Vince’s brave reforms: To fix our broken politics we need a fresh approach, not simply a new party

It is clear to everybody that our political system is increasingly out of step with the real world and that the status quo is failing to deliver a fair deal for millions of people. Our country is not grasping the challenges and new opportunities of today’s changing society, with too many rightly feeling let-down, unrepresented and powerless.

Despite the very obvious and formidable challenges, I was backing the formation of a new political party from outside Westminster in the hope that an alternative could turn the tide against a worsening, divisive and toxic national debate and focus instead on solving the very real problems in our communities and for our country – rather than fighting pointless internal battles, each other and Brussels. But it is in my experience over the past year, and by listening to the many people I have met on that journey, that I now believe a new party and the false promise of strong leadership just risks perpetuating the very same broken politics that we have today.

The real task at hand is in creating a movement to reinvigorate our democracy with the opportunity now to build power through fresh new approaches that put citizens and communities at the heart of our political process. Such a movement, if it is to succeed, means that we have to work together regardless of political party, not by simply trying to create a new one. Our political system and its centralised power and tribal risk-averse culture has created a politics increasingly disconnected from the people and communities it seeks to serve. Real change will only happen when we do politics differently and work in cooperation with people all across the country – with all parts of our society playing a greater role in a healthier, more relevant and collaborative democratic process.

That is why I strongly welcome the bold and brave reforms that Vince is proposing. Transforming the Liberal Democrats into a powerful platform, rather than just a party, if implemented, has the power to radically change politics in this country – enabling new people, ideas and approaches a real chance to change our political system with an impact felt at the heart of power in Westminster just as much as all across the country. Done well, the Liberal Democrats should become a real force for change, taking away the need for any new party in the longer-term by creating a much-needed new centre of gravity in British politics.

By opening up the party membership, candidate and leadership structures, as well as being willing to work with others, the Liberal Democrats would be able to harness the power of organisations like mine and other campaigns that are seeking to reinvigorate our political system and wanting to seize the opportunities of a changing, engaging and more networked world, for the benefit of our country and in delivering a fair deal for all. It is through this approach, and by working together, that we will ensure politics becomes an even more powerful force for change and progress in our country.

* Adam Knight is co-founder of Social and Sustainable Capital and was a co-founder and the CEO of planned new political party ‘United for Change’ until July this year. Adam has since been working to form 12 Together, a new political organisation seeking to build a shared common agenda and a new generation of political talent out of the communities, nations and regions of the UK.

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  • Sue Sutherland 11th Sep '18 - 2:08pm

    Adam, you want to put citizens and communities at the heart of politics, so do the Lib Dem’s. Can I ask why you didn’t join our party?
    You want people to work together which is laudable, but when we tried to do this in Coalition the Tories aimed to destroy us and people deserted us. In the last election Labour ran a successful campaign to get people to vote Labour in constituencies which we could have taken. Can you understand that a lot of members are suspicious of a move that could see the party infiltrated by those who want to wipe us out?

  • Barry Lofty 11th Sep '18 - 3:06pm

    Sue, your comments are the most sensible I have read recently regarding Vinces’ new proposals but we have to be careful not to ignore completely the possibility of working with like minded people from outside the Lib Dems. If course it would be much better if they joined us in the fight for a fairer and more equitable country.

  • Jack Graham 11th Sep '18 - 3:34pm

    “Adam, you want to put citizens and communities at the heart of politics, so do the Lib Dem’s. Can I ask why you didn’t join our party?”.

    I would imagine because the Lib Dems don’t believe in that unless it happens to coincide with LibDem thinking.

    Putting citizens and communities at the heart of politics perhaps, yet the LIbDem immigration policy ignores completely the concerns of the massive majority of citizens and communities in preference to effectively an open door to unlimited immigration.

    Putting citizens and communities at the heart of politics, as long as they weren’t part of the 17.4 million majority who voted to leave the EU, and who the LibDems have treat with contempt as the spend every waking moment using every means at their disposal to undermine, reverse or cancel Brexit.

    That perhaps my not be Adams reasons, but I would imagine it is the reason for many no supporting the party.

  • John Marriott 11th Sep '18 - 4:06pm

    Just back from a few days in Manchester helping #1 son rebuild his house. Fired up my iPad upon my return and, wow, what a lot of heart felt handwringing and angst greeted me on muLtiple threads on LDV. So, what’s it all about? Survival? As Tim Farron said, Liberals are like locusts – they will survive anything that fate has in store for them. Being a Liberal is not a faith alone. For many, particularly conference junkies, it’s a way of life! So, whatever happens, they won’t go away. Making the Lib Dems the natural party of government like the Canadian Liberal Party? Not any more and, in any case, as several contributors said, to paraphrase Mr Spock as far as Mr Trudeau’s lot is concerned, it’s Liberalism, Jim; but not as we know it!”

    Call me cynical if you want; but the way I see it is that politics of any colour is something that only excites a minority of people. Yes, I know that Labour now claims a membership of around half a million. But half a million votes alone will not win you a General Election.

    Those for whom life is all about doing right by their families or themselves generally view politics and most of those who practise it as slightly sordid, which isn’t helped by the way some practitioners behave at times. “If only the majority of my fellow citizens could see things like I do”, I often ask myself. But they don’t and why should I assume that my way is the only way?

    As I have said many times before, in a pluralist society, the Liberal view deserves to be heard; but it is likely to remain a minority view. The problem is that this ‘minority view’ is not reflected in how the seats in Parliament are distributed. You could argue that the same situation applies to the Greens, UKIP and even groups further to the right. Surely, if you believe in democracy all shades of legitimate opinion need to be represented. If you are worried about a Knesset situation, then do what the Germans do and have a ‘5% rule’.

