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How Should Liberal Youth fit into the Party?

January 7, 2013

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceLiberal Youth are having a fresh set of executive elections. I am not and never have knowingly been a member of Liberal Youth or LDYS, its precursor organisation when I joined the party. Since I’ve got more involved in the party, I’ve met a lot of LY members and worked with the organisation on several levels.

It’s obviously not for me to say how members of Liberal Youth should vote for their executive. However,  there has been a lot of discussion within LY about what role the organisation should take within the larger party among its members and candidates, and I thought an external perspective would be interesting and hopefully useful. I know a lot of people have voted already, but it may still be relevant.

I’m explicitly not talking about policy or campaigning here – it’s clear to me that LY should encourage and enable young people to be involved in both, without either being its raison d’etre. But LY has a great role to play in getting more people more involved in the party as a whole. If you agree with my points below, pick the candidates who you think will best support them!

Recruiting New Members

Some people complain that Liberal Youth put so much effort into Fresher’s Fairs. And your average LY branch does more than your average local party towards recruitment. That’s not a sign that LY branches should do less, but that local parties should do more. Liberal Youth’s recruitment is a fantastic source of new members into the party, and the organisation’s use of its LDHQ staff member and national Executive to support local branches’ Freshers Fairs is a very sensible use of resources. LY should consider this a big priority, though it shouldn’t try to shoulder the burden alone (apart from its Federal funding).

Working with Local and Regional Parties

Since most Liberal Youth branches are based around Universities, there’s a fairly short lifecycle for student society executives. Local parties can provide valuable support, advice and longevity to the branches which are unlikely to have a member for more than three years. That doesn’t mean that LY branches should be subordinate to or controlled by local parties – just that the the two should work together where possible, for mutual benefit. Local and regional party events between September and December can be added to first semester term cards, and give LY branches more to offer new recruits for no organisational effort.

Ideally, every local party’s annual development plan should include support for the local LY branch in the first half of the year to make sure there’s a stall booked and a good term card ready for September – and every LY branch’s annual development plan should include having a strong organisation to hand over to the next generation.

Introducing the Wider Party

This is partly mentioned above, but the Liberal Democrats is a big place for a small party, and there are plenty of ways that people can get involved as a member. If LY exists as a bubble, and its members aren’t involved with anything outside of LY, then a problem with LY can seriously affect somebody’s membership. This is no different from a local party, and LY is set up as a “virtual” local party for young people.

I believe it’s important for local parties, including LY, to encourage members to forge links with different parts of the federal party – constituencies, AOs and SAOs, online communities, regional executives, and others. That way, if one link fails (say an LY branch fails, or the student graduates, or the SAO becomes defunct) there are other things keeping them motivated as members.

I can see the temptation for Liberal Youth to think of its members as being part of a special clique, and a desire to keep their energy focussed within LY. This is as counter-productive for LY as it is for any other party body. Encouraging members to be active in different organisations means a fresh flow of ideas, energy and support throughout the party structures, and it will feed into LY as much as, if not more than, it takes out.

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