The Lib Dem Lowdown: 100,000 members special: A guide to the Liberal Democrats for our new members

When Tim Farron set his 100,000 members by 2020 target during his leadership campaign in 2015, it seemed pretty ambitious. Since Brexit, though, around 30,000 members have signed up to our party. A warm welcome to every single one of you.

Around half of those 30,000 have joined in the 6 days since Theresa May made her announcement about the General Election. This afternoon, Tim Farron was able to announce that we had reached that ambitious 100,000 target at a rally in Vauxhall.

I wouldn’t celebrate for too long, though. Tim is not one to rest on his laurels. I’m sure an even more ambitious target will be set fairly soon!

Every so often I roll out this post, which is basically a rehash of an article that I first wrote in May 2015 when many joined the party in the wake of the General Election result in the hope that it might be useful to tell you a little bit about how our party works and give you a bit of an idea of the opportunities open to you. If you are not yet a member, read it and if you think it sounds appealing, sign up here.

What do we believe?

Before we get into the nitty gritty of organisation, the best statement of who we are and what we’re about can be found in the Preamble to our Constitution which underlines how we believe in freedom, opportunity, diversity,  decentralisation and internationalism. Here’s a snippet:

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.

We look forward to a world in which all people share the same basic rights, in which they live together in peace and in which their different cultures will be able to develop freely. We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long term continuity of life in all its forms. Upholding these values of individual and social justice, we reject allprejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.

We have a fierce respect for individuality, with no expectation that fellow Liberal Democrats will agree with us on every issue. We expect our views to be challenged and feel free to challenge others without rancour. We can have a robust debate and head to the pub afterwards, the very best of friends.

Your rights as a member

The Liberal Democrats gives its members a great deal of say. You will have a vote to elect the leader and party president. You will also have the right to a say in choosing your local party office bearers. You can vote at our Conference and for party committees.

Conference

Any member can attend our UK-wide, Scottish, Welsh or regional conferences. We have two UK wide events a year, a weekend in March and a four day event in September. This year’s Spring Conference was held in York and Autumn Conference takes place in Bournemouth from 16th-19th September. Our last few Conferences have been blessed with the attendance of many Newbies, who have been a fantastic addition. Some newbies are now councillors, parliamentary candidates and one is even an MP.

We have proper debates and members decide the policy of the party. MPs and ordinary members are on the same level, each with a vote on every issue. Many of the motions come from local parties and are amended by others.

Attending Conference is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the party and meet people. There are usually about 5 things you want to do in every time slot throughout the day whether it’s debating in the hall, attending fringe meetings or training. You might find my annually updated guide to the craziness of conference useful to read. And there is absolutely no standing on ceremony. You can find yourself queueing up for things and chatting away with anybody from a senior councillor to a member of the House of Lords or Nick Clegg.

Conference can be an expensive business but there are ways to do it on the cheap. One such way is to volunteer to be a steward as our Paul Walter has done. He says:

You don’t have to pay for registration, they refund you for a certain amount of travel and accommodation and you get paid a small subsistence amount for each half day you steward for.

Join one of the party interest groups

There are very many groups representing every topic and interest imaginable. All would be very happy to have you as a member. Some have special status in the party.

If you want to get involved in campaigning, membership of ALDC (the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors and Campaigners) is pretty essential. It’s a brave person who faces the electorate without their advice and support – and figures show that ALDC members are more likely to be elected.

Liberal Democrat Women aims to ensure that our policy reflects women’s views and needs and to ensure higher representation at all levels of the party and government.

The amazing Liberal Youth  have made fantastic contributions on policy and to campaigning over the years. They are a fair bit better behaved than they were in my day, however.

LGBT+ Lib Dems played a huge role in the campaign for same sex marriage and are there to ensure that our policy has a liberal approach to LGBTQI people and engage with LGBTQI groups outside the party.

Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats represents the interests of and tries to increase the representation of BAME Liberal Democrats.

