Vince: Creating a movement for moderates – supporters could get right to vote in leadership elections

So now we know the crux of the ideas Vince will be proposing today and it’s not really that much of a surprise. This has been out in the open all Summer. In his speech this morning, he’ll say:

We should widen membership with a new class of ‘supporters’ who pay nothing to sign up to the party’s values. They should enjoy a range of entitlements, including the right to vote for the leadership and to shape the party’s campaigning online.

The Liberal Democrats already have an army of voluntary helpers and deliverers, as well as 200,000 online supporters, who loosely identify with us and campaign with us, but currently have no say in the direction of the party.

Whatever rights our new supporters gain, we as a party aim to be in constant conversation with them, engaging them in campaigns and urging them to begin campaigns of their own. I want these not to be just about stopping things but about growing support for the things that matter to Liberal Democrat voters, and to the vast swathe of voters in the centre ground whom we are yet to persuade.

Groups like More United, 38 Degrees, Avaaz and have shown us how these regular conversations can happen, how we can engage hundreds of thousands of people online.

I want our party to do that and to offer our movement a political arm within Parliament. So it is not just a protest group banging at the door, but a movement with a voice on the inside – our parliamentary party.

The Liberal Democrats are not a socialist party concerned with extreme-left entryism or a right-wing party trying to keep out extreme right-wingers. We are a centre-ground, pro-European, liberal and social democratic party, welcoming like-minded supporters.

This will be a Movement for Moderates.

Now I can imagine that phrase Movement for Moderates causing some party members a bit of consternation. I, for example, do not consider myself a moderate. I want to see radical reform of the way this country does just about everything. I suspect many party members will feel the same way. A lot of what we propose is pretty radical, but it also makes sense. We are root and branch reformers. We are prepared to challenge the established way of doing things.

It’s not extreme or destructive in any way, unlike a Conservative Party which is now welcoming people like Arron Banks and Stephen Woolfe and leading us towards a catastrophic exit from the European Union. It’s not like the Labour Party which is good at making noise but not so good at coming up with ideas which will tackle poverty and inequality effectively. But our policies, if implemented, will change this country beyond recognition – and for the better. They would revitalise our democracy, our economy, our political culture.

We need to remember that we party members aren’t the people Vince is talking to today. It’s people who haven’t been involved in politics or who can’t associate themselves with the extremes of right and left and need a movement that speaks for them. We have always been that but they don’t know we exist. It’s just about getting ourselves into their line of sight. It’s about a big, bold, opening gesture, saying “we’re here and we’re with you – join us and help change the world.”

I was very sceptical about a registered supporters scheme but the evidence I have seen from Canada and the way they’ve done things in France has made me warm to the idea. I am far from sold on the idea of giving the supporters a vote for the leadership but that’s the debate we’ll be having in the next few months. And Vince will be telling us, I presume, how he proposes we make this decision. You might find my article from last month helpful in understanding what would have to happen according to our constitution to implement these changes.

Leaders are supposed to come up with new ideas. It’s what they’re for. We don’t have to like them all but we should consider them carefully. Changing the way the party operates is one plank of what Vince has been trying to do alongside looking at how we show ourselves to be the party that makes this country more equal and at peace with itself. He’s been championing the cause of young people, education, housing and social justice as well as stopping Brexit.

No process alone is going to transform our party’s fortunes but a compelling message alongside a signal that we are opening our doors and becoming a new kind of political movement might give us the boost that we are looking for.

We’re a few hours away from hearing from the horse’s mouth what he wants to do – not third hand through articles in newspapers from people who really haven’t got a clue about how the party works.

Like any ideas, Vince’s proposals must be subject to scrutiny and questioning and debate. This party is certainly capable of giving them that. The next few months could be quite exciting as we debate the opportunities and decide on the best way forward. Let the discussion begin.

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

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  • Adam Bernard 7th Sep '18 - 12:18am

    Free registered supporters? Fine.
    Free registered supporters who can vote for (say) who gets to be the party leader? Not fine.

