Liberal Democrat.

    We just need to prioritise what we do. Now it is no longer a priority to keep shoving the party further and further to the right of the political spectrum, there is good chance of bringing back into membership those tens of thousands of former members who left after 2007.

  • @John Tilley yes it would be great to have more members but we shouldn’t be prioritising this to the exclusion of gaining supporters who don’t want to take the whole step to membership.

    ” Now it is no longer a priority to keep shoving the party further and further to the right of the political spectrum, there is good chance of bringing back into membership those tens of thousands of former members who left after 2007.”

    Whilst I’m sure there will be some former members who will rejoin, the evidence of the 14000 or so who have joined since the close of polls is that the vast majority are not former members. Their ideas and viewpoints are likely to be quite different to the former members who left. Probably they will be more useful in the medium to long term as they’ve joined at a point when the party is at a nadir and are likely to stick around through adversity rather than disappear at the first sign of trouble.

  • I’m glad to see Nick Clegg’s resignation speech being spoken of so positively: we shouldn’t lose sight of his enormous contribution to the party and the country even as we feel bruised.

    I have had a surprising number of conversations with people who didn’t vote LibDem (mostly for fear of Milliband/SNP) and regretted it as soon as they say the result. It does feel as if we have the chance to be the voice of Liberal Democracy knocking on the door of Westminster, in stark contrast the behaviour both of the Tories and SNP, who both seem illiberal and factional in a way that is deeply undemocratic.

  • Hello Ben, Welcome to the Lib Dem family. Over 1,300 people have joined us in the West Country since the election. Yesterday more than 100 of us met in Bristol to learn the lessons of the election and plan our way forward. It was a positive, confident and energy filled meeting full of determined, liberal people who will make the liberal flame burn brighter in the coming days, weeks, months and years. Today in the first of the North Wiltshire “thank-you and welcome” parties (we have 50 new members). In the last few days we have called 100 non members who helped Dr Brian Mathew’s campaign. Two had joined in the previous 24 hours. Seven committed to joining immediately and another nine would like a further conversation. That’s 1 in 5 joining or prepared to discuss joining. By the way 15 people joined at Duncan Hames’ “thank-you” party attended by over 200 people. If you don’t ask you don’t get. Now is the moment to ask and then listen to what Ben and our tens of thousands of new and about to be Members have to say.

  • Samuel Griffiths 24th May '15 - 12:19pm

    It’s no good to talk about how great new members are without an understanding of why the old were lost. As long as the party continues to stand by it’s decisions over the last five years, it will never be able to champion it’s values. After all, if the LibDems could so easily throw away those values once, then what is to stop them doing so again? This is the core of rebuilding a value-based party for me and needs to be addressed. People have to look at Liberalism and know instinctively what it would mean in any situation.

  • Bravo Ben, great article. We DO need to value each and every member and not gain members only to ignore them again. For example, we could look back and discuss the writing of the recent Manifesto – in such a way to INCLUDE the views of all members. We could use those members with the skills to write a [YouGov type] computer programme to which we could all contribute views within the members’ forum. We could do away with the over-institutionalised systems which block the majority of members from contributing at all levels of the party [Linda Jack etc. which we read recently].

    ” ..it means that the party will have to become the living embodiment of its own values – truly democratic, championing local issues and empowering local communities and being a strong and irrepressible grassroots voice in defence of liberal values and rights in the face of a government in Westminster that is already showing a callous disdain for those very things that we hold most dear..”

  • Matthew Hawley 25th May '15 - 9:12am

    ” ….I suspect there are lots of small L liberals (and small SD social democrats), including those who did not vote Lib Dem this time round……..”

    Great article, I agree that there were people that whilst not voting “Liberal Democrat” were at the same time also disappointed with the party’s ultimate share of parliamentary seats

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