Opinion: Why Liberal Youth is worth funding

On Saturday morning the English Council will debate their budget for the year ahead which, for the first time in at least ten years, will not include a rebate for Liberal Youth membership.
The English party is the Youth party’s single largest source of funding. Immediately cutting off this funding with such short notice will leave our organisations unable to meet its most basic operating costs and permanently cripple our youth party.
I know, like everyone else, these are tough times financially for our party; however Liberal Youth performs a vital role for young people and for the party as a whole. 

Much of the good Liberal Youth does goes unnoticed by the wider party. So before the English Council make a decision that will determine the future of youth and student representation in our party, I want to lay before you some of the vital work Liberal Youth does that really matters to our party.
Liberal Youth is a major recruiter of new members and activists up and down the country.  Liberal Youth stalls at University and college Fresher’s Fairs are the single largest recruitment drive for the party and whilst, since the tuition fee vote, this has become much more challenging , Liberal Youth has persevered and our branches managed to recruit hundreds of new members in the first 30 days of the recruitment campaign, this would not be possible in the future without support from the English party.
The great strength of the current system is the direct relationship between our funding and our members. Each member we gain provides a financial incentive for us to recruit new blood and strengthens our party as a whole and is far better than any bid system the English Council Executive could devise.
Since it was formed Liberal Youth has been training and developing the activists and candidates of tomorrow.
Every year we hold our residential training weekend ‘Activate!’ Open, for free, to any young member to attend and receive expert training, share experiences and develop their skills.
Some of the party’s best and brightest began their careers at Liberal Youth’s Activate! Indeed, one graduate of our first ever Activate! was the impressive Jo Swinson MP.   Our most recent Activate! was kindly hosted by Kendal Lib Dems and Tim Farron MP who described the event as  ‘an outstanding opportunity for young people to receive training and develop skills unavailable to them anywhere else in the party’. 
We also provide training events at conference and at local and regional events both for our members and for local parties, to help them recruit and get the most out of their young activists and help win the youth vote. A cut to our funding will put young member’s development at risk.
Young Lib Dems are not just campaigners, however, we also have opinions and ideas and we are one of the major drivers of new policy at our conferences.
Liberal Youth is the voice of young members and we’re not afraid to shout it out loud.  In recent years Liberal Youth has, on more than one occasion, been the single largest source of policy motions at federal conference outside of the Federal Policy Committee. We use our party’s unique democratic structure to give young people a voice in a way that our rivals, to Young Labour and Conservative Future, could only dream of. 
We take this responsibility very seriously and we don’t just submit motions on stereotypical youth issues, we also make a valuable contribution to all areas of the party’s policy.  At the last Conference Liberal Youth proposed a radical policy on the reform of Employment Support allowance, parts of which have already been adopted by the Coalition, and we are lobbying hard for the rest. Liberal Youth works hard to ensure our government is fair and our party’s policy is implemented.
Most importantly of all Liberal Youth is about representation.
It is our role to provide a voice for young people at all levels of the party. Nick Clegg believes ‘Liberal Youth are the Independent voice of young people in our party – it is important that we make sure their voice is heard.’ That independence and our voice could be put at risk because of this proposal.
Without  Liberal Youth, how many young people would be in Federal Policy Committee? Would take the podium at conference? How many would turn up to our party committees to, including tomorrow’s English Council meeting, to keep our internal democracy vibrant?
Young members provide the party with activists but it is Liberal Youth that provides those young members with a voice.  We understand the party won’t always do what we want, but we won’t give up the right to have them listen to us first.  
Right now everything the Youth party does so well is in jeopardy, I don’t believe that the English Council Executive know just how serious Liberal Youth’s funding situation is or this proposal would not be on the table. 
Liberal Youth has in recent years faced cut after cut to all its sources of funding, our 2012 budget is stripped to the barebones, paying only for the organisations essential activities, operating costs, conferences, training and our recruitment campaign.  There is no fat left to cut. Losing any funding would mean the end of at least one of these services, that would unfair to our young members and damaging to the party as a whole.

The English party has been a valued partner in making youth representation happen for decades. I hope members of English Council will consider this when they vote tomorrow.

Tom Wood is Chair of Liberal Youth.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters.


  • Tom, I wish you look with retaining this vital funding. It would be somewhat ironic if this cut goes ahead the day after Nick has trumpeted the £1bn jobs / work experience / apprenticeship scheme for young people with the words :

    “I think fairness starts with doing the right thing for our young people.”

    Perhaps that only applies outwith the party?

  • Hear, hear. And I say that as a 26-and-a-half year old, leaving my Liberal Youth days behind me!

  • Alan Belmore 25th Nov '11 - 6:29pm

    To simply scrap the funding without consulting Liberal Youth about alternate funding models to me seems absurd. There is definitely a case for Liberal Youth to be more reliant on generating its own funding streams for its activities but cutting funding with such little notice is not the way to go about it.

    Perhaps it is time the Federal Party and English party join together to fund a Liberal Youth staff member to drive the organisation forward, whilst other activities are done through other contributions. However, this may well mean the end of cheap Freshers materials, which is one of the best recruiters to the party (when I was involved, we recruited over 1,000 members through Freshers). This all seems to come down to priorities and strategy, of which these funding plans display neither.

