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The Lib Dem Lowdown: A guide for new members

May 7, 2019 4:39 PM
By Caron Lindsay in Liberal Democrat Voice

I'm voting Liberal Democrat

Since last week's local elections, the best for the Liberal Democrats for many years, the party's membership has grown both nationally and locally. Here in the Chiltern area, in just a few days, we have gained new members in Chesham, Great Missenden, Chalfont St Giles, Penn and Coleshill and Prestwood.

New members often appreciate an introduction to how the party works. This article is taken from Liberal Democrat Voice, the main online discussion forum for Liberal Democrats, and is written by its editor, Caron Lindsay.

The Lib Dem Lowdown: A guide for new members

It's actually been really heartwarming to wake up every morning for the last few weeks and see a whole rush of "I just joined the Lib Dems" posts on Twitter.

Every so often I roll out this post, which is basically a rehash of an article that I first wrote in May 2015 when many joined the party in the wake of the General Election result. I thought it might be useful to tell you a little bit about how our party works and give you a bit of an idea of the opportunities open to you. If you are not yet a member, if you like what you read, sign up here.

What do we believe?

Before we get into the nitty gritty of organisation, the best statement of who we are and what we're about can be found in the Preamble to our Constitution which underlines how we believe in freedom, opportunity, diversity, decentralisation and internationalism. Here's a snippet:

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.

We look forward to a world in which all people share the same basic rights, in which they live together in peace and in which their different cultures will be able to develop freely. We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long term continuity of life in all its forms. Upholding these values of individual and social justice, we reject allprejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.

We have a fierce respect for individuality, with no expectation that fellow Liberal Democrats will agree with us on every issue. We expect our views to be challenged and feel free to challenge others without rancour. We can have a robust debate and head to the pub afterwards, the very best of friends.

Obviously, our priority at the moment is to stop Brexit, but there is so much more to us than that. That bit about no-one being enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity shapes everything that we do.

Your rights as a member

The Liberal Democrats gives its members a great deal of say. You will have a vote to elect the leader and party president - and you have joined at just about the right time, as both posts are likely to be held before the end of the year. Vince Cable indicated before Spring Conference that he would be stepping down at some point this year.

You will also have the right to a say in choosing your UK wide (Federal)and local party office bearers and committees at the end of this year. You might even want to stand for election to any of these bodies.

The Federal (UK wide) committees are:

Federal Board - which sets the party strategy and ensures that the party is on track to deliver its objectives.

Federal Policy Committee - which sets up policy working groups to develop our policies on various issues and writes the party's election manifesto. Last year, for example, we developed new immigration policy.

Federal Conference Committee - which sets the agenda and organises the debates for our Spring and Autumn Conferences

Federal International Relations Committee - does what it says on the tin - keeps up our relationships with other liberal bodies across the world.

The committees above have directly elected representatives who are elected by the membership as a whole and members representing, for example, state and parliamentary parties.

These committees are elected by the Federal Board and include representatives of state parties. They often write reports of their meetings for this site, so keep an eye out.

Federal People Development committee - which covers things like membership, diversity and training

Federal Finance and Resources Committee - which sorts out the money. As a (now recovering) state party treasurer, I was on it for six years.

Federal Campaigns and Elections Committee which fights the elections.

You will be a member of the Federal, relevant state (English, Scottish or Welsh) party and local party. In England, you will be a member of your regional party.

Conference

Any member can attend our UK-wide, Scottish, Welsh or regional conferences. We have two UK wide events a year, a weekend in March and a four day event in September. This year's Spring Conference was held in York and Autumn Conference takes place in Bournemouth from 14th - 17th September. Our last few Conferences have been blessed with the attendance of many Newbies, who have been fantastic additions. Some newbies are now councillors, parliamentary candidates and one was even, all too briefly, an MP. Our candidate in the most marginal seat in the country, North East Fife, is Wendy Chamberlain, who joined the party just after the election in 2015. She is also the Scottish Party's spokesperson on Constitutional Affairs.

At Conference, we have proper debates and members decide the policy of the party. MPs and ordinary members are on the same level, each with a vote on every issue. Many of the motions we debate come from local parties and ordinary members of the Party. Find out how to do that here.

Attending Conference is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the party and meet people. There are usually about 5 things you want to do in every time slot throughout the day whether it's debating in the hall, attending fringe meetings or training. You might find my annually updated guide to the craziness of conference useful to read. And there is absolutely no standing on ceremony. You can find yourself queueing up for things and chatting away with anybody from a senior councillor to a member of the House of Lords or Nick Clegg.

Conference can be an expensive business but there are ways to do it on the cheap. One such way is to volunteer to be a steward as our Paul Walter has done. He says:

You don't have to pay for registration, they refund you for a certain amount of travel and accommodation and you get paid a small subsistence amount for each half day you steward for.