    I don’t want the “Vote as many times as you have email addresses” system, thanks.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th Sep '18 - 1:46am

    I like what Sir Vince plans and what Caron writes here. This and his comments are very important.

    Yes Caron, radical because we understand what we want to see and make policy for, the essence of those and outcomes. But though some, and in my mistaken, think centre is mush, it is if called centrism, but not if seen as a vast area where even radical is possible.

    When our politics is extremely divided, to be be moderates is radically different!!!

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 7th Sep '18 - 4:49am

    I’m sure I will not be the only one who is disappointed and uneasy that Vince mentions “centre-ground” and “pro European” before he mentions “liberal”.
    He seems to ignore the things that should be the essence of liberalism. Freedom, in all senses of the word. The focus on the rights and freedoms of every unique individual.
    No-one is going to be excited or inspired by a “Movement for Moderates”

  • Michael Hopkins 7th Sep '18 - 6:50am

    I am totally uncocninced about a Registered Supporters Scheme. If people support the party, why don’t they become members? If it’s the money make membership free. I doubt that would have mnuch effect upon income.

    I am even less convinced that people who aren’t members should have a say in the governance of a membership organisation! It’s ridiculous, removes the point of becoming a member, and just

    And as for “Movement for Moderates”, that ignores history. One of the three groups that formed the Liberal Party in 1859 was the Radicals. I can see why that’s a marketing slogan to people outsidethe poarty, but I think it’s mis-selling the very nature of liberal identity.

    No, no, no.

  • Andrew Tampion 7th Sep '18 - 7:06am

    I second Catherine Jane Crosland’s comment above.

  • I too am unconvinced. What about membership for £1 ? Why would you be a supporter but not a member ? Commitment issues ?
    I am also not feeling very moderate at the moment. Every passing day seems to illustrate the need for a fundamental change in the way the country is governed. Poor decisions are made because power is concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of people and that applies to all levels of government. People vote for us when then perceive us to be the people who might, just, shake things up.

  • +1 for what Catherine says above.

    I hate this. I’m against the idea of “supporters” voting in leadership elections for the same reasons others have said, and I’m against having a non-MP as Leader as it sends the message that even we don’t think our MPs are good enough.

    And “Movement for Moderates” is just awful. Could he make us sound any more dull? People join political parties because they care about issues with sufficient passion to actually try to change things, and “moderation” just isn’t a rallying cry to motivate people.

    I hope the Lib Dem leadership will be listening to the feedback from members that this generates. I personally would not risk alienating even one single committed, fee-paying activist for the sake of signing up a thousand uncommitted “supporters”.

  • Andrew Daer 7th Sep '18 - 8:01am

    We obviously do need to capture the ‘centre ground’ (as Labour drifts left and the Conservatives drift right). But centre ground only makes sense in the context of a political scene presented as a binary choice between left and right. The word ‘moderate’ is useful in that it declares we reject the extreme positions of the other two main parties. Many voters feel the same, but what puts them off voting for us is the fear that we are ‘neither one thing nor the other’. That perception of the Liberal Democrats is our biggest problem, and to escape it we will need voters to get beyond the simplistic, binary view of politics, and start to appraise us as a radical party with our own agenda.

  • Graham Jeffs 7th Sep '18 - 8:36am

    So why bother becoming a member? Looks as if I can save some cash……..

  • Christopher Curtis 7th Sep '18 - 8:45am

    I want to listen to Vince before making my mind up, but I do think it would be extremely naive to think we would not be vulnerable to entryism because we’re not on the left or right. A quick sign up with an email address gives you a platform to preach your message to some kind of online policy debate and possibly to vote for a leader. If you are some kind of anti-democratic activist, left or right, organised or not, it’s an open invitation to sow conflict and confusion and maybe harm your political enemies at the same time. There’s plenty of people in Tory and Labour online groups who are boasting that this is exactly what they have done. I’d love to know how many Tories and UKIP members voted for Corbyn as leader, for example.
    I’m all for using online means to reach out beyond our membership and build wider support for our values and policies, but our politics has been infiltrated, corrupted and seriously damaged: we need to keep our eyes wide open.

