We still aren’t doing enough to tackle privilege in the party

As a group, Liberal Democrats pride themselves on their commitment to equal rights and opportunity. Indeed, the very first line of the preamble to the Constitution talks about a free and fair society and, as a member, I am proud of the work we do to advance these goals in government and beyond.

That being said, privilege is something that pervades the governance structures of the Liberal Democrats. From the Young Liberals to Federal Board, it is still far too often about who you know rather than what you can give to the party that decides how far you advance within the party and what you can get done if you do happen to get to a position of responsibility. Our often-opaque system of accountability means that those who have the right connections can make huge advances and are lauded as changemakers while people of similar levels of skill who haven’t been a party member since the age of 10 or don’t have the financial resources to network can struggle to even get projects off the ground to begin with.

This isn’t to say any of this is out of malice. As human beings, we tend to flock to people we already know and are likely to give the benefit of the doubt to our friends if they have ideas that they can’t fully articulate. I am trusting in the belief that most Liberal Democrats don’t actively go out of their way to marginalise people’s point of view, but the concept of unconscious bias has to go further than acknowledging our prejudices to actively questioning whether we give unconscious advantage to our friends.

We are making huge strides towards to improving the diversity of our local parties, but this is moot if these new members are unfairly disadvantaged in their ability to take part in party governance. My main request to those already in positions of authority (even if you just chair a small local party to sitting on Federal Board) is to question whether you too often turn to a small clique to get a project going, make decisions or offer an opportunity to and excuse it by some measure of efficiency or ease. We have a great opportunity to grow as a party over the next few years but it simply isn’t worth it if not everyone can make their own fair contribution.

* Oliver Clark is the pseudonym of a member known to the LDV team.

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7 Comments

  • Grief, you’re a brave man, Mr Clark. It was always my experience that at a local level people were always very happy to welcome anyone who was keen onboard and in most cases if you were prepared to put your shoulder to the wheel you would go straight onto the local exec, so few were the genuinely committed.
    But at the next level and certainly where there was any input into policy, there seemed to be a tight knit group of people who knew each other from the dawn of time and while they were perfectly civil to those from outside the group, they didn’t seem to see any need to bring a wider circle of people in , when there are always the usual suspects.
    Sometimes when reading posts on this site it is clear that there are some people who are extremely well connected, sit on this or that board and know all the other people who occupy similar positions of influence. Anthropologically, I get it, but it will put good people off.

  • I’ve been pretty active at different levels within the party, but things only really took off after I started going to Conference. It offers great networking opportunities, access to anyone you would like to speak with, plus terrific insights into how things work. That is really what Conference is designed to do, so it is all totally understandable. But it does mean that members who can’t attend Conference miss out on a lot.

    The Access Fund helps people who can’t afford to attend, but that is not known enough. However it still doesn’t offer a route for those who can’t attend because of work or caring commitments. Whilst online Conferences did offer a certain level of access it still can’t replace the casual encounters and conversations in real life.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th Jul '22 - 4:51pm

    If this party emphasised ideas and people more than leaflets and meetings, we might get somewhere.

    Starmer anounced no cooperating with our mps.

    Where to for those who are keen to serve? If the Tories can have such a mix of candidates its because they win. If we do it is met by, no from Starmer.

    Is is any wonder members, do not get as involved.

  • Helen Dudden 20th Jul '22 - 8:54pm

    Change is always unnerving.

  • Ruth Bright 20th Jul '22 - 9:20pm

    It is all too human for us to notice when we feel left out but not notice when we are part of a clique ourselves.

  • Gwyn Williams 22nd Jul '22 - 10:42am

    “Pseudonym – a fictitious name, often used by an author.” Given the nature of the article, it would be helpful to know the reason why the LDV team felt that a fictitious name was essential. There are many legitimate reasons for not publishing a name such as being in a politically restricted post. In a Liberal Party members must be permitted to make their views known however unpopular that makes them. To do otherwise means that the Party has ceased to be Liberal.

  • @Ruth Bright
    I would modify your spot on observation slightly:
    “It is all too human for us to notice when we feel left out but not notice when our circle has become a clique.”

    Advancement will always depend on who you know, however, there is a mindset difference between closed and open circles of friends and/or colleagues.

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