The need for us to work better together

One of the things that often pains me in this party, in my eight years of membership, is the way we seem more obsessed with fighting each other than we are getting out there fighting for liberal ideas and candidates.

Far too often our party becomes personality-centric, you either love someone or hate them. We define our relationships and views of people based upon one or two key things we either agree or disagree with them on, this is not constructive and doesn’t help us work together as a party. You can have grievances with someone, you can incredibly dislike them, but do we have to turn everything into a war of “I don’t like this person; therefore, I’m going to oppose everything they do and try to lock them out of things”?

We are a party which prides itself on freedom from conformity, the rights of the individual and the tolerance. We need to accept people can be different, hold different views and have a different set of values from us and still be members of the same party. We need to move past this hyper-personal atmosphere and change the party culture towards one which fosters ideas, involves & engages members from all walks of life and builds a genuine movement for change.

Our party works best when we put aside our differences and unite against the more significant threats. I don’t care if I disagree with a fellow member on housing policy, for example, I care so much more about defeating the divisive nationalism of Plaid Cymru, the ruthless authoritarianism of the Conservatives and the all-around incompetence of Labour. Until we can create an environment which fosters debate and discussion without turning malicious and/or personal, we will continue to be disjointed in our approach and far from the vision of the open, progressive and accepting movement outlined by Vince Cable at Conference.

There also needs to be more work done to engage with our younger members, not simply treating them as resources or leafleting machines. We need to value their contributions, create avenues to get involved which don’t include throwing hundreds of leaflets at them to deliver or asking them to serve on an executive within five minutes of them joining.

The Young Liberals play a key part in this, acting as the bridge to the wider party and it needs to do better at enabling its members to get involved, both with itself and with the wider party. A constructive working relationship with both Federal and State HQs, along with regional and local party executives/officers, is key to this and we need to be championing this kind of relationship. The party’s structures are not the enemy, nor are the people who serve within them.

Until we can build this harmonised working relationship, we will sadly continue to be disjointed in our approach and fail to be open, accepting and welcoming party which we should be striving to be.

* Callum is a Welsh Liberal Democrat member and current Chair of the Welsh Young Liberals.

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16 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Oct '18 - 3:52pm

    Callum, as someone of the generation above you, who has as good a level of understanding and gets on as well with your generation and that above me, as much as my own, this is a constructive article.

    I worry that your experiences need to be better understood by us here. I, in the fourteen or fifteen years since I moved to voting for then paying dues as a member of this party, have not experienced the divided and personal sincerely criticised atmosphere you have. All that orange vs social guff has never been more than nothing much amongst my colleagues or friends. I saw the bitterness in the Labour party, it was too broad when my enthusiasm for it waned as a younger fellow in the youthful days of my waning membership of that party. Disagreements in ours seem less serious or much less one on one hatred. Is this something you have had to put up with in the young Liberals or in the party as a whole?

    We need to compromise and celebrate it. Liberals today who want to get there own all the time way, as ever, always, are not Liberals at all.

  • This is a positive contribution and chimes with my own experience of being thrown hundreds of leaflets before the ink was dry on my membership application. Leaflet delivery is unduy fetishised and no consideration is given to the wider skills and a more gradual aclimatisation to political activism.

    There is also a tendency for the “old guard” to exclude people who hold differing views, such as economic liberalism.

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Oct '18 - 4:36pm

    If we manage to recruit a young liberal democrat member the first thing we ask them to do is to recruit more young liberal democrat members.
    Is this the wrong approach Callum?
    In one election we printed 100 colour posters with the candidate’s name on, to be given out to residents who agreed to vote for us. Our youngest member tried and was disappointed by a refusal. No shame in that.
    Even a former branch chairman who was also a former borough councillor was unwilling to ask unless certain of acceptance and did not want to be carrying posters with him when canvassing, thereby ensuring failure.

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Oct '18 - 4:57pm

    Callum James Littlemore: The new Plaid Cymru leader has come out in favour of a people’s vote on Brexit and might therefore be treated as an ally in the cause of modernising and updating our democracy.
    Regrettably UKIP achieved some electoral success in Wales, on the back of causes we supported, such as devolution to nations and regions, a fair electoral system for the assembly and direct representation to the European parliament using a fair electoral system. This brings decision making closer to the people.
    In England outside Greater London the Tories are creating a hotchpotch which is likely to become a postcode lottery. They do this by withdrawing central government funding and giving some of it back to those who agree to their political price, for instance by concentrating some money and some powers in a single person.

  • Brilliant Callum. There is only really one thing that should matter in politics – a vision and determination to make people’s lives better, especially those who are getting a raw deal. When this ceases to become the driving force, then all the other internal things start to take centre stage and the petty squabbles break out.

  • Callum James Littlemore 3rd Oct '18 - 5:52pm

    To Richard:
    Generally asking a young member to recruit friends isn’t a bad idea, so long as it is approached right. You don’t want to make them feel undervalued and almost like a resource which you just want more of. Get them involved and active before playing the “get your friends to join” card. Also Adam Price may be anti-Brexit but Plaid have taken a long time to get to this point and have had to be dragged kicking and screaming. They may be aligned with us on this one cause but I won’t stop fighting them or their divisive nationalism.

    To Lorenzo:
    I have experienced this sort of attitude and behavior in all parts of the party, there is always the underlying personal discourse which drives events, decisions and makes the atmosphere less than pleasant. It’s all so personal and isn’t nice, especially when some feuds go back literal decades….

