What IS the point of the LibDems?

This Saturday we ask the question that many of us have heard, whether it’s the opposition to our social values or people who feel forgotten by the party after our 2005 heights – “What IS the point of the LibDems?” – at the Radical Association’s first fringe.

It is vital that we have a frank discussion about the party- what it has been and achieved in the past, and how best it can be a vehicle for change and improving people’s lives in the future. (Radical association co-chair Natasha Chapman)

We encourage all to query, despite how basic it may feel – as we often see this question is posed by bad faith actors, many of whom sideline fundamental liberal issues as “niche” or not credible to the voters at large.

We saw this with Iraq, Brexit, we see it currently with LGBT+ rights, as transphobia attempts the mainstream. We as Liberals are right on these issues – and without us who else will oppose authoritarian parties which who refuse evidence, compassion and even basic reason?

This Saturday we will be discussing the realities of why we are needed but also the barriers we face in getting this news out – that Liberal parties are desperately needed in the UK.

With the Liberal Democrats facing both a crisis of existence and purpose, it’s important that pressure groups like the RA and LGBT+ Lib Dems step up with a new progressive direction.

The fringe gives the best of our ideas people the perfect platform to communicate that direction to the party. (Radical Association Chair Luke Graham).

Our speakers come from around the country, their areas differ in need and political leaning, all are experienced in campaigning, messaging and leading on bread and butter Liberal issues:

  • OBE Josh Babarinde OBE – Ppc and social entrepreneur. by-election candidate in Eastbourne, Hampden Park.
  • William Barter – Liberal essayist
  • Charley Hasted: Lib Dem London Assembly candidate, NHS emergency services worker and unpaid carer
  • April Preston: Lib Dem Federal Board member, and council candidate and equalities spokesperson in Manchester
  • Jennie Rigg: Member of the Lib Dem Federal Conference Committee and former Chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats

Click here to register for conference.

* April Preston is the Director of the Radical Association and candidate for Withington Ward in Manchester

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • David Evershed 19th Mar '21 - 2:15am

    Is the answer to press for liberal social and economic freedoms?

  • Brad Barrows 19th Mar '21 - 7:36am

    I look to the Liberal Democrats to be willing to stand the things that are right but may have only minority support in the country. For example, the Liberal Democrats should be the party that stands for the unilateral removal of all nuclear weapons from the UK at the earliest opportunity. Labour is scared to adopt this policy as it would prevent them winning an election – but the Liberal Democrats do not have to worry about that. Taking such a stand could actually benefit the Liberal Democrats electorally – but that should not be the primary motive for standing for what is right.

  • John Marriott 19th Mar '21 - 7:53am

    As the late Lord Healey once said, the “Liberals” exist to come up with policies the Tories and Labour adopt and call their own. A recent example might be the raising of the Income Tax thresholds ten years ago or, as Katharine Pindar might possibly wish to remind us, the Beveridge Report after WW2.

  • Helen Dudden 19th Mar '21 - 8:29am

    It’s also what do you stand for. The opposition party has agreed with most of the plan’s of the government. Little opposition to the spending that’s happened. The non treatment and brexitt.

  • The point is to:

    1) Stand up for freedom including freedom of conscience and expression

    2) Generate policy ideas and persuade other parties to adopt them

    3) Role of govt is to liberate people from poverty, disadvantage and discrimination

    4) We care about all of humanity not just people in one country

    5) State should not be over-centralised

    6) The permissive society is the best one. Trust in people and respect their autonomy

    7) People experience the world as individuals not groups

    8) Reject cancel culture and no-platforming etc as fundamentally illiberal don’t just jump on any woke bandwagon.

  • Doug Chisholm 19th Mar '21 - 10:51am

    To promote liberal values such as tolerance and generosity, the redistribution of power.

  • Matt (Bristol) 19th Mar '21 - 11:11am

    I recognise the right of the Radical Association and other groups inside the party to advocate for their current understanding of liberal values, and for its historic continuity with the traditions and past of the party, as democratic stakeholders inside the party. That’s fine. They may be right in terms of where the Lib Dem tradition. But this is why I have left the party, as I continue to look for a party which is localist, moderate, anti-elitist, heavily pro-democracy, but consensualist when it comes to social issues. Such a party doesn’t exist in the UK and neither the current conception of the party or that of the Nick Clegg era personified these values. My concern is that many Lib Dem voters also want such a party, and indeed think they are voting for it, and it is clear that many Lib Dem activists either are quite happy with this cognitive dissonance inside the party, or despise these voters but need their votes to win elections.

