Love Island, Brexit, Jo Grimond and international trade: LDN #114

Liberal Democrat Newswire #114 came out last week with a range of contributions from guests on topics as varied as Love Island, Jo Grimond and international trade.

After last time’s special focus on the big reform that may happen in the Lib Dems – the introduction of a new registered supporters scheme – this time I’ve got an idea on how to make it work, a report back on what’s happening from Miranda Roberts (chair of the party committee key to the next steps) and to mix it up a bit, a range of contributions from guests on topics as varied as Love Island, Jo Grimond and international trade.

Happy reading,


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In this edition:

Six principles for a registered supporters scheme

Last time, I covered the increasing debate in the Liberal Democrats about creating a registered supporters scheme (which you can read here), a reform which could help get the Liberal Democrat campaigning machine across the country into top shape, ahead of the big challenges and opportunities next May.

One aspect of this is worth expanding on this time: the inadvisability of doing nothing. The current situation – a de facto supporters scheme run by HQ that isn’t fully integrated with the rest of the party and the mix of local de facto schemes such as the one in Oxford West and Abingdon – isn’t a sensible status quo. Take the example of the successful scheme run in Layla Moran’s constituency: why would we want to continue with the current situation where such schemes are limited to a small number of seats rather than figure out how to ensure they are rolled out more widely, benefiting many more parts of the country?

Of course, saying something must be done is not the same as saying that anything proposed, therefore, makes sense. So here are my suggested six principles for getting a new registered supporters scheme in the party right:

  1. It must be a scheme for the whole party, maximising its impact and its benefits by being a scheme all parts of the party can feel part of and participate in.
  2. It must be designed to boost our capacity (people and money) and our campaigning – because each is mutually supportive and aiming to do one without the others means you end up with a scheme that is less than the sum of its parts.
  3. It must improve our diversity, taking the opportunity of building something new to do better than we have done in the past at fully including the range of different people found amongst our voters, our supporters and our volunteers.
  4. It must build on the success we already have had with running variations of such schemes, both in the federal party and in local parties.
  5. It must be digitally native, not only because of the importance of the digital world but also because that would make it a stronger complement to our existing wide-scale use of geographically-focused organising (think of the local, regional and state party structures along with council-level organising too).
  6. It should not be set in stone, because only the blindly arrogant think they can come up with a new plan and get it all perfect first time around – instead we need a flexible approach that adapts as we learn what is and isn’t working.

By no means all of the approaches being talked about at the moment would not pass all these six tests, which is why having such a set of priorities clearly set out will be useful. What do you think of these principles? Do let me know.

Registered supporters: what’s going on?

Miranda Roberts is chair of the Liberal Democrat Federal People Development Committee (FPDC) – a committee central to what happens next on Lib Dem supporters schemes. She’s penned the following for Lib Dem Newswire on what is coming up.

In the last Lib Dem Newswire, you will have read that plans were being discussed to implement a registered supporters scheme. These discussions have now made it into the Party’s Federal Committee structures. The Federal Board discussed it briefly, noting some very serious concerns and some very exciting opportunities. The Board asked the Federal People Development Committee to look into this further, to produce some recommendations.

Those FPDC recommendations will be presented to an informal consultation meeting at Federal Conference in Brighton. We are also going to have some way for members not at conference to give feedback too. Once we have that feedback from members, the recommendations will be adjusted in light of those comments and taken to the Federal Board. Depending what’s being proposed, the Board will then vote on implementing the scheme, or taking a motion to conference if it needs a constitutional change.

In case you’re wondering what that means, the key issues are:

  1. whether supporters should be able to register for free, or for a fee of some kind,
  2. what rights should supporters have – voting in our internal elections for example,
  3. what benefits should supporters get, and
  4. how does all of this fit into our internal structures for admin, payments and so forth.

The idea for a registered supporter scheme has partly come from the Canadian Liberal Party, but also from our own best target seats. If you look at seats like Oxford West and Abingdon, they have maintained a large membership alongside a large supporters list for decades. Supporters are invited to events, included in fundraisers and treated as an extension of the membership. Many other local parties do this too, very successfully. There is good, logical sense in allowing people as many ways as possible to engage with us. The discussion is around whether we can find a model that we feel will work for the party nationally.

FPDC has asked our HQ teams for some research and statistics, to make sure that any new scheme is based on good data and evidence. We will continue these discussions and will share updates with Lib Dem Newswire and Lib Dem Voice as things change.

