Opinion: The forgotten family member and what Nick said…

Many people think of the Liberal Democrats as a family. I know that I have often felt part of a huge family when I have been across on ‘the other off-shore island’ whether it’s at conferences – Federal Party, Scottish Party, or LDYS (oops: I’m showing my age) – or helping with elections be they local elections in Manchester with Cllr Paul Shannon and our dear friend the late Neil Trafford, or when I helped in Ipswich with all the camaraderie that was there.

Most families have a member that they would prefer to forget about: a person that doesn’t quite fit in with the collective view (whatever that is) of how the family should be. Perhaps that person is unmarried, or divorced, is ill, is gay, is of a different religion or political persuasion. Whatever it is, it is often without due cause. For each family is just that, a family.

Sometimes it feels that the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats (NLID) are that forgotten relation. Many that do know of our existence seem to think that we are the same as the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland: but we are not. It is true that there are many dual members, that is people who are members of both the Alliance Party and NILD, but there are also others who are very definitely members of one and not the other. This dual membership is only due to NILD not standing (currently) in elections in Northern Ireland.

NILD does exist independently of the Alliance Party. I am grateful for all the assistance that Stephen Glenn has given to us in helping to raise our profile since he was ‘repatriated’ from Scotland. The Lib Dems in Northern Ireland blog continues to be read by many people, and we try to keep it lively with comment on what is going on here. We try to respond to consultations from the Northern Ireland Executive or HM Government in the United Kingdom when it is clear that we have something particular to contribute. We have a LGBT Lib Dems branch and some active members of Liberal Youth among our members. Lord Alderdice continues to work hard for the Party in the House of Lords.

However, whatever work we do in the small way that we can for LibDem values here, it is not the same as if we were working towards elections. Stephen and I were sat watching Federal Conference in September 2010 at a friend’s (where I was recuperating from an operation) and heard the words of our leader Nick Clegg:

The Lib Dems will be standing in all constituencies in the UK in 2015.

I hope that Nick meant what he said and indeed that he said what he meant. It seems clear to me that it would be better for us here to stand in local elections first, and then build up towards the Westminster ones. Liberal Democrats know and are good at community politics: and where we work, we win. Are the LibDems going to be the only main UK party that is not standing in Northern Ireland in 2015? Does the party really think that the Northern Ireland electorate would not benefit from hearing from us? I hear rumours that both the other parties are looking to organise here, so why not us?

Michael Carchrie Campbell is Chair of Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats and blogs at Gyronny Herald

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I support what Michael says – another option is changing our constitution to allow joint candidates in Northern Ireland, so where someone is an Alliance & Lib Dem member (and approved & selected to stand) they can appear so on the ballot paper. This won’t stop single party candidates, just avoid duplication.

    This exactly what members of the Co-operative Party & Labour Party do on this side of the water. Hence the number of Labour Co-op MPs and Councillors

  • David Evans 3rd Jan '12 - 2:30pm

    Injecting a note of realpolitk – bearing in mind our current position, do we really think that the Alliance would want to have joint candidates with us?

    However, we have to start from here so, if you want to stand, I suggest you try in a council seat where the Alliance don’t stand or where they can’t put up a full sheet.

  • Neil or someone else – sorry, I have clearly not kept up. When did Alliance leave ELDR, and for what reason? And what bench do Alliance sit on in Parliament?

  • Paul McKeown 3rd Jan '12 - 3:56pm

    Why would anyone want to split the vote? Even for those elections which use STV, this would surely damage the APNI without leading to any sensible gain for the LDs. It would be best if the LDs kept the realities of NI politics in mind: they haven’t a sensible mission there, nor a realistic hope.

    I write as a strong supporter of both parties.

    Rather than competing with the Alliance Party, I would suggest that it would be more useful to maintain and extend co-operation in the Commons and the Lords, formally and informally. Don’t expect 100%, 90% or even 80% agreement on all issues: the LDs and the APNI are and will remain separate parties. If there was a vacancy for a post in the UK government’s NI Office, I would be happy to see an APNI member of either chamber invited. Being a member of the UK government might improve the profile of the Alliance Party; it has been many decades since a sitting Northern Irish parliamentarian was a member of the government. I recognise that the Alliance Party might be likely to decline such an invitation for electoral reasons – no one likes bearing the responsibility for difficult decisions – but it should be pointed out that it was the only major NI party which stood on the ostensibly unpopular platform of taking on the difficult steps needed to reform Northern Ireland’s water services. It gained votes in the local elections, defying the idea that parties can only gain by sweet soaping the electorate.

    I would also echo the question above: when and why did the AP leave the ELDR? It comes as strange, disappointing news.

  • “The Lib Dems will be standing in all constituencies in the UK in 2015”

    It’s not Michael’s main point but I don’t think we have ever even stood in all the constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales. As well as the Speaker’s seat we did not contest Woolwich and Greenwich in 1992, Tatton in 1997 and Wyre Forest in 2001 and 2005.

    “like its counterparts’, would state that one of the objectives of the party is to secure the election of Liberal Democrats…”

    The English party constitution doesn’t state that though 🙂

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