  • Martin Land 7th Sep '18 - 9:20am

    I’ve observed and listened to this debate. I, for one, demand better.

  • Ruth Bright 7th Sep '18 - 9:23am

    Renewed about a fortnight ago – £70. Ouch!

    What Catherine said.

  • Laurence Cox 7th Sep '18 - 10:30am

    I don’t have any problems with a registered supporters scheme, I don’t have any problems with allowing them to come to meetings and to conference to express their point of view. What I do have a problem with is them being given a vote. We are a “one member, one vote” Party and the first half of that phrase is as important as the second.

    As for non-MPs as leader, I would remind everyone that we are a Federal Party and elected Liberal Democrat politicians in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly (and even the European Parliament if we can get Brexit reversed) should be considered eligible to be leader. We would still need a Commons spokesperson for the Party but the SNP already do this and Commons procedure has not gone into meltdown as a result.

  • Andrew McCaig 7th Sep '18 - 11:03am

    I don’t pay £70 membership..
    But I did guarantee what turned out to be a lost deposit last year! (8 fold ouch!)

    I don’t mind registered supporters but there have to be benefits of membership (just like the EU). I would give supporters a consultative role in policy, but not voting rights for the Leader.

    I can see the pros of having a Leader from outside the House of Commons given that so few of our 12 MPs appear to want the job. But we get so little publicity as it is that unless we find someone with genuine stature it would be a disaster (as the Greens will find without Lucas)

  • Neil Sandison 7th Sep '18 - 11:25am

    Caron Lindsay i note a number of the organisations quoted in your article frequently ask for donations .What will become of successful of existing none member organisations like the Social Liberal Forum which crosses campaigning divides and co-operates with those from no party and other parties on important issues ? .Being a registered supporter is one thing voting on important internal elections is another and we have seen from Labour entryism starts slowly but can take over a constituency ,control an executive that is why i joined a one member one vote political movement initially the SDP then the Liberal Democrats. Some times due to personal circumstances i have struggled to meet my membership fee but the principle of one member one vote has meant i have been prepared to make sacrifices to do so and maintain that principle .Was i wrong to do so ?

  • Ian Patterson 7th Sep '18 - 11:29am

    No, no and thrice no. Is anyone in HQ actually paying attention to what members are saying on this site? Yes, there are some in favour of aspects of it, but where exactly are these legions of online supporters based? Have just come back from an abortive meeting with a resident during a torrential downpour. Will these myriads show any inclination to do anything similar on a wet Friday in September?

  • @ Ruth I am going to rejoin because feel I cannot just criticise from the sidelines but this announcement really worries me. Here’s my thoughts:
    1. We need to stay left of centre – both on moral grounds and because that is where the momentum (sorry about the pun!) is heading. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury said this week there is too much inequality in wealth in this country – he is dead on target and we need to be too.
    2. Being ‘in the middle’ would actually make the Lib Dems invisible. Remember the look left, look right slogan of a few years ago – it just didn’t work. It equates to sitting on the fence.
    3. We ideally would stick to traditional party membership structures and not have vague supporters who can decide the course of party policy. The risk of that is infiltration and even oblivion (or am I being too paranoid?!).
    4. Although liberalism is the party’s raison d’etre and a great ideal, when people cannot put food on the table, pay their rent, get the medical treatment they need, or they feel unsafe on the streets, that is the greatest lack of freedom around. Rights and freedoms cannot be at other peoples’ expense. Let us talk of freedom when all mouths are fed and everyone has a job and a home.

  • Sue Sutherland 7th Sep '18 - 12:15pm

    I Demand Better than a Movement for Moderates.

  • Colin Paine 7th Sep '18 - 12:39pm

    Horrible memories of 1989 and the SaLaDs returning. Neither right nor left nor soggy centrism, let’s stuck to liberalism. And the registered supporters idea is an insult to paying party members.