Learning political messaging from Love Island

Richard Maxwell has some great ideas for how the Liberal Democrat messaging can be improved, and he’s created a new discussion forum to help with the task. Here he writes exclusively for Liberal Democrat Newswire about his ideas:

Yep it’s true, there’s a lot to learn from Love Island about political communication. Who knew?

You see, this reality TV programme the people are put into “couples”. They then start acting like they are in a couple. Just after a day. Using couple language, staying “faithful” to each other, “caring” about each other, and “betrayal”.

One contestant when being accused of being “unfaithful”, stated in shock, “we aren’t actually in relationships”.

The producers have cleverly engineered this situation to cause aggravation. They have used the knowledge gained from the classic Stanford Prison experiment which gave normal people roles of police officers and prisoners. The two groups took up their roles and went to extremes of cruelty within their roles.

The science behind these behaviours is where we can learn. They are likely acting this way because the word couple has many connotations to it, connections with other words which govern the behaviour of this role. Just as you might act differently with someone you are just dating, or in a relationship with, or married to them.

The connections between words I’m talking about, are physical connections within our subconscious. Professor George Lakoff, who worked at Berkeley in Cognitive Linguistics, describes the 98% of our thought which is our subconscious as just this. A physical network of words. When a word is heard, it’s processed in your subconscious. Automatically. You have no choice.

Professor George Lakoff makes this point in the title of his bestselling book Don’t think of an Elephant.  You can’t read that title without thinking of an elephant. You can’t not think of something, you are told not to think about.

This is, perhaps, a referendum deciding lesson. That £350m we kept talking about, it only activated the ideas of the EU cost. The more we talked about it the more the helped the Leave campaign. The more we talk about what Trump wants us to, the more we help him. And, that Brexit “dividend”, Theresa May was trying to get us to fall for it again.

This is all part of a topic which is called framing. The context and approach of an argument give.

We are the party of science. So let’s use the science of framing to win debates, gain seats, and as they describe the good communicators in Love Island “have the chat”.

Please join the Framing Forum on Facebook for more framing fun.

An interview with… Geoff Payne

Welcome to the latest in my occasional series of interviews with key members of the Liberal Democrats, the sort of people who are crucial to our success, make a huge difference to what the party is like but haven’t yet landed the four-page interview in a Sunday newspaper magazine. This time it’s Geoff Payne, the new chair of the Federal Conference Committee (FCC).

What made you support the Liberal Democrats?

It was Paddy Ashdown speaking powerfully about poverty and how we did not need to accept that there were people, particularly children, living in our country who could not afford to eat three meals a day. He made a very strong case for proper investment in public services, particularly schools, because education is so important a route out of poverty. It chimed very strongly with what I believed and still do.

What’s the main focus of your party activism at the moment?

Being Chair of Federal Conference Committee! Policy is made by our members and conference is where it is done. Ensuring that we have the best quality debates and facilitating debates about what people want to talk about is very important.

What’s the most exciting or optimistic thing you’ve seen in the party in the last year?

I think there is a renewed sense of optimism around as we harness the strengths of our new members. Our conference registration figures are very strong and, from my point of view, that is something to be very excited about.

What’s the best political advice you’ve received?

To listen! People have all sorts of things to contribute and do so in all sorts of ways. Too often, views are dismissed because of unconscious bias or because they are not presented in the way we expect. In particular, when chairing conference, it is vital to ensure as many people as possible have their say and from as diverse a set of backgrounds as possible.

What political issue or viewpoint have you changed your mind on, and why?

I have changed my mind on some quite major issues. However, in the main, they are on issues where I have chaired conference debates and may well do so again. For that reason, I will have to leave people to guess what they are. In one case, my views changed during the debate and because of the speeches! Such is the power of conference.

If you could change one thing about the party overnight, what would it be?

Resources! In too many areas, political activism is forced to run on a shoestring. That limits the effectiveness of campaigns and stops people hearing potentially important messages. Resourcing is what I would change first.

Where can people find you online?

The Federal Conference Facebook group – I check it pretty regularly along with other members of FCC.

101 Ways To Win An Election: Chapter 10

Europe: the history of the Liberal commitment

Duncan Brack, editor of the excellent Journal of Liberal History, writes about how the Liberal Democrats, and the Liberals before them, took such a pro-European line.

Opposition to Brexit has become of the defining characteristics of today’s Liberal Democrats. And probably everyone knows that our predecessors in the Liberal Party supported British entry to the European Community in the 1970s and before. But where does this commitment derive from? The spring edition of the Journal of Liberal History (issue 98) explores the historical origins of the Liberal commitment to Europe.

