Twice a year, Liberal Democrats from every corner of Britain flood into an unsuspecting town or city to learn about the wonders of GDPR compliance; sing their hearts out at the infamous glee club; and most importantly, debate and vote on party policy – all for Conference!
The thing that makes LibDem policy so important is that it’s created and decided by ordinary members from the very start. You don’t have to be a big donor, trade union, or parliamentarian to submit policy to conference. All you need is a bright idea, a bit of work, and a lot of determination. The rest – I’ll explain in this article.
So where do you start? With a cause you’re passionate about! For me that was gender neutral school uniform.
In my opinion, the best policy ideas are ones that spring from our own experiences. If there’s something in your life that you think politicians should be fixing, odds are someone else is experiencing the same problem.
As a pupil I always felt held back by the fact that I had to wear restrictive uniforms that boys didn’t have to wear. It felt wrong that I was limited by my gender. So I turned that issue into my little niche, and used my voice to try and change it.
Look at your own life. Your niche problem might appear from your home life, your work life, your travel, your family, or anywhere else. We are lucky enough to have so much knowledge at our fingertips in the age of the Internet. Read up about your niche, create ring binders full of notes, fall in love with this change.
Once you’ve found a niche and fallen in love with it, head to the Liberal Democrat website. They have loads of practical advice on how to write a motion, which should help you get your first draft done. Looking up previously passed motions can also be helpful, as it can provide examples of good writing frameworks.
Keep it short and sweet. Stick to only the information you really need, and a clear outline of the policy you want to make. Get friends to proofread, and submit your motion early enough for drafting advice.
To submit a motion you need backing from either an AO/SAO, your local party, or 10 members. I’d recommend starting by asking your local party. If they’re not happy to back it, members only Facebook groups can be a good place to find individual backers.
Getting support and backing from senior party figures is helpful, but in no way necessary. If there are MPs, MSPs, Peers, or an AM that you know or have campaigned with, don’t be afraid to ask them if they’d be willing to back you.
The general rule is that so long as you’re polite and don’t pester, there’s no harm in asking. Prominent PPCs or party figures are also good people to ask. If you don’t know any of these people, there’s also no harm in dropping a friendly and polite email to whoever covers the brief your niche would fall into.
I was lucky that I had just emerged from an intense election campaign for Jo Swinson MP, our feminist superwoman and deputy leader. I brought it up with her, and it turns out that she had campaigned to let girls wear trousers when she was at school!
Your motion might not get accepted the first time you submit it but if persevere and do whatever you can to build momentum behind it – your chances will improve. If a similar motion comes up it is well worth tabling an amendment to add on your policy change. That’s what I did for my gender neutral school uniform motion.
Getting a conference motion passed is hard work and things don’t always go smoothly – but don’t let that put you off! It’s incredible being able to influence policy, and other members are almost all very supportive. I was absolutely blown away by the level of support and encouragement I got.
I will also hands down say that the media are overall a really kind and lovely bunch. If your campaign does get media attention, be nice to journalists because they want a story and you want your issue to be a story. You’re on the same team!
Even if it’s a publication you would normally never read, they’re not out to get you. Journalists know you won’t be perfect, and understand that you’re a grassroots campaigner, not an elected politician.
That being said, you should never feel pressured to engage with media you don’t want to. It’s ok to say no to an interview or appearance.
It’s a chance to make waves. It’s a chance to make change. It’s a chance to make the Liberal Democrats a stronger party. We need your ideas!
Go ready your pens, paper, and progressive view of the future, because it’s your time to shine.
Jess Insall is a Liberal Democrat activist and writer for Backbench. In 2017 her campaign for gender-neutral school uniforms became the policy of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, and in December 2017 received backing from the Scottish Government. Jess tweets at @JessicaInsall