Optimists and pessimists alike can find plenty to feed on about the current state of the Liberal Democrats. Dramatic council by-election gains. Stuck in single figures in the opinion polls almost constantly for over seven years, with our best monthly average only 11%. A massive growth in party membership taking us to all-time record levels. A local council base that has been shrinking steadily since the peak of 22.3% of councillors being Lib Dem in 1996. A distinctive position on the big policy issue of our times, providing plenty of political space for the party.
The list could go on. What even this short sample shows is that the Liberal Democrats have huge potential, the need for us to successfully argue the liberal and democratic position has never been greater and yet we’ve not yet found a way to turn that into sustained success.
It’s a challenge to us all to work out how we can raise our game, be smarter in what we do, raise more money and involve more people.
Which is where the strategy motion coming up at Southport conference comes in. Any party member who can make it to conference has the chance to debate and vote on it. It’s not a strategy from on high, but one based on widespread consultation with members last year, including two all-member surveys and on which members get the final say.
It is also, quite deliberately, a strategy. It is not a manifesto, a vision statement or an HQ business plan. It is not the one magic document that contains all the solutions for what the party needs to do. We will also need, for example, great manifestos for future devolved and Westminster general elections. So don’t expect to find the answers to everything in the strategy motion – it is (just) our propose strategy.
It is also, as any good strategy should be, a deliberate choice of priorities. There are plenty of things that could be in it which aren’t. That is because to prioritise everything is to prioritise nothing.
You will, I suspect, have some things you’d love to see in the list of organisational priorities which aren’t there. I can certainly think of some I’m tempted to add. But even in an organisation overflowing with money, staff and volunteers, let alone in the reality of the Liberal Democrats, you need to prioritise to make meaningful progress.
So what the proposed strategy does instead is to set out a clear political approach for us – one which combines the mutually supporting aims of electoral success with the broader challenge of making our society and political system more liberal – and then sets out what sort of organisation we need to achieve that and how to get there.
If we get that right, we can rise to the challenge that the news brings us almost daily and turn far more of what we believe should happen into political change that makes our country more liberal, more green and more successful.
Here is the full text of the motion and you can find the details of when the debate is on at Southport, how to speak in the debate and so on in the Southport agenda booklet.
UPDATE: The motion was passed, with two amendments: one drafted in and one voted on (reflected in the text below).
F15 Ambitious for our Country, Ambitious for our Party: Liberal Democrat Party Strategy
Our aim is 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.
Our ambition for our country and the wider world is set out in further detail in the Vision for a Liberal Britain drawn from thousands of party members over the last two years, the paper on party philosophy, It’s About Freedom, and the policy overview paper The Opportunity to Succeed, the Power to Change (2016). Now we need a strategy to deliver that vision.
Conference believes that the best way to deliver that vision is to:
- Create a political and social movement which encourages people to take and use power in their own lives and communities at every level of society.
- Win elections at all levels from local government through to Westminster, so we can use political power to bring about change from within the political system.
- Run issue-led local and national campaigns to help create a liberal society and secure immediate change though combining pressure from outside the political system with our own power within it.
Conference further believes that we can best achieve this by:
- Creating a much larger base of long-term loyal supporters (a ‘core vote’) for the party, based on people who share our values.
- Building beyond our growing core vote with successful local campaigning, combined with effective targeting as the electoral systems require it, to win at all levels of local and national government.
- Developing a mass campaigning movement both within and outside the party that is of a scale and effectiveness to match the scale of our ambitions, which supports both elections and issue-led campaigns.
- Working with those on all sides of politics who share goals with us to achieve them. [This is the wording changed in the motion by Amendment 1 when it was debated. The original text was: “Working with those who share goals with us to build a progressive alliance of ideas that puts aside tribal differences to achieve shared goals.”]
- Generating political momentum through tangible signs of progress, including membership levels, fundraising totals and council and Parliamentary by-election successes.
Conference agrees that we stand for an open society, social justice including an economy which challenges inequality and for powerful communities at every level, and that in order to build our wider party appeal, we must focus the communication of what we stand for on:
- Restoring fairness as the basis for our society and politics, in which everyone plays a fair part and is treated fairly.
- People and communities increasingly controlling their own lives and the direction of our society and politics.
- Our belief that a better future is possible, if we work together.
- The need to heal the nation’s divides.
In order to deliver a party organisation fit for these objectives, Conference further agrees that our five organisational priorities are:
- Communicating our values effectively, through our key messages, issue-led national campaigns, and signature policies which symbolise what we stand for.
- Increasing our capacity, through:
- Empowering our members and providing them with a rewarding experience.
- Improving training, support and management of party staff.
- Promoting a culture in which people bring in new ideas, experiment and share best practice both from the grassroots and from the centre.
- Recruiting, motivating, and supporting local leaders.
- Promoting greater commitment and success in fundraising by the party and candidates at all levels.
- Improving our diversity and inclusion so that we demonstrate our values in practice, as well as bringing in new approaches and skills and enhancing our electoral appeal.
- Digitising the party, maximising our effectiveness in using digital opportunities to make the most of our supporters’ skills to overcome the traditional biases against us in the ways politics is funded, the media is owned and our electoral system works.
- Local campaigning, developing and supporting local leaders, working with our communities on the issues and problems they care about, listening to them, helping them directly, campaigning with them in innovative and effective ways, and representing them.
Conference notes that while this motion sets out a strategy and priorities for the party as a whole, it is for state, regional and local parties as well as party bodies to make their own decisions on how best to contribute towards our democratically agreed strategy.
Conference affirms that while the party organisation has a crucial role to play in implementing this strategy, we will ultimately succeed when it inspires every member to find their own way to put it into practice and help bring about our vision for a Liberal Democrat society.
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