As Anthony Howe discusses in the first article, one of the foundations of Victorian Liberalism in the nineteenth century was support for free trade, the removal of tariffs (import and export duties) on trade in goods. Normally discussed today in terms of the economic benefits, Liberal support, in fact, drew much more strongly from a belief in free trade as an engine of peace, building links between nations and promoting a cooperative rather than a military interventionist approach to international problems.

Eugenio Biagini analyses the different approaches to Europe adopted by the Liberal leaders William Gladstone and Joseph Chamberlain. Gladstone, a committed internationalist, was a fervent supporter of free trade and an opponent of jingoistic nationalism; he was not opposed to the principle of pan-national empires, as long as their rule rested on consent and the protection of basic liberties. Chamberlain, the radical who broke with the Liberal Party over Irish Home Rule, followed a different, ‘social imperialist’ path, arguing for the need for states to be powerful, democratic and reformist in social policy – strong enough to survive in the brutal world of international relations while also fending off the rising threat of socialism. His proposals for tariffs against imports from outside the British Empire, with the aim of binding the colonies more closely together, helped heal the divisions in the Liberal Party and underlay the Liberal landslide election victory of 1906.

The First World War posed a major challenge to the belief in economic progress as an engine of peace, and led to growing support for some form of world government. David Grace tells the story of Philip Kerr, a government adviser during the war and the peace conference at its end and later a Liberal peer (as Lord Lothian) and junior minister in the National Government of the 1930s. Kerr argued first for a federal structure for the Empire and then for a world federal union of the democracies; he helped establish the Federal Union organisation, which still exists today.

Robert Ingham’s article looks at the Liberal contribution to the Council of Europe, the body set up in 1949 to help bring European nations closer together; its main achievement is the creation of the European Convention on, and Court of, Human Rights. William Wallace traces the history of the Liberal commitment to UK membership of the EU. Now an article of faith in the modern Liberal Democrats, Liberal support was not inevitable. Right up until the 1960s, a significant minority within the party saw European integration as incompatible with free trade, rather than a step towards economic and political cooperation. After the Liberal leader Jo Grimond committed the party firmly to British membership, some of these small-state economic liberals left to form the Institute of Economic Affairs, which later became instrumental in supporting the Thatcherite revolution within the Conservative Party.

The debates in Parliament over the Heath government’s application to join the European Community saw a major split within the Labour Party; in 1971 69 Labour MPs defied a three-line whip to vote with the government in support of membership. Ten years later many of those MPs joined the Social Democratic Party, which fought elections in alliance with the Liberal Party and ultimately merged with them to form today’s Liberal Democrats. Shirley Williams, interviewed specially for this issue, recalls her role in the rebellion, discusses the history of Labour’s long confusion over EU membership and reflects on the importance of the European issue to the SDP and the Liberal Democrats.

Julie Smith provides an overview of Liberal parties in Europe and the development of European Liberal organisations. Although support for EU membership is a common theme amongst Liberal parties, the European Liberal family sees a wide divergence of views on economic and social policy. Liberal parties can be broadly divided into economic liberal (in general small-state anti-interventionists) and social liberal (more comfortable with government action) camps; in some countries, including Denmark and the Netherlands, two liberal parties exist, one of each tendency. By 2018, leaders of Liberal parties were the second most numerous group within the European Council meeting of prime ministers, with eight compared to nine from the EPP (mainly Christian Democrats).

The issue concludes with reviews of books by Guy Verhofstadt and Andrew Duff. Subscribers to the Journal of Liberal History should already have received their issue; for others, it’s available for £10 from our website – or if you take out an annual subscription (£25, or £15 unwaged) you’ll receive this issue and three others. We hope the issue provides readers with an understanding of the roots – political and cultural as much as (if not more than) economic – of the long Liberal commitment to Europe.

News in brief: Cable sets out housing plans

Vince Cable’s big speech in the last month was on housing, including plans for derelict land, empty homes, rental deposits and overseas home buyers. He’s also been in the media attacking the Chequers deal and Theresa May’s policy on Brexit.

Jo Swinson gave birth to Gabriel, tweeting that, “He arrived, happy and healthy, … weighing 7lb. Gabriel has two overjoyed parents and one very excited big brother.”

Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Lloyd was crucial to the horrific truth about Gosport War Memorial Hospital coming out. He’s written for The Independent about what happened after he was contacted by a constituent whose mother had died at the hospital.