  • marcstevens 7th Sep '18 - 2:20pm

    I think some of the opponents of the registered supporters idea tend to forget that there are many ex-members like myself this may appeal to as a way back into the Party, having left in the coalition days, so please don’t tar us all with the same brush. I agree the Party was drifting far too much to the centre right under Clegg but the evidence under Vince is quite different and the Party has now re-discovered its social liberal roots again. This can be seen from the current intake of MPs and Councillors. I agree this movement would have to be handled very carefully to avoid infiltration by extremist groups or individuals but surely these suggestions can only enhance the status of the Liberal Democrats and with policies clearly communicated to the media, see it move even higher upwards in the polls from the improvements Vince is already making.

  • Peter Watson 7th Sep '18 - 2:21pm

    It almost feels as if Cable is positioning the party to be little more than the parliamentary wing of an anti-Brexit movement with a non-radical “moderate” approach to other policies in order to avoid frightening away Cameronite Conservative and Blairite Labour voters. Within parliament, being a “vanilla” party might make it easier for rightish anti-Corbyn Labour MPs (no indication yet about leftish Tory MPs) to align themselves with Lib Dems.

  • Ian Patterson 7th Sep '18 - 3:13pm

    I have now had time to read the consultation document. The question I previously put on this site, but on a different thread arises. Assuming for the sake of argument we acquire our non parliamentary leader (and I have a strong idea who that might be, for all their protestations of disinterest) and they make a policy statement at variance with a position our Commons Floor Leader has. How many nano seconds will elapse before the meedja cry will the real leader of the Lib Dem’s please stand up. UKIP and it’s two MP’s with their national leader outside the Commons did not help them. The Greens rotating leadership isn’t exactly helping them at moment as Dr Lucas will inevitably return to it in due course. The examples of SNP, Plaid, DUP and SF are misleading in that they are not pan British parties. We are meant to be that!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th Sep '18 - 3:28pm

    People I like more than most in the party, Catherine and Sue, here I disagree with totally.

    Please see my phrase ,

    When our politics is extremely divided, to be moderates is radically different.

    Moderation is not soggy unless in the face of that which is exciting and good for you.

    Moderation in the face of extremism is the antidote.

    It is not inconsistent with progressive or radical or centre.

    It combines. The centre is a ground. It is not so very small it cannot have a left or right. It just does not veer far left or right, where the other alternatives do.

    I believe all members who have no past membership of other parties do not get it. Sir Vince , a generation my senior, shares with me past membership of the Labour radicalism that became extremism. We know that to me moderate is very needed at times .

    Brexit, bigotry, Trump, Windrush scandal, antisemitism, Islamophobia, terrorist threats, wars, these are better defeated by the moderation that is the open minded and hearted way.

    A movement for moderates is sort by many. Many in this party need to get out more and listen to the very many on the radio, in the community, on social media, who are crying out for common sense and the mainstream.

    It is a fluid area. not the size of a postage stamp.

    The size of a ground and groundswell of views.

    Call it The Moderators. Or the radical moderates.

  • Like many of the contributors above, I have grave reservations about this plan…
    1. I am not a centrist. I see myself as a liberal and a radical, not a Blairite or a Macmillan tory.
    2. I just renewed my party membership. Why would I bother to do that again if I can get all the “rights” of a member just by clicking to be a “supporter”…
    3. I’m a little concerned that this is really being presented as a “done deal”… The leadership has spoken and this is the only way forward. That’s not the Liberal way, or at least it shouldn’t be. That’s what got us into trouble in 2010…

  • No real mention of people here – the electorate – up and down the country, many of whom are struggling with everyday life’s problems. They want answers, not a sense of confusion. This is all about ‘what we want to give you’ rather than ‘we will listen and try to help.’ No wonder Labour is doing so well in the polls, even despite the unpleasant antisemitism row.

