Why we need the Supporters’ Scheme

On Saturday I was at a Lib Dem Women event for International Women’s Day, and in a few of the excellent breakout sessions, found myself sitting next to a highly engaged and articulate woman who I presumed was a Councillor or PPC. It transpired that she was not even a member of the Lib Dems, but “still considering” whether to join, due to time constraints and not being sure if she was ready to commit. When I mentioned the prospect of a Supporters’ Scheme her eyes lit up. “That sounds ideal,” she said.

It’s not the first time I’ve met someone who considers themselves to be a Lib Dem supporter but doesn’t feel ready to join the party. Indeed, on the doorstep over the past few months, from Streatham to St Albans, I have spoken to countless people who have told me they will deliver leaflets, perhaps consider coming along for a canvassing session, and certainly vote Lib Dem – but they’re not actually members, and they’re not ready to be. Making that commitment to joining just seems like a step too far for those who consider themselves to be politically aware but are time poor, or maybe just not quite ready to stand up and say they’re a Lib Dem.

There are then numerous reasons to endorse the Supporters’ Scheme. It’s been well documented that I was previously a Labour supporter – I didn’t join the Lib Dems until last August. But in the two years leading up to that decision, even though I was leaning towards the Lib Dems and am very much a Liberal in every sense, shaking off the tribalism that had been part of my life since I was old enough to understand that people had different political views felt like an enormous step.

Had the Supporters’ Scheme existed I may well have joined the Lib Dems much sooner, and certainly become an activist much quicker. The Supporters’ Scheme will not only encourage more people to become activists, it will stimulate conversations about our policies, on social media, at work, in the pub, with family and friends. And it may well lead to them joining as full members and persuading others to do the same.

In the current climate, embracing the politics of change seems more important than ever. That’s why I’m voting for the Supporters’ Scheme at York on Saturday, and I hope you will too.

* Liz Jarvis stood as a Parliamentary Candidate in the 2019 General Election and is the Vice-Chair of Liberal Democrat Women

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This entry was posted in Conference and Op-eds.


  • Malcolm Todd 14th Mar '19 - 10:56am

    “I have spoken to countless people who have told me they will deliver leaflets, perhaps consider coming along for a canvassing session, and certainly vote Lib Dem – but they’re not actually members, and they’re not ready to be. Making that commitment to joining just seems like a step too far for those who consider themselves to be politically aware but are time poor, or maybe just not quite ready to stand up and say they’re a Lib Dem.”

    How can anyone believe that joining a party takes more time than going leafletting or canvassing? That having your name included on a party membership list somewhere that no one outside the party will look at somehow identifies you as a Lib Dem more clearly than knocking on your neighbours’ doors and asking them to vote Lib Dem?!

    None of this makes sense, as far as I can see. What exactly would the party get out of having people who are official “supporters”, but not “members”, that they don’t already get out of these canvassing, campaigning consorts?

  • Endless repetition of a centrally generated message designed to wear us down. Has Mrs. May joined the Lib Dems?

  • Martin Land: This reminds me of the intense lobbying behind the “Shirley Williams amendment” on health service re-organisation a few years ago!

    Looks like the ill thought out Supporters scheme will be a reality soon. When the party Leadership organises like this it usually gets its way at Conference!

  • nigel hunter 14th Mar '19 - 11:38am

    I have been a Liberal supporter since the time of Maggie Clay in the 70s (Leeds). Then life got in the way, got married etc.Then, over the years I wondered why I seemed ‘different from people around me.Then the Coalition and Clegg. Somehow my ‘wandering in the desert’ came to a realisation of where I belonged. I became a member and started plodding the streets, leafletting.I now pay my membership and help out. My time is limited cos of my life but I help out where I can. The party gets some money and help.Make of that what you will. Over to you.

