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Your Local Party

September 28, 2009

I’m skipping the first post on my list because it requires thinking and research. I’ll come back to it another time.

The Local Party is the lowest common denominator of the Liberal Democrat party. Every Lib Dem is a member of a local party, and has certain rights of membership. If you go to a conference, you will typically go as a member of your local party, and this will be written on your conference badge. Your local party is also written on your Lib Dem membership card.

Roughly speaking, there’s one local party for every British Parliamentary constituency (the Lib Dems don’t stand in Northern Ireland, where we are aligned with the Alliance Party), and you will normally be a member of the party which reflects the constituency where you live.

What Is It?

Your local party is an elected body, with a constitution. Constitutions can be amended, but most local parties work on the same lines. Your party has an executive, consisting of a Chair, Secretary, Treasurer and other offices (such as Membership Development Officer), which is elected on an annual basis at the constituency Annual General Meeting (AGM) to which all members must be invited. As a local party member, you have the right to stand for election for any position on your local party’s executive, and to vote for the same.

What Does It Do?

That’s pretty much all there is to say about what your local party is – but what does it do? In a way, that’s up to the local party, but all should be seeking to further the aims of the Liberal Democrats in your area. This can involve any of the following, among others:

  • organising campaigns to improve your local area
  • promoting the party through local leaflets
  • fund-raising
  • recruiting new members
  • holding social events
  • electing delegates with voting rights at conference
  • submitting policy motions and amendments to conferences
  • putting candidates up for election
  • communicating with existing members

Local party activity levels vary. The main factor is total number of members – that tells you how large your pool of volunteers is. Local parties where we have a sitting Member of Parliament have lots of Liberal Democrat supporters – if the local party has done its job properly, then it will have recruited many of them. That said, there are many people who contribute to the Liberal Democrats by delivering leaflets, putting up posters etc. who are not members of the party, and their support should never be discounted!

The other important factor is how organised the local party executive is, and what its priorities are. A party that’s fighting a marginal seat is likely to concentrate on broad campaigning. A small party in a strong opposition seat is likely to concentrate on building local active support and social events. The age, experience and interest of the executive will determine the direction of the party – which is all the more reason to try and make sure you have a good range of Liberal Democrats on board!

How Do I Get Involved?

The good thing about such a wide range of activities is that it should be easy for you to find a way to contribute to your local party which suits your skills. There’s a stereotype of Lib Dem supporters that involves them being leaflet delivery machines, and it’s certainly true that we need to keep in touch with the public all year round – but local parties also need people to take minutes, do phone canvassing, go bowling, stuff envelopes, update websites, hold coffee mornings, or just make sure the party hears what’s being talked about at your social club or gossiped in the local shops.

In an ideal world, when you join the Lib Dems or move to a new constituency, your local party’s Membership Development Officer should be informed as soon as your membership record is updated at Lib Dem HQ in Cowley Street, London. The MDO should then contact you and let you know what’s going on locally and how you can get involved.

You should receive regular (at least every two months) members’ newsletters from your local party, in addition to more infrequent regional communications. These will let you know about upcoming social, fundraising and campaigning events. They should also contain contact details for your local party, along with upcoming details of meetings and AGMs.

If you don’t end up being contacted, then it doesn’t mean that your local party is entirely useless, just that they’re not making the effort to communicate. You may wish to volunteer as membership development officer or to help with a members’ newsletter – they clearly need somebody to do it! The Lib Dem website’s In Your Area section allows you to find your local party by postcode, and gives you contact details to get in touch.

More Information

The English Liberal Democrats publish a self-help booklet called Local Party Made Easy which details how local parties should work together.

There’s also a new site called Flock Together where some local parties post upcoming events; if your local party does this it’s a useful way of finding out what’s going on and getting involved! Many local parties also have groups on Facebook.

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