  • As a young person uninvolved with LY at a national level, and an ex-branch chair, I must disagree with Andrew Emmerson. I have my issues with Liberal Youth: in the past it has been too concerned with internicene disputes; it is often frustratingly inefficient (my branch didn’t get the freshers’ pack we ordered this year, and I’m not absolutely sure they know that we even exist); the federal exec can be cliquey and often fails to communicate to the branches enough. But they are definitely coming on as a group. On the first count, things are much better and much more professional than they were just two or three years ago. Administrative problems are if anything a reason to increase the money given to Liberal Youth to give us a proper, full-time member of staff devoted to the youth organisation, which the Tories and Labour almost certainly have several of. And frankly, is it possible to get a group of twentysomethings (or thirtysomethings, or fortysomethings) together and for them not to be a little insular? At least the current committee is showing willing to reach out, and with Facebook, twitter etc it’s easier than ever to make connections.

    And let’s not forget what they do well. My experience this year apart, they do a real service to branches by providing the freshers’ packs. Their training is supposed to be quite good, although I’ve never gone to any. And at the last few conferences there have been some great Liberal Youth amendments and motions, some of which I voted for and some against, but all quite serious and well-researched. The motion on ESA in Birmingham, which was proposed by Liberal Youth and featured a string of speakers from LY, was particularly impressive I thought.

    I’m uncertain why English Council wants to cut their grant – what else are they planning to spend it on? In terms of new members generated, enthused and trained, Liberal Youth is a bargain.

    Co-Chair Oxford University Liberal Democrats, Hilary-Trinity 2011

  • Sam Barratt 25th Nov '11 - 9:09pm

    I haven’t really been involved in LY nationally, but have found local branches to vary- and not always through lack of trying from members. From what you say Andrew the ‘prohibitive cost’ could only realistically be combated through subsidising places- which would require MORE not LESS funding.

    Similarly, where shortcomings are identified I would suspect that this could be down to a lack of resources on the part of LY- be that time, money or staffing. Members have, rightly, high expectations but if LY do fall short sometimes that doesn’t mean it is a failing of the institution and it should lose its grant.

    I have no doubt that the party will continue to support LY, it would be incredibly unfortunate if they were to decide not to.

  • I don’t know what happens with Activate now – but the first activate was heavily subisidised to the extent that the total charge to attendees for the weekend was a token £5.

    My memory is that talking to Jo that weekend she said she had nearly decided to cancel at the last minute – but was now glad that she hadn’t done so.

    The idea of a self funding Liberal Youth is a nice one – but it is pretty much of a pipe-dream. It certainly isn’t something that can just be switched on overnight.

    Funding for the party’s youth wing isn’t a cost – its an investment. One year (when there were mutterings about cutting LDYS’s grant we had a quite a good wheeze of getting party members who first got involved through the youth wing (of whatever name) to put their name up on a board. When you looked a the list at the end of conference it was pretty clear what the contribution had been over the years!

  • Alan Belmore 26th Nov '11 - 2:35pm

    Dave: what you don’t have though is an organisation which effectively enforces its own term limits. Turnover in Liberal Youth is very high because those who are able to lead will be out of the organisation in 3 years (when they graduate or turn 26), which makes it a lot harder to manage long term strategy.

  • Alan Belmore 26th Nov '11 - 2:36pm

    I’d also add that with the current Youth unemployment figures, and the fact that a student loan won’t cover your living costs at University, Liberal Youth members have significantly lower financial resources than most other groups within the party which makes fundraising from members even harder.

  • @Dave – it’s a perfectly fair point. IN the past there were three ways in which the party supported LDYS, Office space, membership rebate/service fee and a grant. The membership rebate dated back a long way into the organisations history and made a lot of sense is it (broadly) meant that if the organisation did a good job in helping student (mainly) branches to develop it would get the benefit.

    Party grant then directly supported specific schemes (mainly Fresher’s packs but IIRC also things like Activate and a programme of providing volunteer workers in target seats in the days before interns).

    I can see no reason why some of the work that LGBT LD+ does shouldn’t be supported by the party through SAO grants.

    Certainly in the past LDYS had a strong record of fundraising. IIRC we raised 1-2 thousand at conference when I was chair (thanks to a very good fundraising officer that year – step forward Mr Prater 🙂

  • “I suspect this is an indicator that the national party is in serious financial difficulties.”

    The FFAC report to conference projected a surplus for 2011 and proposed a budget with a surplus for 2012.

  • While I can see that the Liberal Youth has some value in providing a socially secure place for some young Liberals I think as an independent campaigning organisation it has it’s limitations. Surely the young people would gain a better all round political education by engaging with mixed youth-adult groups over particular issues that they felt passionately about. If more allowance in other groups was made for young people then they would be better involved in the party itself which would make the party more accessible to new young people. I only joined the party recently and I felt more alone after attending some Liberal Youth events at conference and fopund other groups to be more focused and welcoming.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 1st Dec '11 - 8:53am

    “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently” (Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher (1844 – 1900))

    As a member of the EMLD I naturally fully support the Liberal Youth in their aim to achieve further support. I was present at the recent English Council meeting when members of the Liberal Youth put their case before the attendees. All of the Liberal Youth speakers spoke will eloquence and presented their case in a balanced manner, whereas the counter argument was at best ignorant of the obstacles faced by our younger members.

    Personally I was very impressed by the Liberal Youth, and I believe that doors should be opened at all levels so that their voice is heard, for they are our future. Let the youth of our party be who the are, and let’s not try to mold them to what we desire.

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