  • John Marriott 7th Sep '18 - 6:35pm

    ‘A movement for moderates’, ‘Breaking the mould’, ‘Not right, not left; but forwards’, ‘We demand better’. I ‘m sure you can name your favourite, or least favourite slogan. With Tories and Labour apparently moving further apart idealogically, how come neither the Lib Dems or the Green Party seems capable of populating the centre? Let’s start a new party. But, wait a minute, we’ve tried that before and look what happened to the SDP.

    You see, without PR you are wasting your time. Just ask Nigel Farage. So, unless you can convince the two parties who have done very well out of our alleged ‘winner takes all’ excuse for a voting system until recently, you’d better keep pushing that stone and hope that a few of those policies you agree at conference resonate with a few more million voters. Sorry, Vince, I know you’ve done your best; but a younger more charismatic leader might help as well, if one be found.

  • If this goes through in its current form for me it will be “Good Luck, but goodbye”.

  • Katharine Pindar 7th Sep '18 - 7:53pm

    True, Judy Abel, I guess most people in the country aren’t very interested in whether we have a supporters scheme or how we might choose a future leader, but what we can offer them to help solve their problems. But we do have good policies to help, and we will have more after our Conference. I think the advantage of the party reaching out as Vince wants to give us a broader basis of support will be (as I have written on another thread) a wider acceptance that we are still relevant after all and worth listening to. So let’s have supporters in a loose association with us, free to listen and participate if they wish, though not to vote like members. I agree with Lorenzo above; and Joe reminds us that we still need to always ask for a fairer voting system.

  • @John Marriott


    Leaders always get terrible reviews after the first year (or indeed two) in office – look at Paddy’s ratings and reviews. And in fact for most if not all leaders their positives are also their negatives. Young and dynamic? Not enough gravitas and experience. Charles Kennedy is now widely praised for communicating his warmth, humanity and Highland Liberalism but criticised at the time for being too much of a “chatshow Charlie” etc. etc.

  • Fiona White 8th Sep '18 - 8:12am

    I have no quarrel with the principle of registered supporters, although I think that a small fee should be payable to cover the costs of managing the scheme. Also it might have the benefit of stopping multiple registrations by one person. Many local parties already have supporters who have not formally joined and this would just make their support clearer.

    I am concerned about people who are not prepared to commit to membership of the party having a vote in policy decisions and leadership elections. The cost of membership is not that high. If they want to shape the future of the party, they should be prepared to become full members.

  • Toby Keynes 8th Sep '18 - 9:04am

    I’m thoroughly encouraged that not a single contributor so far supports the idea of giving non-paying “supporters” the right to elect our leader.
    I feel the same way about giving “supporters” influence over policy.
    I put “supporters” in quotes because this is exactly the right way to attract people (or bots, for that matter) whose sole purpose is to have that influence, perhaps on some hot-button single issue.
    Anyone can sign up as a supporter, and possibly any number of times. They just have to tick the “I agree with LibDem principles” box, truthfully or not.
    On the other hand, we already have a supporter scheme in place.
    Actually, we have hundreds of schemes, some managed federally (with many thousands of names), some regionally and most at local party level; the opportunities are wasted, because there is no integration: the names held by HQ are hidden from local parties (and even from other corners of HQ), the names held locally are hidden from HQ (and the region) and the opportunities to engage with these people at all levels are squandered.
    We need a single scheme to which anyone can sign up, including the tens of thousands who help us deliver our leaflets and campaign locally, and which costs them nothing but allows us to keep in touch with them and involve them further.
    They need only one incentive to sign up: that they want to support us in one way or another.
    We know these people are genuine because the only benefits they get are the opportunities to support us and to be kept in touch with our activities.
    And we know there are huge numbers of them, because we already have them on our many supporter lists.
    However, if we are going to give people (real or otherwise) the power to influence the policies, leadership and direction of the party, that is the point at which we need to know that they are real people and genuine supporters.
    Never mind that paying a sub shows a degree of commitment; it’s a lot harder to fake ten membership subscriptions than it is to sign yourself up as a supporter under ten aliuses.
    Yes, the standard fee is pretty high, but the minimum fees (especially for students and those on benefits) are not.
    So, YES to a properly integrated supporter scheme; NO to a supporter-with-membership-benefits scheme.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Sep '18 - 9:25am

    The issues is in response to some of the above comments that if we give supporters no influence then they are more committed than we are as they are giving their explicit support for no reward. That is okay though rather odd and should make us more humble and that would mean wanting to consult with or reward them.