Long-standing and much loved Liberal Democrat George Grubb passed away, with Kevin Lang writing a moving tribute to a life spent helping others.

Movements amongst councillors include the Liberal Democrats winning over a Conservative councillor in Harborough and another in Fenland. But in Burnley, two Liberal Democrat councillors who had already switched to independent have now joined Labour. In Mendip, a Lib Dem has switched to independent.

In Devon, Lib Dem councillor Brian Greenslade has been suspended from both the party and the council group after being censured by the council over allegations of sexual harassment from several women covering a sustained period of time. He has threatened legal action against the council, whose Chief Exec has hit back saying the rules which were followed had been set by a committee that he had been a member of.

Finally, in Winchester a Conservative who joined the Lib Dems in 2014 has now rejoined the Conservatives after refusing to provide the crucial extra vote to oust the Conservative council leader.

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Significant moves on Brexit, but public opinion hasn’t moved much

In case you missed them first time round, here are the highlights from my blog over the last month:

It’s been a busy few weeks for Parliamentary selections, including Wendy Chamberlain being selected in the seat the Lib Dems missed out on by just two votes in 2017. For the fullest public list of those selected so far, check out my website (more names to add to the list always very welcome).

As the headlines on my council by-election posts from the last month indicate, it’s been a month of gains for the party with, once again, a good mix of progress from both stronger and weaker areas. Most particularly – and this is both a challenge and an opportunity given the elections next May – progress is generally best against the Conservatives and in southern England:

That progress at local election level, however, is not reflected (yet?) for the Liberal Democrats in national polls. Although Labour continues to drift downwards, the Lib Dems so far have done little more than establish the party slightly closer to double figures as the table below shows. (The post-Chequers flurry of polling showing the Conservatives possibly even falling behind Labour does not contradict this trend – those polls show Labour overall static, with Ukip in particular – and perhaps the Lib Dems to a small degree – on the up as the Conservatives take a knock. Whether those are long-term trends for these other parties we’ll see as the third quarter plays out.)

Vince Cable’s personal ratings, meanwhile, have now moved ahead of both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, making him the best rated (or rather least worst rated given these negative times) of the three.

Opinion poll ratings, Q2 2018

Council by-elections results graph 13 July 2018

To get the full council by-election results every week, sign up for my blog posts digest and for updates about new opinion polls, sign up for Polling UnPacked.To be prepared for a council by-election in your patch, see my 7-step guide to getting ready in advance.

Saving globalisation from itself

That’s the title of a new book on a topic very relevant to Liberal Democrats and to Britain. So here is one of the authors, David Boyle, writing exclusively for Liberal Democrat Newswire:

Can you imagine a trade deal that – instead of dividing people and underpinning a flawed version of globalisation – could shape a new kind of free trade that united people instead?

Because the sad fact is that conventional trade deals have less to do with free trade, and more to do with investor rights. In the same way, conventional free trade as currently understood – without the crucial commitment to tackling monopoly power – is the reverse of the means by which to challenge the big and powerful.

Instead of a critique of monopoly power, it has become an apologia for it.

Joe Zammit-Lucia and I wrote our book (Backlash: Saving globalisation from itself) because of the question I asked at the beginning of this post: whether we could imagine a different kind of trade deal which might spread prosperity rather than concentrating it.

The answer was that we could – as long as it is prepared to be flexible and incremental. Trade deals can’t do everything, but they can start with the easier sectors and then start a process of alignment. We also concluded that trade deals need to:

  • Fit within an overall policy framework. Trade policy should be seen as an instrument of countries’ domestic and foreign policies. In other words, countries need to formulate their trade policies to achieve their domestic and foreign policy goals not, as some suggest, the other way around. The trade tail cannot be the one to wag the domestic and foreign policy dog.
  • Concentrate on helping small and medium-sized enterprises rather than only large multinational firms. We suggest how this might be done in the book.
  • Focus on trade rather than investment. While we do not believe that investment should be discouraged, we don’t believe that it should be subject to any special protection – and certainly no protection that limits the rights of sovereign governments to regulate. No more secret investor-state dispute systems.
  • Encourage innovation rather than oligopoly. It needs to strengthen competition, not reduce it.
  • Build cultural and university links. Perhaps free movement one day, but let’s take Keynes’ advice for now and encourage the free movement of art and ideas.

Will this be embraced by President Trump? Probably not. But there will come a time when progressives manage to break free of the way things are currently organised, and they will then – we hope – beat a path to this particular door.

David Boyle is co-author of Backlash: Saving globalization from itself, published by the think tank Radix.

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