    So, the only way to “reinvigorate our political system”, Mr Knight, is not to reinvent the Lib Dems, nor to create a new moderate party, as some have suggested. Until we have a voting system that can claim to make every vote count and until politicians can genuinely see the other person’s point of view and not put up the barricades every time they are challenged and, perhaps even more crucially, schools start teaching politics, we shall continue to be where we currently are.

  • Innocent Bystander 11th Sep '18 - 4:12pm

    New parties claiming to fill the centre ground void are springing up like weeds in these days (and they vanish as fast).
    They are stillborn because
    1. they are seen for what they are – the comfortably off, intellectual middle class seeking to preserve the status quo which has served them so well and
    2. they always talk of exciting new policies but that is exactly what they don’t have. For example
    ” fresh new approaches that put citizens and communities at the heart of our political process.”
    can the writer of those words not see that they are meaningless waffle?

  • Neil Sandison 11th Sep '18 - 4:22pm

    Hi Adam i have no problem with a supporters group and cross party working on policy issues to tell the truth it happens on councils up and down the country day in and day out At the moment we have a speech and a survey but no firm motions to conference on how it would work ,and it would require a proper resolution to conference and vote on the detail that is not yet before us .We were founded as a one member ,one vote party which is enshrined within our constitution it is only right the members decide .You cannot call for wider engagement without first engaging with the current membership .

  • “You cannot call for wider engagement without first engaging with the current membership .”


  • Ruth Bright 11th Sep '18 - 5:52pm

    It is touching to think of John Marriott spending his time so usefully rebuilding a house with his son and then coming back to us all whining about the state of the party.

    John, having been a Liberal and Lib Dem for nearly 33 years I look back on my late Dad’s life building houses with his bare hands and suspect that the outcome of his labours have proved more useful and longer lasting than any contribution I have made to this world through politics!

  • paul barker 11th Sep '18 - 6:32pm

    I am a Libdem though not an active one & I sympathise broadly with both the proposed Reforms & this article.
    My preferred way out of the current mess would be for small groups of of Labour &/or Tory MPs to join us or at least set up New Parties & join us in a New Alliance. There is nothing any of us can do to make that happen though, its not in our hands.
    There actually is alot of Cross-Party Co-operation going on, mostly in the shadows; maybe it can stop Brexit but it certainly cant sort out the wider mess unless some MPs are willing to risk changing Parties.
    The Libdems are recovering but too slowly to have much of an impact before 2022 at the earliest & I dont see any magic solution that is in our hands.

  • “as well as being willing to work with others, the Liberal Democrats would be able to harness the power of organisations like mine”

    What is this organisation. I can’t find it via google or twitter

  • John Marriott 12th Sep '18 - 9:39am

    @Ruth Bright
    Please don’t feel sorry for me! It’s what you do as a parent, and grandparent, or it used to be. You could say it’s payback time for all the many years (nearly forty) when I neglected my family to do my ‘campaigning’.

  • Fear not John. I was impressed rather than pitying!

  • Malcolm Todd 12th Sep '18 - 11:47am

    David Raw
    Perhaps LDV didn’t provide a fuller biography because “was a co-founder and the CEO of planned new political party ‘United for Change’ until July this year” tells us all we need to know!

    Whatever happened to planned new political party ‘United for Change’? Perhaps its failure is down to the fact that its visionary CEO apparently left before the rest of the world had even been let into the secret of its existence…

    No doubt “12 Together” (I don’t even want to know what’s behind that vacuous name) will prove equally transformative. Or possibly it will be the Liberal Democrats. Does Mr Knight have leadership ambitions there, once non-MPs can stand and non-members can vote? I look forward to following a career as stellar as that of erstwhile UKIP non-leader and Veritas founder Robert Kilroy Silk.

  • Alex Macfie 12th Sep '18 - 1:02pm

    Jack Graham: “the 17.4 million majority who voted to leave the EU, and who the LibDems have treat with contempt as the [sic] spend every waking moment using every means at their disposal to undermine, reverse or cancel Brexit.”
    As opposed to the present Tory-DUP government who are treating with contempt the 16.1M who voted to remain, as they spend every waking moment using every means at their disposal to pursue the hardest Brexit possible.

    I generally dislike the marketplace analogy for politics, but speaking for the 17.4M who voted for Brexit is a crowded market, taken up by the Tories and much of Labour. There is no point in us muscling into that market, as there is no room and we would not be credible. And in a democracy, everyone’s voice, not just the majority, is supposed to count. That’s why we have an opposition: or do you think that opposing the government is “treating its voters with contempt”? Those who voted Remain have just as much right to have someone speaking for them as the (slightly) larger number who voted Leave.

  • Innocent Bystander 12th Sep '18 - 2:17pm

    David, I could not open the link, seems you have to pay.
    Are you a Financial Times subscriber?

  • Peter Hirst 12th Sep '18 - 3:03pm

    There are only so many people in the country with sufficient time, talent and interest to join political parties. If we can harness those who discuss their politics in the pub or the women institutes etc, then we have the chance to forge a movement that can gain power. We must remember however that we must reach these people and talk their language, especially not overcomplicating or simplifying complex issues.

  • Helen Dudden 13th Sep '18 - 7:48am

    @ John Marriott. John, I sympathise. Our families need support, I try to support mine too. Politics is most certainly a total mess at this present time. The Labour Party going I don’t know where, I don’t feel they do either. Brexit is something I don’t support, but then that’s my choice.
    If you are giving constructive criticism then that’s not an issue.
    There has been a surge in knife crime, problems with the NHS funding, schools not adequately supportive on disabled access, children have to travel. Roads and pavements horrendous for those of us who use Power Chairs.
    This are the problems that I feel strongly about.
    Immigration, I can’t travel without a passport, that’s how things should be, and remain.

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