  • Matt (Bristol) 19th Mar '21 - 12:13pm

    I recognise that the comment above could be seen by April as that of a ‘bad faith actor’. I engaged in the party in good faith in 2014, and believed that whilst my views on some issues were not the majority view, as they were not very conservative ones the party’s respect for democracy and freedom of conscience would allow me to hold differing views but participate in debate.

    It seems to me that the party is being moved to the point where it doesn’t exist to build a democratic consensus or support the systems that would enable a democratic consensus, but instead to fight campaigns that are factional (in terms of speaking for a subset of ‘progressive’ activists and campaign groups that are ‘at the forefront’ of progressive values as the RA’s leaflet has it, and therefore in advance of, or in departure from, many aspects of the current and historic social consensus in the UK. The implication from much party literature and spokespeople when these debates are had inside the party is that I am not a proper Liberal or a Democrat and therefore should leave or just shut up and pay subs. Of course, you still would like my vote.

  • Rapidly reaching the inevitable conclusion that we are not wanted. It was okay when there were just 3 parties, but now with what 6 or 7 we are totally sidelined. Perhaps we need the Lib Dem equivalent of a Nigel Farage personailty, but even then. Whichever way you look we may finally be defunct. Shouls we do an SDP and disappear?

  • David Evans 19th Mar '21 - 6:20pm

    “The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society …”

    We do not exist to merely
    – press for liberal social and economic freedoms,
    – be willing to stand the things that are right but may have only minority support in the country,
    – come up with policies the Tories and Labour adopt and call their own,
    – generate policy ideas and persuade other parties to adopt them,
    – come up with policies that the Big Two are hesitant to adopt,
    – promote liberal values such as tolerance and generosity,

    Sorry guys and gals, but being a think tank for the rest so that when they are in trouble they can lazily adopt an occasional idea of ours and then bastardise it into a total mess that sounds a bit like what was needed, but in reality is nothing of the sort, is not what we are all about. Nor are we a promoter, pressure group, debater, or minority support group.

    We are a movement, where we have to win to succeed, and we win by being relevant to what people want and are concerned about, not by giving it all up to other people to take a pick and mix of the bits they like.

  • Martin Land 19th Mar '21 - 8:41pm

    I joined the party in 1973. Liberal Party, of course. Its a question I’m still asking.

  • Paul Fisher 19th Mar '21 - 8:48pm

    @Matt Bristol makes some excellent points but woe betide if you disagree with the Party elite.
    Try http://www.renewukparty.org I have and I have been welcomed and feel at home politically, especially from a Party democratic point of view.

  • This looks like it will be a great session, but unfortunately it clashes with the Green LibDems “Meeting the Needs of People within the boundaries of our living planet” one with Kate Raworth, which I’ll be attending.

    It’s a shame there are so many clashes, but I suppose it’s a sign that we have plenty to discuss.

  • The point of the Lib Dems at present apart from winning elections and implementing policy is to set out an alternative vision for this country that Labour and the Conservatives cannot. It is an optimistic, global, caring, fair and liberal one. Without it there would be no such vision in the political sense.

  • Richard Lowe 24th Mar '21 - 9:05am

    Generally, or at present?

    Because they have very different answers.

  • neil James sandison 24th Mar '21 - 11:24am

    Unlike this naval gazing exercise I attended the LGA / Green Liberal Democrat Meeting at conference which gave practical advice and suggested ways we could campaign on issues like air quality , CO 2 emissions ,biodiversity enhancement in the planning system . The circular economy . Tony Greaves the father of community politics hay s just passed away lets hope commitment to decentralised decision making , empowerment of communities remain as core messages in the party . We need to pull ourselves up by our boot straps and not fill our activists with self doubt and insecurity .

  • The point is to replace the doctrinaire state socialist Labour Party on the left of British politics with a modern progressive centre-left party which rejects sterile dogma and will work within the market economy to achieve fairness, freedom, and democracy.

    Oh, OK, that was the point of the Lib Dems and their predecessors thity or forty years ago. But – That was the last time the point really made sense.

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