Outside these five there is a huge array of interest groups from Green Lib Dems to  Humanist and Secularist Liberal Democrats to the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum to friends of various countries to campaign groups for electoral reform and land value taxation. There’s also not entirely serious carbohydrate-laden rivalry as Lib Dem Friends of Biscuit engage in a highly amusing turf war with Lib Dem Friends of Cake. There truly is something for everybody.

Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael has put his whisky where his mouth is and set up Lib Dem Friends of Whisky which is holding events throughout this year across the country and at our conferences. There is now a rival Lib Dem Friends of Gin set up by Dawn Barnes, our prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green.

Our little quirks

I would never wish to enslave anyone by conformity but the party certainly has more than its fair share of Doctor Who fans. There’s something about that slightly socially awkward guy who spreads a message of live and let live and peace throughout time and space that seems to appeal to us.

We tend to like beer, too, especially if it’s real ale produced by some small, independent micro brewery.

It’s fair to say that we have more constitutional and electoral systems geeks than are probably necessary, but we love them anyway.

Getting involved locally

Your first resource is the party website. As a member, you can sign up to the members’ only section which has all sorts of information about the way the party works. If you want to find details of the local party in your area, you can do so here. The local party is the first building block in the structure of the party and is usually based on a parliamentary constituency but it can be a council area or a number of constituencies. In England you then have 9 regions. They look after things like candidate selection. The state parties of England, Wales and Scotland are responsible for, among other things, membership and policy affecting each state. They are autonomous. We are not hierarchical – the Federal Party does not tell states and regions what to do.

There may not be an active local party, in which case you will find details of your regional or state party contacts. Those regions and state parties should be making efforts to get you involved in your area – but that might take time, so bear with them.

Online opportunities

As a member, you can take part in our members’ Forum which is private. Sign up here, but it can take a while for your membership to be confirmed so bear with us.

There are numerous Facebook groups you can get involved in. One of the most popular for new members is Lib Dem Newbies UK which, for the past year, has been a fantastic resource and is a very positive place for discussion about all aspects of Lib Demmery. Hot off the press is their guide advising people how to help in the General Election.

If you have a blog, why not add it to the Lib Dem Blogs aggregator which is run by our technical wizard, Ryan?

Some essential Twitter follows include the sassy Lib Dem Press Office, Alex Cole-Hamilton, our MSP for Edinburgh Western who admits to things like dancing round his living room on occasion, Jennie Rigg for good old Yorkshire common sense and funny, practical liberalism. And cute doggies.

This has been a very quick whistle-stop tour round the party. It’s barely scratched the surface but I don’t want to overload you with too much information.   I hope it has been useful.

What else would you like to know?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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8 Comments

  • Please please PLEASE stop using the term “equal marriage”. Please.

  • David Blake 24th Apr '17 - 5:44pm

    Jennie, what term should be used?

  • Why?

  • Jennie, I’ve changed it to same sex marriage, but I do think the term equal marriage is justified because that is what LGBT+ Lib Dems campaigned for – and in fact, in Scotland, where we don’t have the spousal veto, were very helpful in building the case against it.

    Davids, the issue of the spousal veto and how it affects transgender people is explained here by the excellent Sarah Brown. http://www.sarahlizzy.com/blog/?p=154

  • The spousal veto is a big part of it, but also rules around inheritance and divorce are still not equal either. The definition of adultery, without going into gory detail, still relies on a mixed sex affair, so divorce rules are not equal either.

    Using the term “equal marriage” sounds nicer, UNLESS you are one of the people who is affected by the inequalities that still exist. If you’re one of those people, and you hear “we achieved equal marriage!” from Lib Dems, it feels like Lib Dems do not consider you important enough to fight for your equality. It’s really, REALLY important that we stop using the term. It has cost us a LOT of LGBT+ support, because it makes us sound like we are tone deaf to LGBT+ concerns. And in the current situation we really can’t afford to annoy LGBT+ people further.

  • Matthew Harris 25th Apr '17 - 9:22am

    Will the influx of new members succeed in changing the culture of the party, or will it remain as Caron describes it here?

  • Matthew Harris 9th May '17 - 1:35pm

    @DavePage So the new members haven’t succeeded in changing the culture that Caron describes? Oh well, one can but hope.

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