Why it’s worth being a member of the Liberal Democrats

The New Statesman is doing a series of features on membership of political parties. They feature Lizzie Jewkes, who was responsible for the current incarnation of the policy of raising the tax threshold. “Meet the ordinary political party member who will cost the Treasury £4 billion a year” says the headline:

She was in the auditorium during Nick Clegg’s first conference as leader of the party, in 2008. He mooted that £20bn of savings could be spent on reducing the rate of standard income tax.

“We all duly voted for this,” Jewkes explains. But discussing Clegg’s idea with a friend and fellow party member, Jewkes concluded they should be using those savings to raise the income tax threshold instead.

“It’s like a lightbulb went on,” she says.

Later that year, when Vince Cable – then the Lib Dems’ Treasury spokesperson – visited a regional conference Jewkes was also attending, she ran her idea past him. “He came as a keynote speaker and I just nobbled him when he was having a cup of tea,” she laughs.

“I said to him, ‘is there any reason we don’t do this?’ and he said to me, ‘ah, that’s my ultimate dream.’”

Jewkes wrote her idea up as a policy motion and submitted it to party conference in the summer of 2009. The party didn’t even wait until that conference to announce it.

“The next thing I know, Nick is on the news saying, ‘we have a new tax policy – first £10,000 tax-free’ And I thought ‘hold on a minute…’” says Jewkes of first discovering her policy had been taken on.

“I was just completely astonished,” she recalls. Yet she still never imagined it would become government policy.

As Alex Wilcock explains n the comments here, this wasn’t a new idea for the party. Malcolm Bruce had had it as part of his plans when he was economic spokesperson back in the 1990s. It was Lizzie who drove this particular incarnation, though, and she definitely deserves credit for that.

Any one of the party’s now 62,000 members could find that one day their idea is actually happening. That’s the great thing about membership of the Liberal Democrats. Our conferences actually mean something because we make our policy. You wouldn’t find the Tories or Labour giving ordinary members such a big say.

Over the next while, the party will be looking at ways of giving even more opportunities to members to contribute policy ideas. A good start is the Federal Policy Committee’s new initiative to set out what we mean when we talk about liberalism. That’s useful not just because we need a real narrative that shows what we are about, but because of the ideas that will then flow when we talk about our principles.

So, it’w worth joining the party to be part of that process. If you haven’t already, you can sign up here. 

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

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  • Eddie Sammon 18th Jun '15 - 6:49pm

    Lib Dem members seem to be a bit more modern than Labour and Conservative ones. Both in their own way seem to have a sizeable chunk who want to go back to the past where either the unions had a veto over industry or where they were practically shacked out of existence.

    The liberal future respects the freedom of businesses and unions, whilst having a healthy interest in co-operatives and social enterprises too. Not to mention the all important self-employed!

  • John Tilley 18th Jun '15 - 7:58pm

    “…Any one of the party’s now 62,000 members could find that one day their idea is actually happening.”

    Well yes. It is also true that any of our new members could buy the winning ticket on the EuroMillions Lottery and fund us for the next five years, but planning on that basis might be unwise.

    A more realistic chance for a new member to change the world for the better would be to get involved in their local party, get elected to their local council and alongside other local people in their community exercise power and build up the party for the future. The chances of being a success at this is much, much greater than “doing a Lzzie Jewkes” as described above.

    Eddie Sammon talks about people wanting to go back to the past. I certainly do not want to go back to the recent past of the Liberal Democrats where people in the Westminster Bubble surrounded themselves with illusions of what they could do and instead of creating a wonderful new dawn they did exactly the opposite and all but destroyed the party.

    We have to learn the lessons of the past and one lesson is to avoid deluding ourselves.

    Unfortunately I get the impression that a lot of people are rushing round saying everything is fantastic because 20,000 new members have joined the party so we can forget about the disastrous general election results and pretend everything was great. It was not great. It was a long slow disaster with body low after body blow every May for four years. We should also keep in view the fact that the Labour Party has got 60,000 new members in the same period!

    For every Lizzie Jewkes in the Liberal Democrats there are hundreds of parliamentary candidates and former councillors who have had the rug pulled from under them.

    Adopting selective amnesia and pretending that nothing has gone wrong is what got us not this mess.

  • Sammy O'Neill 18th Jun '15 - 8:05pm

    “A good start is the Federal Policy Committee’s new initiative to set out what we mean when we talk about liberalism.”

    Not exactly going to resonate with the man/woman on the street that is it? Priorities must be coherent, radical policies for addressing issues like the housing crisis, poor school attainment, the plight of graduates unable to secure jobs after uni, the scourge of unpaid internships, renationalising railways and improving delay repay compensation arrangements, rising and crushing energy bills, mental health and old age care, immigration and changes to in-work benefits that encourage /support aspiration.

    Whilst the other parties have a war over Europe, we have such a wonderful opportunity to be a voice of reason talking about things that actually matter to people. A breath of fresh air next to what is going to end up being a very dull, confusing debate for the public. Instead we seem to be intent on wading into that war and engaging in bizarre and fruitless pursuits like defining Liberalism. Leave the former to the other legions of pro-Europeans and the latter to university dons in ivory towers. We need to be producing these policies and talking about these issues now, not in a few years after a long drawn out bureaucratic process.

  • John Bennett,

    You might find this article and its links of interest http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/apr/08/citizens-income-instead-of-benefits.Citizens Income was party policy until the mid-90’s.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Jun '15 - 11:13am

    Caron Lindsay

    She was in the auditorium during Nick Clegg’s first conference as leader of the party, in 2008. He mooted that £20bn of savings could be spent on reducing the rate of standard income tax.

    How much would keeping the pledge on tuition fees have cost?

    Are we absolutely sure that if there’s £20bn spare government money kicking around, what Clegg/Jewkes proposed to do with it was the best thing? If it was, why did the electorate not reward us over it?

  • Richard Underhill 19th Jun '15 - 2:20pm

    Vince Cable came to a regional conference ans I asked him about National insurance. He was polite as always, but the answer was not yes.

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