Young Liberals need reform – and we need your help!

Young people play a vital role in the party. Beyond our ability to deliver vast sums of leaflets, or to liven up that local party picture, we shape the Liberal Democrats. We stand for public office; we lobby for youth issues and representation, we ensure that as society changes the party changes with it. However, lately the boundaries of who is young have changed, and the Young Liberals need to change too. That is why we are looking at possible structural reforms, including raising the automatic membership age cut off from 26 to 30.

No longer can even the luckiest of us expect a job straight out of education; more and older graduates have to turn to internships for work. As house prices skyrocket, moving out of the parental home is taking longer. Moreover, with the tendency to remain in education, even the culture and lifestyle associated with youth has come to be applied to a broader age range. With these changes in society, the political landscape has changed too. The needs of those preparing to leave school and the needs of those in their late twenties are more closely aligned than ever before. Ending long-term unpaid work, tackling the housing crisis, improving representation in education, and increasing funding for mental health care are just some examples of policies that would have a disproportionate impact on all of us under 30.

However, the Young Liberals as an organisation has been struggling to represent these needs. It is no secret that we have suffered deepening institutional memory problems as a result of these societal changes. Students now make up such a large part of our constituent members that it’s hard for us to develop a network capable of serving our school leavers and young professions. Our lives have also become more defined by instability – such as moves abroad or in and out of education. These sudden radical changes in circumstances can render members unable to contribute in the way they have done before, and so the consistency in the quality of our work has taken a hit. By virtue of our membership and structure it is getting pretty tough to run ourselves well, and if Young Liberals as an organisation cannot run well then all our members whether in their twenties or still in their teens lose out.

We want to serve all young people to the best of our ability regardless of their educational status, and we feel that we can best do that by bringing Lib Dem members between 26 and 29 into the Young Liberals membership. This would be a radical change in our structure, our culture, and hopefully our institutional memory. However, we want to know what you think: we need your feedback, and we need your help. We are running a consultation on this proposal which is open to all members of the party. If you have just five minutes to spare we would be grateful for your input; the consultation form is here. We also have a consultation session at a conference – 18.15 on Saturday in the Hilton Minster Suite (you can find the Facebook event here). We would love to see you there, answer any questions, and hear any other suggestions for reform you may have on how we can make our organisation better!

* Erin is a party member and currently a non-portfolio officer for the Young Liberals

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  • James Baillie 13th Mar '19 - 11:53am

    I think that if YL wants to do this (speaking as a 25 year old member), it should probably split into two SAOs: a Lib Dem Youth & Students for those in education, and a Young Liberals for the 23-35s who aren’t in education. A lot of the precarity problems for 29 year old young professionals are also being felt by thirty-six or forty-two year old professionals. I worry that increasing the cut-off leads to an effective dilution of YL’s ability to focus on the needs of youth & student issues, which is something we really need YL to have a clear voice on. It would make it quite possible to have future YL execs with few to no students or members under 21 at all, especially as participation in YL events is already often skewed heavily by people’s ability to travel etc. Universities and places of education, and people who are too young to vote or still in apprenticeships, degrees, etc, do I think have their own specific set of issues and we need an SAO that is capable of focusing on those; we may well also need an SAO that focuses on the (as rightly pointed out) different needs of school leavers and young professionals, but I’m not sure that just importing a big bloc of new older members will allow YL to do that – it feels as likely to leave YL less effective in either role.

  • Goodness me. When I joined the Young Liberal in 1964 there were two organisations. The Young Liberals and the Union of Liberal Students. Of course, we worked together and many people held office in one or the other or both organisations.
    I’m not sure why there was amalgamation. It happened long after I would have been eligible under any proposals being put forward to raise the age limit.
    What matters is what works. A unified organisation should be able to make better use of limited funds, so the issue then is how to cater for students and non students. It shouldn’t be beyond possibility to do this.
    Spending time creating two separate organisations again would waste time far better spent on promoting Liberal democracy.

  • George Potter 13th Mar '19 - 1:14pm

    I’m in agreement with James. I struggle to see how I, as a 28 year old, can realistically be bracketed in the same group as a 14 year old.