  • Toby: I do

  • OnceALibDem 8th Sep '18 - 11:26am

    “I see a parallel with registered supporters in the USA and primaries for the presidential candidate nominees who are, effectively, leaders of their party.”

    Very different that – it’s part of the electoral registration process. And in some states registered republicans can vote in democrat primaries and vice versa. There may be people on voting lists who are registered Democrats from the days when they voted for Wallace.

    There have been cases where opposing candidates have run adverts in opposition primaries to help defeat a more electable challenger (see Gray Davis)

  • Sue Sutherland 8th Sep '18 - 12:58pm

    I agree with Toby Keynes because it would leave us very vulnerable to those who might be motivated to those who will join us in order to destroy us. Lorenzo maybe we could have a Movement for Radical Moderates. It loses the alliteration but like Liberal Democrat is more inclusive.

  • Toby Keynes 8th Sep '18 - 1:28pm

    I wonder how many of us think the US electoral system is better than ours?
    It certainly seems to produce worse results, at all levels.

  • John Marriott 8th Sep '18 - 3:01pm

    @Paul Walter
    I bow to your superior knowledge of how they do politics in the USA. However, I can’t for the life of me see how someone can clearly win an election in terms of the percentage of votes cast but lose quite decisively when these votes are sifted through an ‘Electoral College’, which itself reflects the political situation of at least two centuries ago.

    As for Congress, many members of the House of Representatives are the beneficiaries of the antics begun by Governor Gerry of Massachusetts in 1812 and refined by his successors ever since. There are even ‘candidates’ in this year’s mid term elections who are guaranteed seats as there is no opposition. Let’s also not forget the obscene amount of money thrown at elections and the amount of money candidates need to generate in order to be able to fight an effective campaign.

    Of course, our politics is far from perfect and many of us are not afraid to say so. But where are the voices in the USA criticising their system, which, in my humble opinion, is as ready for a long overdue overhaul as ours?

  • David Franks 8th Sep '18 - 4:27pm

    Putting yourself in the centre means your position on any issue is defined by the positions of the other two parties. On that definition, I am nowhere near the centre. Registered supporters – ok. Give them voting rights then why would I bother to be a member.

  • I keep changing my mind on this, and will likely contradict something I’ve previously said on the matter.

    I do think that the route into engaging with the party needs to be more accessible, and having a registered supporter scheme is a way in. However, there does need to be benefits for full membership beyond being able to stand as an electoral candidate or to join the Executive etc. Many organisations have affiliate members, but often this is for professional bodies where students, or those who don’t (yet) meet the entry criteria for full membership.

    At one end, a registered supporter scheme is just a glorified mailing list, but it could be used to ask for input into policy, suggestions or to take part in surveys. These would be non-binding surveys, rather than absolute votes, and could help to give the party a steer on what a wider section of society think on an issue.

  • John Marriott 8th Sep '18 - 7:02pm

    @Michael 1

    Steel, Ashdown, Kennedy and Clegg had one thing in common. They were all relatively young, good platform speakers and had the ability to generate good headlines. Vince Cable is a thoroughly decent and highly intelligent human being; as was Ming Campbell before him; but both were and are perceived as being too old by the electorate in general. Now I know that Gladstone was well over 80 when he last led a government and Attlee was hardly a charismatic character; but we live in different times.

  • Avaaz and 38 degrees are effective, but not democratic or accountable. I keep signing petitions, but no-one has ever told me who’s in charge or how I might influence that. This is not a model for us, though we can learn from them.

    The problem about a Movement for Moderates is that it won’t go anywhere much different from this. Moving somewhere would seem to be a requirement for a movement.

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