  • Sean Hyland 3rd Oct '18 - 7:54pm

    As a leave voter i was told to “…… off ” by my local party when i spoke to them about rejoining. This despite being a known Lib Dem voter and past party member( though not at this address ). Not a good way to win over people especially when supposedly 30% of identifying LD voters were supported Leave.
    i know I could rejoin online but want nothing to do with the local party.

  • Neil Sandison 3rd Oct '18 - 8:52pm

    Every one is accountable for their actions if you are unhappy about local decisions or you think your contribution is being under valued then raise it with your region . It is unfair to run an article where we are hearing just one side of the story .There are election
    expenditure and content rules . Perhaps some old dogs need to learn some new tricks explain how you think they can help please dont carp . Your age should not be a barrier and you should not be patronised but equally your local chair should do all they can to make you feel welcome.

  • Andrew McCaig 3rd Oct '18 - 11:42pm

    My local Party has 70 members. Only 8-10 of them are willing to deliver leaflets. We hold one hilly ward that takes 80 person hours to deliver. We have a handful of non-members who deliver one round and only 4 people in total willing to deliver more than 2. And people ask “why do we ask new members to deliver leaflets?” If all our 70 members would give us 8 hours per year delivering leaflets that would really transform things…

  • I absolutely agree with Callum. Thank you for your article.

  • TCO – Perhaps I am a member of the very old guard who thinks that “economic liberalism” has actually been given too much weight in recent years. However I will freely accept that we still have more to learn from the woes of the Labour and Conservative parties as spurs to creating events that enable discussion and debate about different strands of liberalism in a supportive spirit of inclusivity.

  • Sue Sutherland 4th Oct '18 - 1:37pm

    First of all, we’re all human and secondly, the party has had a difficult time since 2010. It’s very easy for squabbles to break out when a party isn’t doing as well as its members would like. What I find extraordinary is how many people have become members recently and how many share our Lib Dem values. We may have been knocked down but we are slowly getting up again.
    Politics is about persuading people to our point of view, so of course there are going to be heated discussions but Callum is talking about more than this. He’s the Chair of the Welsh YLD so he know how to persuade people to support and vote for him. His perspective is very valuable and he’s not alone in his point of view.
    One of the things I’d like to see the party do is to survey new members to find out what they want from us, how they would like to be involved. At the moment we want to involve them so we have events and we ask them to leaflet for us but an awful lot of them don’t want to do either. I’m sure quite a few don’t want to be active, they just want to support us, but we need to ask, not just do a skills survey.
    We also need to involve members much more in all the decisions our party makes. This has to become part of the rules because cultural change like this requires support from the constitution. There are too many groups and individuals who feel left out so of course they aren’t welcoming to others.
    A grassroots campaign demanding proper member participation might be what is required to get this cultural shift going. There are a lot of people who feel this way but they don’t seem to be united at the moment so group action, practising involvement of every member of that group, might well deliver a new way of practising politics.

  • There is an Indian legend about several blind men who come across an elephant with each stumbling into a different part. One bumps into the side and concludes an elephant is like a wall, another finds the trunk and decides it’s like a hose while a leg makes another think it’s a sort of tree. They argue and soon finish up fighting.

    That’s so like the Lib Dems. Our disputes, thankfully, mostly stay as that rather than outright fights but we shouldn’t brush these differences under the carpet. They are the proverbial canary in a coalmine; if there is no broad consensus, there can be no progress – which is indeed the story of the Lib Dems from the off.

    Another image helps explain the problem. Imagine a tugboat anchored in a tidal estuary with several barges moored to it, each with its own towline. When tidal currents shift and the wind changes (as they do) the whole will get into a dreadful muddle of tangled lines. When the tugboat gets under way there may still be some bumps between barges but, in the larger scheme of things, order and progress will be restored.

    In short, it’s about leadership.

    Peter Drucker, a management guru of yesteryear, had a great observation about leadership, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things”. That’s exactly where the Lib Dems are failing.

    Take Sean Hyland’s point about his experience as a Leave supporter for example. The Party’s uncritical support for every EU move to consolidate its power (in flat contravention of claims to support devolution) made it the largest reason for members to resign 20 years ago in my then constituency – and that was well before Lisbon made a mockery of claims to be democratic.

    There was (and is) a perfectly sensible alternative but neither focus groups nor policy committees working to narrow briefs can find it so we’re in this mess. We focus on the detail (“doing thigs right”) and very little on the big picture (“doing the right things”) so we too often finish up doing the wrong things – but in a beautifully detailed way!

    In consequence I think much of the Party has fallen into a funk, endlessly circling the Identity Politics drain with little interesting to say about economic issues even as they become increasingly desperate.

  • Peter Hirst 4th Oct '18 - 5:50pm

    What unites us is far greater than what divides us. And more important too. The other two Parties are shambolic and we are allowing them to get away with it. We are actually far more united than they are. It is up to individual members and supporters to set aside any differences in the fight for a better Britain.

  • @ Peter Hirst. It’s a bit rich to use a quote from a much loved and missed Labour MP to start an attack on the other political parties.

    There are good people in all parties (with some exceptions) and the Lib Dems are unwise to boast of moral superiority.

  • Very well said!

    I’ve noticed that far too many folk in the party are getting bogged down with in-fighting. As someone with some different opinions compared to most of our members, I’ve been on the receiving end of it, and I’m admittedly guilty of starting it myself! But ultimately whatever our policy differences we all share the same goal, which is to make a positive change in this country through liberal policies, and I’m confident that we if pull together we can do it!

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