Opinion: The rollercoaster ride of joining the Lib Dems

I have been a member of the Liberal Democrats for nearly a year now, having joined in June last year (although I had been helping out before that). Since joining I have been to the one-day London policy conference in January, leafletted in my local area and a nearby constituency, canvassed, become a member of the comittee of my local party, set up a blog for local activists, got involved with the Lib Dem Coders and blogged my backside off on my own blog.

So I have been pretty heavily involved. I have met a lot of nice people in the party both in person and online. I have met Nick Clegg, and seen almost all the main spokespeople give speeches or chair discussions.

For many years before I got involved with politics I used to watch from the sidelines fascinated with the process and the minutiae but not thinking that I wanted to get involved, or that I identified enough with any of the parties to merit joining. Over time I realised that this was not true and that I am actually an instinctive liberal, which ultimately led me to where I am now.

However I was not prepared for how being a member of this party would make me feel. I have a very strong sense of community and of loyalty, far beyond what I was expecting. I find myself uplifted when I hear our parliamentary and other spokespeople make good points and I am deflated on the odd occasion when they seem not to, or fall short in some way. I was absolutely elated when my campaigning in Guildford helped to get one of our councillors elected in a by-election and I was genuinely fearful about what the Telegraph was going to reveal about what our MPs have been up to with their expenses. I am disappointed that we are not squeaky clean but I suppose it was unrealistic to hope for that.

I am an armchair Liverpool FC fan and the bond of loyalty that I have to that club, despite my lack of attendance at matches, is very powerful. That is probably the only other institution that I have a comparable experience of feeling this way about.

And that is after 10 months in the Lib Dems! I am really looking forward to this June’s European elections and I am very hopeful that we can get Catherine Bearder elected from our party list in the south-east of England. I have met her a couple of times now and she is such a strong campaigner, she really deserves to become an MEP.

I just hope I am able to handle the inevitable downs when they come with this rollercoaster ride!

* Mark Thompson is a Lib Dem member who blogs here.

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12 Comments

  • Good to have new energised members!

  • I’m occasionally amazed by articles like this, because it’s so completely opposite to my experience of the party, which is mostly like getting blood from a stone wherever I’ve lived in the country.

    It’d be nice to have some kind of good statistics of people’s experiences of their local parties, but that would involve local parties communicating with their members, which is sort of the problem (where there is a problem) in the first place…

    Having been called a liar by a “fellow” Lib Dem for suggesting that my old local party didn’t invite its members to AGMs, however, I’m not sure any evidence would be welcome.

  • Grammar Police 14th May '09 - 2:30pm

    Dave – surely the point is that some local parties are better than others?

  • Of course there’s going to be some variety in local parties, but when some are entirely dysfunctional, it worries me how much support and keen activists like Mark here we might be losing out on.

    One of the key points from Howard Dean’s address to Conference, to my mind, was the strategy of making sure that every state had a functional Democratic party. I feel that every constituency needs to have a functional Liberal Democrat party, no matter how bare-boned, to provide support and encouragement of our members – to help them get the best of the party, and help the party get the best of them.

    I suspect that having such in *every* constituency is impossible, but it’s not an unreasonable goal – we just need some way of measuring how far we are from attaining it. A lot of Lib Dem activists I speak to seem to think that the party is perfect, and a lot of former Lib Dem activists seem to think it’s terrible – I suspect it’s somewhere in the middle, but that’s a fairly wide gulf.

  • Ruth Bright 14th May '09 - 5:03pm

    I think Dave and Mark are both right!

    There is a wonderful sense of community in much of the party and some very special individuals (of our Euro candidates Catherine Bearder [South East], Ed Maxfield [East Midlands] and Dinti Batstone [London] come quickly to mind.

    In 2007 I attended Spring conference with my six-month-old son (I had been going to conference for 21 years and he was already on his second having first attended conference aged 6 weeks!). The blue ink letter cliche about the “warmth of our reception” was really true on this occasion. I have never taken a child to any adult event
    and felt so welcome.

    But, alas, alas, the camaraderie and sheer niceness of the party I’ve experienced at national and regional level is simply not enough. The sexism and incompetence at local level sometimes has to be seen to believed.

  • What can enthuse us arm-chair liberals then?

  • cogload – as Membership Development Officer for my constituency party, which includes a lot of students, I’m working on a talk about getting involved with the Lib Dems, what you can get out of it, what the party can do for you and so on.

    I’m going to do this talk and discussion in September for the new student intake – hopefully that’ll get people not only joining the Party, but also joining the party! It’s not going to solve the big problem, but it’s about all I can do myself.

  • liberal teen 15th May '09 - 11:15pm

    Unfortunately there seems to be pretty much nothing going on locally here in Norfolk… My constituency, South West Norfolk shares its local party with Mid norfolk, and its miles away! For someone quite young like I am this is quite annoying.

  • “I have a very strong sense of community and of loyalty, far beyond what I was expecting.”

    Yes, but sadly, it’s what normal people, who haven’t joined a group of exclusive brethren, describe as “tribalism”.

    It can be a positive thing, but it can also be very negative.

    It is why so many political activists, from all parties, currently believe that it is the Daily Telegraph that is the root of all evil. It is what has turned so many political activists into appalling, out-of-touch denialists on the expense-claim issue. Denialists on a par with Bishop Williamson on the Holocaust, and George W Bush on climate change!

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