Opinion: How can we build a liberal movement?

Like a lot of Liberal Democrat friends, I was inspired by Barack Obama’s determination to build a long term movement for change across America. And for a couple of years I’ve been trying to copy his volunteer led approach to political organising, with some success.*

One element that is crucial to motivating volunteers is to have superb candidates, who are themselves heroes to their communities. This, of course, is a large element of good traditional community campaigning.

So I was delighted to see that in Peckham we are using our candidate’s amazing life story as the main motivator of volunteers on her campaign, and of voters. Jennifer Blake’s life story is worth reading, in her own words:

Jennifer Blake and teamIsn’t it time we finally had someone speaking for us who tells it like it is?

There are no easy answers to the problems in Peckham. I know.

Born and raised here, I run a local charity helping young people get out of lives of gangs and guns, make changes to their lives and become valued members of society.

I made the wrong choices growing up. I fell in with the wrong crowd, became a gang leader – and was the victim of kidnap, rape and domestic violence.

Since then, I’ve turned my life around – and I spend my time helping young people realise they can do the same.

If I become Peckham’s new councillor on 7th July, I promise to always tell it like it is – and do everything I can to bring unity to our community.

You can find out more about Jennifer’s life story here, and if you want to help her just email [email protected]

If you have a Jennifer in your patch, then let the world know, whether it’s on a leaflet, a blog or simply telling people. And let me know, I’m collecting stories on my blog at rob-blackie.posterous.com. There are a lot of liberal heroes out there who deserve recognition.

*The campaign that I ran for my amazing partner Tam Langley in Lewisham Deptford in 2010 got one of the highest increases in vote share for the Lib Dems in London, and the only gain of a council seat from Labour from third place in London. The local and Parliamentary candidates should take most of the credit, for inspiring our volunteers.

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10 Comments

  • I think one of the things that holds the Lib Dems back is that people from tough backgrounds generally don’t consider liberalism to mean anything to them. It’s sadly often seen as a metropolitan thing. It’s good to see this candidate standing as a Lib Dem and I wish her luck in getting elected.

    I think we as a party should think about ways to tackle gangs, crime, drugs and poor housing. Perhaps if we came up with policies that directly tackled these issues we could help ignite a liberal movement.

  • I am pleased that Jennifer Blake has turned things around, fair play to her. It is good that she is doing some positive things. Good quality candidates are important but seeing how the swing to the right has underdone so much hard work from excellent people over many years, I will suggest one greater thing:

    How to build a liberal movement : ? Stop being a de facto wing of the conservative party would be a start. Stop enabling the privatisation of existing services (such as health ? – It does matter who the provider is, and the wool is being pulled over the eyes on this question) Call the conservatives on misrepresentations that there are no cuts going on in hospitals ?

    Did you know that Guys and St Thomas Hospital ward managers are not allowed to get cover for nurses off sick ? So if a nurse is off sick on a ward that is staffed by 6 nurses, they have to manage with 5 or 4 or pull in one of their off duty nurses to cover the shift – how will this end up in anything but more staff sickness ? What happens to patient care on the ward with understaffed or tired nurses ?

    It is all very well trying to ignore these basic issues with vague calls for a liberal movement, when the guts are being ripped out of the country.

    I am quite angry about what the Liberal Democrats are enabling the conservatives to do to the country.

  • Kevin Colwill 9th Jun '11 - 1:45am

    Of course I wish this particular candidate well and I’m sure that picking “local heroes” as candidates can be successful at local level.

    To believe, however, that all politics is local would be a bit of a kick in the teeth for Lib Dem councillors who lost their seats last month. The national stage matters and on the national stage the policies and perceived values of a party are the key factors above the personal narrative of any candidate.

    The lib dems need to show where their values really lie. At the minute Jack Timms is right to argue that they look to lie on the political right as a libertarian wing of the Tories.

    Who provides services matters. If you think it does not consider the excesses that have happened in private care homes relative to those operated in the public sector. Protecting profit by empoying people on minimun wage and giving them poor terms and conditions always comes home to roost.

  • Andrew Duffield 9th Jun '11 - 8:20am

    @ Jack

    Any economy under pressure needs to cut costs. Thanks to taxes on income and productivity, labour costs are artificially inflated. Costs in labour-intensive public services are, by definition, higher than in other sectors. We need to cut tax on jobs to make it cheaper to employ nurses etc and shift public revenue raising to unearned wealth.

    The Lib Dems are the only party with this historical ambition and understanding as part of our existing policy.
    We need to make much more of it.

    @ Kevin

    Lib Dem values include the aim of “a competitive environment in which the state allows the market to operate freely where possible but intervenes where necessary” (constitutional preamble).

    There are at least as many examples of bad practice in the public sector as there are in the private. You’re right though – it does matter who provides services. For Liberal Democrats, the state should always be the last resort.

  • I very much doubt if we had been elected to govern alone we’d be much popular with the electorate at this moment in time. A slightly slower cuts agenda would not save services from severe cuts or make us look that much more humane. The cuts are painful whatever way you look at it.

    @ Andrew Duffield, I agree with you that the government should only intervene when it’s neccessary. Unfortunately some people seem to believe that the most important thing is that the government controls a service as they believe it creates unity and solidarity in a society.

    This article on this excellent blog shows perfectly the dangerous folly that centralising services can sometimes be.

    http://solutionfocusedpolitics.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/sharon-shoesmith-a-case-of-incompetent-government-incompetent-minister-and-all-the-reasons-i-voted-lib-dem/

  • THe problem is we are trying to sell a social liberal movement at the local level whilst running an orange book liberal movement in government. It is as confusing to the electorate as it is to a lot of us here. What does it mean to be a liberal in 2011? I think this is where we need to start.

  • “I very much doubt if we had been elected to govern alone we’d be much popular with the electorate at this moment in time. ”

    So explain the Tories electoral and poll ratings:
    2010 election: 36.1%
    2011 locals (national equivalent vote share): 38% (+ net gains)
    Latest ICM poll: 36%

  • Hywel – True. We would have been more popular in the first place to win the election. My point was more that there would be disquiet about the cuts regardless of who was in power, but I could have made it better.

    Sk84goal – You’re completely right when you say we need to define what it means to be a liberal in 2011. Personally I am on the Orange Book wing of the party. We need to try and come up with a program that liberals and social liberals/social democrats can be happy with but it will take give and take on both sides.

  • Kevin Colwill 9th Jun '11 - 7:00pm

    @ Andrew Duffield…I take your point about Liberal values re the public sector and that’s one key reason why (and I make no apology for saying yet again that I have never voted for a party other than the Lib Dems at any local or national election – EVER) I shall not be voting Lib Dem in the forseeable future.

  • Jennifer sounds like a remarkable lady and I wish her luck

    A wider point that this article doesn’t address is how do you motivate volunteers when you have a candidate who has a “personal narrative” that isn’t as spectacular. I don’t think we can build a movement around local heroes.

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