When I sat down to write this post it was going to be about diversity, something I’ve been banging on about a lot this week.
My frustration with my party on this subject goes back a long way but this week’s meltdown was prompted as a result of my friend Elaine Bagshaw posting this article highlighting the fact 6 of the 7 places on the Lib Dem regional candidates list for the Scottish Parliament elections have gone to men.
— Daisy Benson (@_DaisyBenson) July 28, 2015
And thereafter followed a stream of angry tweets.
Anyway, enough about that for now. If you’re interested, my friend Sam Phripp summarised really well why a few of us are really pissed off so I won’t rehearse.
I wanted in this post to revisit a subject I wrote about a couple of months ago – #LibDemFightback and the impact thousands of new members is having on my party.
Shortly after the election I wrote a blog about my frustration with the apparent disconnect between what my party stands for and how it behaves. I wrote:-
‘I think we need to take a long hard look at how our party appears to the outside world.
Can we make it easier for people to get involved?
We need, I think to take this opportunity to refound our party so that it reflects modern British society as it is today.
We need to live and breathe the values we espouse in the preamble to our constitution.’
Peter Sigrist, a new member from London who I did not know at the time commented on my blog and said:
‘Hi Daisy. As a LibDem Newbie, it’s galling to read your views and feel the sense of imbalance in the party. I, too, want to hear what Norman Lamb and Tim Farron will do to make sure we represent properly the voters in the UK. But I don’t think it’s just down to them. I want every local party, every local organiser to articulate this. For anyone who has any status inside the Liberal Democrat party: now is your moment to make it clear what you are going to do to change people’s minds. If we don’t start hearing soon what the entire party is going to do to get this balance right, I want the 320 members who have so far signed up for our Newbie meetups in London to make themselves heard. Turn up to local party offices and events and ask them: “what are you doing to make the Liberal Democrats relevant and electable?” Change is here and I can’t wait to get stuck in to make it stick.
At the time, Peter’s optimism was hard to hear, feeling bruised as I was after an exhausting and disastrous General Election campaign. ‘He clearly hasn’t spent any time
slogging campaigning for the Lib Dems’ I sighed.
Reading them again now I find Peter’s comments refreshing and invigorating – he’s got what the Lib Dems should do now completely nailed – and just days after joining the party too!
Anyway, more of that later.
Cultural divides on and offline
I am a member of various Facebook groups – an inevitable byproduct of being active in a political party.
The difference in tone between some of the established groups – dare I say it home to established/establishment Liberal Democrats – and Lib Dem Newbies UK (home for most of our new members) is stark.
The Newbies group is a public group, established groups tend to be secret.
The description of the Newbies Group is as follows:-
The Liberal Democrats were savaged in the 2015 General Election. In response, many people in the United Kingdom chose to show their support. We want to help revive this party, which should be a powerful force for good in modern politics. What do you say? Tens of thousands of people can’t be wrong. Join us!
The Newbies group is aimed at new members but it’s membership is not exclusively new members.
The main difference I’ve observed between the Newbies Facebook group and others that abound in the Lib Dems is in terms of tone – posts and comments tend to be generally positive, hopeful, open and discursive.
The hopefulness might seem surprising or odd for a party supposedly in the doldrums but not if like me you’ve spent any time as I have with our new members.
In the Newbie group all opinions have the same weight and all posts are permitted long as they are generally on topic and about debating ideas.
As a member of the group I can say this has led to a much more interesting, as well as engaging discussion.
Questions and discussions are actively encouraged in the Newbie group particularly from new joiners and people who haven’t commented before.
This includes young women who are often under-represented in online dicussions.
Being a member of this group got me thinking about how we can broaden the Newbie approach to how we conduct ourselves as a party more generally.
Let’s take a leaf out of Peter Sigrist and the Newbie’s book, and change the way we engage offline as well as online as a party.
Let’s stop shutting people and conduct our discussions in open forum – not exclusively or behind closed doors.
Let’s do more to create a level-playing field for debate. Create a friendly and positive atmosphere for our discussions so we get to hear the voices of all our members not just the loud ones.
Let’s give people the space to ask questions and talk about a broader range of issues that matter to them not just us.
Oh yeah, and when we come across blatant discrimination in our party, let’s challenge it head-on but not in a way that makes those facing discrimination feel like they are the problem. They aren’t.
Organisations get tired, lose site of their core purpose, forget why people joined them – none of this is unique to the Liberal Democrats!
But, our liberalism is what makes us different, so reconnecting with our members and reinvigorating ourselves is a must.
Speaking as a member of ten years standing I’m excited about the positive impact our new members are having on my party.
And I cannot wait to see what
damage they do when they turn up at #LDConf in September.
This week’s musical reference – New Generation, Suede (1995)