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Grassroots Campaigning

January 31, 2010

Now in the Grassroots Liberal Democracy series we come to an area which is very close to my heart – grassroots campaigning. For me, this is the most important part of what being a Liberal Democrat is about, helping people in their daily lives.

We live in a society where we give some of our income to the state, in the form of income tax, national insurance and council tax, in return for services such as police to stop us getting mugged, benefits if we find ourselves ill or unemployed, pavements we can walk on and so forth. Many of these services are supplied, or controlled, by local government. Our form of democratic accountability is through the councillors elected to that local government. Similarly, our Member of Parliament has some power to petition organisations and bureaucracies on our behalf, as well as represent our interests in Parliament. Grassroots campaigning is about helping people to get the most from their elected representatives and their communities, showing them the power they have as individuals and groups.

There is an ethos in the Liberal Democrats of local action- it’s why even in constituencies where we don’t have the resources to put together a well-funded Parliamentary campaign, we still have councillors. Great grassroots campaigners like the late David Penhaligon MP are revered within the party; organisations like ALDC provide resources to assist local campaigners.Common slogans you’ll see include “working for you all year round”. The idea of a Focus Team, concentrating on a particular small area for campaigning, isn’t just something which sounds good in leaflets – it’s a dearly-held institution among many party members.

Grassroots campaigning ultimately consists of talking to local people, finding out what they want, and doing what you can about it. The first part can be achieved in many ways, from surveys and petitions to attending coffee mornings or local residents’ groups.The second part is harder if you’re not already an elected representative, and harder still if there are no Lib Dem elected representatives in the ward, parish or constituency in question. It can involve acting as a liason between a resident and the council, a tenant and a housing association. It can mean organising a team of volunteers to litter-pick a park. You might put a letter round a neighbourhood advising of a planning decision, then organise a petition against it if local people are not in favour. You might set up a Neighbourhood Watch group or residents’ association, helping people to help themselves.

Ultimately though that’s all about the mechanics of grassroots campaigning; ALDC’s book “How To Win Local Elections” covers a lot of the mechanics nicely. The reasons for doing it are twofold – firstly, as the book title suggests, because it makes us look good as a party. The Bastard Nazi Party’s recent electoral successes have less to do with the public’s attitude shifting in favour of deportation and murder, and more to do with the Nazis taking a few carefully-selected leaves from our book and actually working hard in local neighbourhoods. Secondly, and more importantly, we do it because it’s the right thing to do. It’s part of what we stand for as a party – championing the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, supporting the fundemental value of community, helping people get involved in running their communities.

Your local party should be campaigning in your local community. If they’re not, ask them why not – and get involved yourself. It’s immensely fulfilling personally, electorally rewarding, and an essential part of Liberal Democracy.

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  1. January 31, 2010 at 12:33 pm
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