Back from my local party AGM. When I say “local” I mean of course Lewisham and North Beckenham whereas I live in Barnet. I switched my membership just over a year ago partly out of loyalty to my friends in Lewisham and partly because, as someone who is used to upping sticks every couple of years, I simply don’t feel invested locally (although I do deliver leaflets for them).
Aaaanyway, the thing I wanted to write about was the London Lib Dems. I stood as a representative for both the Federal Conference and the London Region Conference. While the places for the former was contested/all the places were filled (delete according to taste), of the ten places available for the latter, just three were filled.
So why the indifference? I would expect such ambivalence towards the London party in a place like Bromley which prides itself on its contempt of London (believe me on this; I grew up there), but Lewisham is verging on inner city. And this is a particular problem because, frankly, the last two Lib Dem campaigns for the Greater London Assembly and Mayor have been frankly lacklustre.
The London Region needs Lewisham a whole lot more than Lewisham needs London Region. Lewisham is a real up and coming area for the Lib Dems, with two constituencies a viability and a real shot at the Lewisham Mayor. If the party is serious about ever having a significant level of representation on the council, it has to integrate its London-wide work with areas like Lewisham. The London exec ought to consider this a real problem (I’m talking to you Jonathan).
Why the lack of interest? I can only speak for myself: charging £20 to attend a regional conference twice a year is ridiculous given the fact that this is on top of being expected to shell out literally hundreds of pounds each year to attend Federal Conference. And for what? As I’m now an elected rep, I may well schlep up next year, but I wouldn’t even consider it otherwise.
And yet, London is a fairly unique place precisely because it contains in it people like me who might feel they have roots in the city yet feel indifferent to the borough they live in. The London region has a real role here in mobilising a relatively youthful, footloose and fancy-free activist base which has little desire (or financial ability) to settle down into one particular area.
My advice to the London region would be to axe the conference fees – consider it an investment – and take a leading role in things like policy development and socialising. No other region has such geographical advantages and it seems criminal not to manipulate them. If in twelve months time you can’t persuade 10 Lewisham and Beckenham North members to be interested enough in London Region to attend a one-day conference twice a year, then you will have failed at a pretty basic level.