Why Lib Dem members are so grumpy

We're no longer the party where the membership really does set the agenda.

Being a foot soldier in the Lib Dems right now feels a bit like being your typical adolescent. We're experiencing a whole new host of sensations as the hormones of government course through our veins for the first time, and while these feelings are not entirely unpleasant, we really don't know quite where to put ourselves.

So like every self respecting teenager we get grumpy. And we take our mood out first and foremost on our nearest and dearest.

I hadn't even made it to Birmingham before I sensed the mood. Conference opened with a bid to suspend the official agenda, so we could debate the NHS - a motion which was carried, but with an insufficient majority to actually invoke suspension. This allowed everyone to claim victory and stay moody at the same time. And things had been in full swing for a whole 37 minutes before I saw the first tweet inviting a fellow member to up sticks and leave the party.

So what's making us all so grouchy?

Well, it's because we're the political party where the membership really does set the agenda. Where the same people who trudge up and down wet streets on grey Sunday mornings stuffing leaflets through letterboxes are the ones who get to tell the front bench what the party policy actually will be ( as opposed to should be). And where political expediency has been anathema to the good folk who pay their subs every year in exchange for the right to say 'this is where I stand'.

And we now find ourselves pursuing an agenda set in four hectic days of negotiation last May by eight men in a Whitehall conference room, half of whom were the enemy. Some here in Birmingham would argue with the term "half".

So while we glory in the fact that Lib Dems in government are delivering a liberal agenda on so many fronts - and delight every time a Tory MP or the Daily Mail go off on one over Lib Dem influence - when we gather together we are going to yell 'it's not fair' and 'you don't understand' at each other and cast wistful glances back to the good old days when we could all write policy to suit a perfect, yellow tinged world.

We just have to accept that those days are behind us. I guess it's part of the painful process of growing up.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which has been named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Have voters turned against globalisation? It depends how you describe it

Brits are more positive about diversity than Sweden. 

New research shows that citizens across Europe are pessimistic about the future, distrustful of government and other political institutions, ambivalent at best about multiculturalism, and increasingly sceptical about the role of the European Union.

We wanted to understand the extent to which Europe’s citizens favour a "closed" rather than an "open" outlook and perspective on politics, economics and society. Making globalisation work for ordinary people in the developed world is one of the defining challenges of the 21st century. Globalisation’s popularity and political viability is both a pre-condition and a consequence of making it work, but mainstream politicians seem to be failing to persuade us to embrace it, to the detriment of democratic institutions and norms, as well as their own careers.

The decision of the British people to leave the European Union has been perceived as yet another step back from globalisation and a rejection of an "open" outlook that favours international co-operation in favour of a more closed, inward-looking national debate.

There’s certainly a strong element of truth in this explanation. The referendum campaign was deeply divisive, with the Leave campaign playing heavily on concerns over immigration, refugees and EU enlargement. As a consequence, the "liberal" Leavers – those who wanted to leave but favoured a continuing a close economic relationship with the EU along with free movement of labour – appear to have been side-lined within the Conservative party.

Our results are by no means uplifting, but it’s not all doom and gloom. While there’s no doubt that opposition to certain features and consequences of globalisation played an important role in driving the Leave vote, Brits as a whole are just as open, outward-looking and liberal-minded, if not more so, than many of our European neighbours.

First, we asked respondents in all six countries the following:

“Over recent decades the world has become more interconnected. There is greater free trade between countries and easier communication across the globe. Money, people, cultures, jobs and industries all move more easily between countries

“Generally speaking, do you think this has had a positive or negative effect?”

Respondents were asked to consider the effects at four levels: Europe as a whole, their country, their local area, and their own life.

Overall, British voters are overwhelmingly positive about globalisation when described in this way - 58 per cent think it has benefited Europe and 59 per cent think it has benefited Britain. More than half (52 per cent) think it has benefited their local area, and 55 per cent think it has benefited their own life.

One might respond that this question skates over questions of immigration and multiculturalism somewhat, which are the most controversial features of globalisation in the UK. Therefore, we asked whether respondents thought that society becoming more ethnically and religiously diverse had changed it for the better or for the worse.

Overall, 41 per cent said that ethnic and religious diversity had changed British society for the better, while 32 per cent said it had changed for the worse. That’s a net response of +9, compared to -25 in France, -13 in Germany, and -17 in Poland. Brits are even more positive about ethnic and religious diversity than Sweden (+7) – only Spanish respondents were more positive (+27).

There’s a long way to go before ordinary people across the developed world embrace globalisation and international cooperation. Despite the apparent setback of Brexit, the UK is well-placed politically to take full advantage of the opportunities our increasingly inter-connected world will present us with. It would be a mistake to assume, in the wake of the referendum, that the British public want to turn inwards, to close themselves off from the rest of the world. We’re an open, tolerant and outward-looking society, and we should make the most of it.

Charlie Cadywould is a Researcher in the Citizenship Programme at the cross-party think tank Demos. His writing has been published in peer-reviewed journals as well as the national media.