“May you live in interesting times” is said to be an ancient Chinese curse. For various reasons it seems to be a self-evident truth that we ARE living in interesting times. Just summing things up in a series of single or double-word statements: Europe; Political Chaos; Climate Crisis; Biodiversity Loss; Plastic Pollution; Trump; Brexit; Farage; Bolsanaro – that`s probably enough to cope with for now…
Hang on – let me try a few more: Local Elections; Euro Elections; Chuka; Leadership contest; Brecon Byelection. Does that feel better? If you are a Liberal Democrat, I am prepared to wager you DO feel better. But if you are a member of the Conservative Party or the Labour Party, then the last few words perhaps don`t help!
If you are a Green Liberal Democrat, you may feel even better if I were to add “GLD Conference; membership more than doubled; and half of our MEPs are or have been members of the Green Lib Dems”. However, we still have to deal with these interesting times!
Changes we might make
So, this article is about the things we need to do to enhance the impact of the Green Liberal Democrats campaigning. For starters I think we can now move away from banging the drum as to how bad things will be. For years we have needed to sound the warning bells about our environmental threats – we can stop doing that now.
Most people have now got a reasonably strong sense of the problems we face – from the IPCC report last year; from David Attenborough`s Blue Planet warnings on plastics in the oceans; from Greta Thunberg`s school strikes and from eXtinction Rebellion, to name just a few.
Our messaging from now on needs to be “Solutions based”. So, we must now be saying, “…these are the things we must do to tackle the problems we all know about…” I am greatly encouraged that both of our leadership candidates seem prepared to put Green issues front and centre of our Party`s campaigning. But that means GLD must be ready to lead on the issues that matter.
Also, it is hugely significant that half of our 16 MEPs are sufficiently green to be members of GLD (six current members) or recent members of the group (two other MEPs) but we can and must help with their campaigning, linking back to our wider membership and to the general public, their constituents. The party also has over 700 new councillors and is in control of many more Councils – many of these new councillors are GLD members or sympathisers – and we can and should help there, too.
Let me be absolutely clear, this is no criticism of our current structure or of our current executive committee – my involvement since rejoining the party and GLD in early 2017 has shown me what a fabulous team we have in place. Indeed, Green Lib Dem success can be measured directly in the membership growth during that same time frame. GLD membership was a little over 320 when I joined and I would be surprised if we do not see our 1000th member before 2019 is done.
It has been a real pleasure to be part of such a successful bunch. Led by a remarkably hard-working and dynamic Chair in Graham Neale, now Councillor Graham Neale; our funds and membership details are safe and clearly controlled, indeed, tightly controlled, by Treasurer, Simon Oliver; and fringe management and many other things are effectively controlled by our Organising Vice Chair, Peter Bruce.
I repeat, however, that we need to adapt sharply to the new reality.
GLD needs to act as a rapid access portal to the group`s expertise and to the knowledge base this represents in terms of accessing already usable stored data. We have made a tentative start, but we are essentially a volunteer-based organisation, so perhaps we need to examine ways of funding and financing a permanent professional staff base. I have spoken to some of our MEPs about possible administrative support. The problem there is that we do not yet know whether our MEPs will continue to BE MEPs after the end of October!
We hope to have this issue as a foundation stone for one of our “training/activist” sessions in Bournemouth – so if you are interested in moving this agenda forward please contact me directly about Bournemouth (email me at firstname.lastname@example.org) – especially if you ARE an MEP!
One thing any political movement has to get right is its campaigning. Liberal Democrats have plenty of experience of running successful campaigns, some more so than others, of course. Perhaps the best recent exemplar is the Party`s “Bollocks to Brexit” campaign which brought returns in both local elections and the Euro elections in May. Totally focused and total clarity of message and above all a bold delivery, not least Vince Cable`s etymology of the word “Bollocks” on the Andrew Marr show, where a rather prudish Andrew Marr was led into apologising to his more sensitive viewers for the adult language.
In GLD terms, the leadership shown by our Political Vice Chair, Steve Mason, and his championing of the anti-fracking movement has been a remarkable success, not just for its focus, but also for the deliberate willingness and strategy of sharing effort with a much wider campaigning group and developing broad links with like-minded campaigners.
Our campaigning for renewable energy came to fruition during the Coalition years with a real and rapid growth of renewable energy generation which would not have happened without clear Liberal Democrat leadership. And Ed Davey is now leading a campaign to enable divestment from fossil fuels in Local Authority pension planning which GLD is helping to facilitate.
Inevitably, there are so many areas where we COULD become involved in campaigning that the difficulty arises in deciding where we should concentrate our efforts. One of the most successful and interesting (and FUN!) sessions of the recent GLD conference was the last plenary session of the afternoon, where we attempted to do just that.
I have not yet finished transcribing, and making sense of, the capturing of members` inputs to that session, so I will not pre-empt that task more than to say that “Green Transport” was a key feature of the session. We hope to be developing this at one of our fringe meetings in Bournemouth, so, please check the conference programme for that.
What I would like to do here, however, is to talk a little bit about HOW we might develop our campaigning capability. And that brings me back to the fact of the rapid increase in membership of the Green Liberal Democrats that I mentioned earlier. It is, of course, rewarding to find that the group to which one devotes one`s campaigning efforts, seems to be becoming more popular and people are committing serious personal finances to become “members” of the group.
My next question is whether we are doing enough to involve new members in those very activities? A participative GLD Conference, yes. Fringe meetings at Spring and Autumn Party Conferences, yes. Regular communications with members about green issues. yes.
But is that enough?
My feeling is that membership numbers have now reached “another level” where we can be much more ambitious. At around 300 members we were mostly spread rather too thinly around the country to think of getting together more frequently than at those venues I just mentioned above. However, now that our membership has reached close to 800 and is rising quickly, I believe we are now capable of setting up Regional GLD “Branches” to take on the possibilities of more active “local” campaigning.
How do we go about it?
We could, of course, go for the bureaucratic route and wait for the GLD AGM in Bournemouth and spend time revising the constitution to “allow for” the creation of a Regional structure. Or (and you will probably already have gathered that this is what I favour!) we can allow an organic structure to arise and see whether that can work.
I am very happy to help facilitate this and, actually, I regard it as part of my formal role as Vice Chair (Campaigns) anyway. So, it doesn`t matter which region you are in, if you have some enthusiasm to act as a liaison and make arrangements for holding a regional GLD meeting in the next couple of months, do please get in touch.
I am not in any way precluding existing members of the GLD executive taking on such a role, but my preferred route would be to see this exercise as one of “additionality” to our existing structure, for which our exec members can and should act as key resources in their respective regions. So, if you are on the executive and happen to know someone who would be really good at doing this in your area, then recruit them to action!
It would also be good if those people who are ready to dive in can get along to the Autumn conference in Bournemouth – that would be a great help. The training/activist session on this idea is likely to be held on either Sunday morning or Sunday afternoon in the Trouville hotel, not far from the Conference venue – so if you can only get along for one day to the conference – make it the Sunday! See you there…
We could be playing an important role in an early General election too!
My email is email@example.com
Keith Melton, Vice Chair (Campaigns)
Green Liberal Democrats, July 2019