Associated Organisations and Interest Groups
I’ve spent all Sunday so far messing around trying to fix my desktop computer, and have as a result largely missed out on a local action day of canvassing and delivery. In an attempt to assuage my guilt, I’m going to continue my posts about how the Lib Dems work from the ground up. So far we’ve talked about your local party in terms of how it works and what it’s supposed to do. However, if you don’t get on with your local party, or it’s not very active, then all is not lost.
Liberal Democrats find themselves united by interest as well as geography. You will find many Lib Dems supporting organisations like No2ID and Liberty. However, there are many organisations which exist within the party, often open exclusively to party members, which support particular activities or advance particular policy areas. They are interest groups, Associated Organisations and Specified Associated Organisations.
An interest group is a very informal entity – it is not recognised by the Liberal Democrat party, and is merely an independent organisation whose membership is only open to Liberal Democrats. A lot of things which end up as AOs and SAOs start off as interest groups, though groups which have no policy agenda may not be interested in advancing along that path.
Associated Organisations and Specified Associated Organisations
SAOs and AOs are bodies recognised by the party. The rules which govern them make up Article 13 of the Federal Constitution, but basically any organisation whose aims are compatible with the Lib Dems, and which is run democratically, can become an AO. SAOs and AOs tend to charge membership fees to support their activities such as stalls at party conferences and newsletters for their members.
The main difference between an SAO and an AO is that an SAO has the power to propose policy like a local party. Recognised SAOs are listed at the back of the Federal Constitution.
Liberal Youth (formerly Liberal Democrat Youth & Students) is a Specified Associated Organisation of the party, but it is also a special case in many ways. Membership of Liberal Youth is automatic to members of the Liberal Democrats under 26. Liberal Youth have a special Fresher’s Fair sign-up rate of £1. But most especially, Liberal Youth can send voting representatives to Conference outside of the local party structure. This enables people who are involved with the Lib Dems through Liberal Youth to get involved in policy without going through their local party structure.