During the leadership contest, Jo Swinson repeatedly made welcome reference to building a grassroots army of liberals to campaign for our values. We certainly need such a force to help overcomes the advantages the Conservatives and Labour benefit from with their friendly media barons, a political system designed for two parties and their big business and trade union funding.
The good news is that we have plenty of the key ingredients already in place: hundreds of thousands of supporters. Not only is our membership at record levels and the new registered supporter scheme steadily growing. But also for every member, we have around another three further people have signed up online to one of our national campaigns. Where local parties have got out and talked to such people, they’re just as willing as members – if not even more willing – to get involved.
We certainly need to keep on increasing the size of this combined members / supporter / national campaign pool. We also need to get much better at mobilising it, and that’s why doing this is the first of my five priorities if I’m elected Party President. The solution is three-fold.
First, giving local parties the tools and templates to help them do more themselves. When, for example, people like myself first talked about how we should make tools such as Connect free at the point of use for local parties so as to encourage their use, it was far from uncontroversial. But we persisted, the change was made – and our weaker local parties benefit now from being able to get stuck in without first being asked to pay up extra money they can struggle to afford.
Second, there is a key role for state and regional parties to act as ‘the local party of last resort’. With several hundred local parties, some are always going to be struggling to do their role. That’s when the rest of the party needs to act as a good colleague. Again, we’ve seen some good progress in the support for local parties from regions and states – such as the great initiative from North West Liberal Democrats to run one online council candidate application form for the region, saving people time on duplicating processes and making it easier for members to get involved. Indeed, it’s such a good idea I’ve been encouraging ALDC to look at how it could become a national one in future.
Third, there will always be some people from whom getting involved in the local party does not suit. Perhaps they are not in long-term accommodation and so do not feel a particular desire to get stuck into one area they may soon leave. Perhaps the local party is great… but does things at times that don’t suit them. Or just perhaps the chemistry doesn’t gell. That’s where the federal party, working with the state parties, has a role – to provide national ways for individual supporters to get active.
We saw in the European elections a huge surge of willingness from people to campaign for us – often going beyond what local parties could cater for. But pressure groups aplenty manage to give individual supporters ways of campaigning, such as by buying centrally sourced leaflets to deliver in their patch. We need to learn from that.
Added together, these three strands add up to a plan to help us punch well above our weight, promoting liberalism in the face of populism. They also readily translate into a clear set of priorities and targets – just what we need so that we fine words in internal election campaigns translate into practical, delivered results.
We’ve got a huge opportunity to build a mass, liberal campaigning movement, one which can help us continue to rejuvenate our council base, boost our presence in devolved bodies and propel us to more MPs than ever before.
Let’s take it.
If this is the approach you support too, please sign up to back my campaign or make a donation at markpack.org.uk/president.