    It would be far better if there were some differentiation. There seem to be two large groups here – young people in full-time education (eg students and pupils) and younger adults in general (those aged 18 to 30 or 35).

    But right now I really can’t see how it can possibly be practical for a 30 year old to attend the same Young Liberal conference as a 5 year old and see the issues facing both of them addressed with equal priority – and that’s without getting on to the potential safeguarding issues that would arise!

    When I was still a member of Liberal Youth and then the Young Liberals it was constantly the case that YL struggled to have any kind of purpose. The most important question of any organisation must be “what is it for?” yet YL has never seemed to have an answer to that question.

    Does it exist to recruit young people to the party and represent their views within it? Does it exist to organise on campuses to support local parties and to contest Student Union elections? Or does it exist just to help make the party make policy on issues affecting young people?

    So far YL seems to dabble in little bits of all of the above and not do any of them particularly well.

    It would be far better, in my opinion, to have an organisation focused on young people in full time education – for recruitment, policy making and contesting student elections – and a separate organisation focused on the much larger group of young adults in the party and the very different issues facing them (work, housing costs, etc.)

    Because ultimately the lifestyles and issues facing an 18 and a 30 year old in full time employment are likely to be very similar. But the experiences of both of them are likely to differ considerably from those young people who are still in full-time education.

    My biggest concern about expanding YL to include people like myself would be that you’d end up with an organisation where the executive and priorities are dominated by people well into their twenties (who have the financial resources to support participation in YL) to the detriment of actual young people.

  • David Warren 13th Mar '19 - 2:38pm

    Many moons ago when I was active in the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS) the upper age limit was 26 which I thought was about right.

    I have responded to the YL giving my view that 25 is about right for the threshold.

    Anything higher is I believe pushing it and as others have said means people of 29 or 30 would be in the same organisation as those in their teens!

  • This is honestly a really good idea and I hope it goes through as young liberals is often ignored or not taken seriously by the party as its ‘just a bunch of teenagers’ and by increasing the age threshold it could go some way to reducing that view, and having YL’s campaigns taken more seriously by the party, and I think its a very good idea.

  • I’m really excited for these changes. Students are all ages and the cut off point can make mature students feel out of place and even more aware of being older. The fact that most European parties are 35 for their young members says a lot and 25 is very young in comparison and doesn’t help with institutional memory or making sure we support young professionals.

    I must admit, current comments seem to imply young children come to our events and that a 20 year old hanging with a 5 year old is perfectly fine, which it is not. Safeguarding is put in anyway and raising the age to 29 has no added issues. My little brother is 15 and gets involved to the best of his abilities, but the two of us agreed him traveling to Glasgow for a conference at his age wasn’t really appropriate. Perhaps next year when he is 16 and I won’t need to travel with him, which in this scenario would have meant a lot of moving about for me! One would assume this is true of all children. YL is, for the most part, 18+ with some 16-18 year olds and this is a very limited age gap. Expanding to 29 should help to include a wide range of talented individuals. Engaging with YL is also optional. Some 20 year olds mostly engage with local parties. The same could be done for 27 year olds.

  • Chris Small 13th Mar '19 - 3:43pm

    Young people from, from teenagers, to 30 year olds have a lot in common. Issues such as climate change, the housing crisis, mental health and brexit, all particulary effect people aged 30 and younger, and so it makes sense to extend the age range for an organisation which lobbies about policy in these areas. Also Young Liberals is in great need of a deeper talent pool, and to help keep around more exprerienced people to run it, in order to maximise its effiecency as an organisation.

  • Erin Yarrow 13th Mar '19 - 5:19pm

    Thanks so much to everyone for your thoughtful comments here. Just want to respond to a few points. Firstly, a few clarifications about YL and the proposal. The suggestion is to make 30 the *cut off* age, not inclusive – that is the proposals would make the oldest members in YL 29 not 30. Secondly, there is already a minimum age on YL conference (but not membership) now due to safeguarding needs – nobody under the age of 16 should be in attendance. So the widest possible age difference at a YL conference under this proposal would be 16 – 29. There is also a minimum age of 18 on some exec positions with sensitive or legal responsibilities. Finally, YL already as opt in membership for those 26 – 29, and includes mature students, (I myself am 27 but am classed as an automatic member as I am still in education), so there are already some people over 25 involved, but again they are mostly students.