  • Well this conference attending Lib Dem will NOT be voting for what the leadership wants. I am happy to make official what has been happening at local level for years. The supporters club has long been a feature of my branch and local party.
    What is not acceptable and is based on little evidence is the idea that the party should let supporters vote for the leader or that it is in some way sensible to accept that the leader should not be in the House of Commons.
    When the direct election of the leader was introduced – we were the first major UK party to allow members to elect the leader – it was the best recruitment tool we had ever had. All sorts of people, who had been supporters or helpers for years, suddenly wanted to become members to take part in the Steel Vs Pardoe contest. That’s how it should be.
    The bland assurances that supporters will be vetted are hogwash. Given the level of staffing the party now has, following the many redundancies we have been forced to make, is wholly inadequate for the task. When a deceased member continues to appear on the current list of members some two years after his death it gives me no confidence whatsoever that a list of supporters wouldn’t contain a whole raft of infiltrators hellbent on doing the party harm.
    Do we really want to hand a further attack weapon to the other parties? I can hear it now. “The Lib Dems are giving up. They now accept they won’t have any MPs after the next election, so they are allowing anyone to stand for leader”
    Yes, let’s have a supporters scheme, but the leader should be an MP and voting for our leader should be in the hands of members. It’s simple really. If you want to vote for the leader, join the party.

  • Charlie Goodman 14th Mar '19 - 11:51am

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Liz, it’s good to hear new voices.

    Having chaired a local party, my concern with this is around the money we receive from membership. However now we’re down to getting around 1% of the membership subs, it’s probably more something the national party should worry about. We’ll be reliant on convincing people to donate at events in the future.

    Having said that we do need to try a new approach to connecting with people. And in the age where data and consential marketing is vital, perhaps this will expand our fortunes in the longer run. Many of our most dedicated deliverers are non members. It would be good to see the party reference surveying them to see if they’d sign up and their general thoughts.

    If it doesn’t work, we can always reverse it and try something else.

    The key for many I think is in what power the supporters will hold.

  • Good way to get more members is to reduce the membership fee. It is way too high and acts as a deterrent to many who would like to join.

  • @Malcolm: However baffling you or I may find it, plenty of people do find the concept of joining a political off-putting, such that they may help the party but still think joining isn’t for them. I wrote up some of the (independent, non-Lib Dem) research into how this is true of Lib Dems and others at https://www.markpack.org.uk/156357/jo-swinson-colaition-liberal-democrat-newswire-117/#mctoc1 – see the section titled ”
    Members and committed supporters: two different tribes”.

    In particular, note this bit: “The factors that clearly distinguish members from supporters, and may go furthest in explaining why they bother to join up, are being male, better educated and coming from higher up the social hierarchy…”

    If we really want to be inclusive as a party, we need to face up to what the evidence shows: the being a party member appeals far more to a minority of the population, and it’s the minority that, overall, tends to be the more privileged minority too.

  • Alfred Emery 14th Mar '19 - 12:31pm

    Yes, supporters’ schemes are a good idea in principle. That’s why so many local parties operate them and do so successfully. But a national scheme ? As has been mentioned, the Lib Dems simply don’t have the central resources or personnel to administer one carefully or properly enough. As always, “the devil’s in the detail” !

  • David Evans 14th Mar '19 - 2:06pm

    Yet another article in support of the party establishment, who got us into this mess, trying to do something so that they can pretend they know what to do about things. We almost seem to be back to where we were during coalition where repeated articles were published on how extremely good Nick was while those from people trying to get us out of the mess before things got even worse were very strictly limited.

    Navel gazing and classic distraction technique yet again, with a dash of what we need is more diversity to give it a veneer of respectability. Perhaps LDV needs to be renamed Pravda?

  • I was once sent a cheque by a constuent, made out to the local part I hasten to add. In view of the size of the donation, which more than covered our minimum membership, I was urged to offer him membership. I did so. The answer was to ask why he would want that as he had never voted for us. He did however read Focus and valued the information in it. He knew that this cost money to produce, and thought it was right to help us to keep it up.
    The question becomes what is the difference between a member and a registered supporter.
    The underlying question is how the party should have a constitution which allows all members to fully and equally participate in decision making. A question that is being ignored.

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