Join one of the party interest groups

There are very many groups representing every topic and interest imaginable. All would be very happy to have you as a member. Some have special status in the party.

If you want to get involved in campaigning, membership of ALDC (the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors and Campaigners) is pretty essential. It's a brave person who faces the electorate without their advice and support - and figures show that ALDC members are more likely to be elected.

Liberal Democrat Women aims to ensure that our policy reflects women's views and needs and to ensure higher representation at all levels of the party and government.

The amazing Young Liberals have made fantastic contributions on policy and to campaigning over the years. They are a fair bit better behaved than they were in my day, however.

LGBT+ Lib Dems played a huge role in the campaign for same sex marriage and are there to ensure that our policy has a liberal approach to LGBTQI people and engage with LGBTQI groups outside the party.

The Liberal Democrat Campaign for Racial Equality represents the interests of and tries to increase the representation of BAME Liberal Democrats.

Outside these five there is a huge array of interest groups from Green Lib Dems to Humanist and Secularist Liberal Democrats to the Liberal Democrat Christian Forumto friends of various countries to campaign groups for electoral reform and land value taxation. There's also not entirely serious carbohydrate-laden rivalry as Lib Dem Friends of Biscuit engage in a highly amusing turf war with Lib Dem Friends of Cake. There truly is something for everybody.

You definitely want to join the Lib Dem Newbies UK group on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. This group was set up in response to the initial surge in 2015 and has been going from strength to strength ever since. They hold regular Lib Dem Pint events around the country and at Conferences.

If Lib Dem Pint isn't your thing, in Edinburgh and I'm sure in other places around the country we have regular Lib Dem Pastry events on Saturday mornings.

Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael has put his whisky where his mouth is and set up Lib Dem Friends of Whisky which is holding events throughout this year across the country and at our conferences. There is now a rival Lib Dem Friends of Gin set up by Dawn Barnes, our prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green, which has been known to use the hashtag #ginninghere. The Twitter account LD Friends of Gin is not run by Dawn but is very amusing. The people behind it can atone for their cheek to me about this post by buying me an Electric Spirit Achroos and Tonic in Bournemouth.

The Social Liberal Forum and Liberal Reform are two other non official groups who contribute to our thinking. Both organise fringe meetings at our Conference and SLF has a brilliant conference every July.

Our little quirks

I would never wish to enslave anyone by conformity but the party certainly has more than its fair share of Doctor Who fans. There's something about that slightly socially awkward person who spreads a message of live and let live and peace throughout time and space that seems to appeal to us.

We tend to like beer, too, especially if it's real ale produced by some small, independent micro brewery.

It's fair to say that we have proportionately more constitutional and electoral systems geeks than just about any organisation in the world.

Getting involved locally

Your first resource is the party website. As a member, you can sign up to the members' only section which has all sorts of information about the way the party works. If you want to find details of the local party in your area, you can do so here. The local party is the first building block in the structure of the party and is usually based on a parliamentary constituency but it can be a council area or a number of constituencies. In England you then have 9 regions. They look after things like candidate selection. The state parties of England, Wales and Scotland are responsible for, among other things, membership and policy affecting each state. They are autonomous. We are not hierarchical - the Federal Party does not tell states and regions what to do.

Online opportunities and social media

As a member, you can take part in our members' Forum which is private. Sign up here, but it can take a while for your membership to be confirmed so bear with us.

There are numerous Facebook groups you can get involved in. One of the most popular for new members is Lib Dem Newbies UK which, for the past year, has been a fantastic resource and is a very positive place for discussion about all aspects of Lib Demmery.

If you have a blog, why not add it to the Lib Dem Blogs aggregator which is run by our technical wizard, Ryan?

Some essential Twitter follows include the sassy Lib Dem Press Office, Alex Cole-Hamilton, our MSP for Edinburgh Western who admits to things like dancing round his living room on occasion, Jennie Rigg for good old Yorkshire common sense and funny, practical liberalism. And cute doggies.

Also keep tabs on what's happening on this site by following us. If you want to tell us why you joined, please feel free to write for us - our guidelines for submissions are here.

I have some Twitter lists that you might want to subscribe to.

This has been a very quick whistle-stop tour round the party. It's barely scratched the surface but I don't want to overload you with too much information. I hope it has been useful.

What else would you like to know? If you have any questions, ask in the comments or drop me an email at caron@libdemvoice.org. If I don't know the answer, I'll find someone who does. And do have a chat on social media. You can find me whiling away way too much of my life on Twitter here.

But most of all, welcome to our growing, passionate, spirited party. Enjoy your membership and get involved in as much or as little as you want.

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