    In response to the suggestions of separate organisations, I see some of the inclination this direction but ultimately do not think it could work. It would present a huge issue for our devolved parts. For example YL Scotland already includes everybody up to 30 (although the Federal Constitution does not recognise these members) because they struggled to fill positions as it was – a split in two would re-create these problems. All cut offs will ultimately be a bit arbitrary but I think there’s a good case that currently we have it too low. And I do not think there is any risk of YL failing to serve students – at the moment our biggest problem is our failure to serve young people in employment: as an organisation, and even as a party, we do not have many such members which means they tend to get overlooked. Finally, I think it’s important to consider how including 26-29s could help the organisation as a whole run better, giving us more membership capacity to serve the aims of Young Liberals in general.

  • James Bliss 13th Mar '19 - 5:45pm

    This is really good change that I have supported for quite a while now, diversifying YL by opening it up more to young professionals and those not in full time education is really important both because it is the best element within the party to lobby for their interests, and because it will allow YL to better represent those between 18 and 25 that don’t choose to go to university and are in full time work.

    YL is constantly criticised both internally and externally for being too student and university focused, for too much of its existence being university societies and not doing enough to fight and represent the issues of young people outside of university societies. This is not the only step, but an important step in ensuring that YL is best placed to do so.

    I really hope we have widespread support within the party for this, and that the party backs the wishes of YL itself (who overwhelmingly support it both at conference and during polls and discussions we have done informally).

  • @David Raw have you actually read James Bliss’s posting? The point he is making is precisely the opposite of what you are criticising him for. i.e. he wants YL to be as inclusive as possible and cater for those who are not at university as well as those who are. All very encouraging, and very Liberal it seems to me. Really good to see YL moving in this direction.

  • James Bliss 13th Mar '19 - 6:58pm

    To those suggesting having two wings, a student wing and a youth wing, we can see with labours two young wings, that it just creates two factional and disfunctional institutions that become ineffectual and bicker with eachother. In addition, we wouldn’t even be able to properly populate two full organisation’s in the way labour manages too.

    In terms of safeguarding issues, those issues already exist for the interactions between 14 (the minimum age) to 18 year olds, and those over 18. There are safeguards in place to ensure that under 18s don’t attend events with alcohol, and that there are sufficient events for those under 18 (though that can still be improved). It won’t be much better or worse with the age being 29.

  • OnceALibDem 13th Mar '19 - 7:18pm

    Back in the day 26-30 year olds could join (the then) LDYS. I’m no sure what safeguarding issues there are with a 29 year old attending an event also attended by a 14 year old that don’t arise with a 22 year old.

    This does however feel like another Lib Dem plan to sort out organisational problems with constitutional changes though.

  • James Bliss 13th Mar '19 - 7:42pm

    It’s also just worth pointing out here, that 26-30 year olds can be part of YL as opt in members, they just can’t be full members because of the way the federal Constitution is. In addition, the whole premise of YL being both the student and youth wing is that anyone of any age can be a member if they are a student, so we both explicitly allow for 26-30 year olds to be involved and anyone over 25 who is a student. So the safeguarding concerns won’t change except in the number of 26-30 year olds

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Mar '19 - 12:17am

    A party which sees people as individuals, needs no real encouragement to do anything drastic regarding groups, do as you think right, ingratiate yourselves on the wider party by presenting intelligent ideas, and link with the party as a whole by events we can attend or results we can see to relate to you, locally I have talked with and attended such and the interacting has been very worthwhile.

  • @OnceALibDem – that’s why those of us in the Scottish Young Liberal Democrats nicknamed them MYLDEW (Mostly Young Liberal Democrats of England and Wales)….

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