Political parties and their structures developed from the transformation of society in the nineteenth century, and as such are based along the structured hierarchies of the factory floor. While the factory was perfected to make a product it stripped away identity, with workers being components in the machines they worked. While such certainties have given both Labour and the Conservatives strength by dominating their position within this system, they are also trapped by the very system that gives them that strength. To use another industrial analogy; while their parties are huge and powerful locomotives, they are confined to the tracks they roll upon.
But we no longer live in an industrial age. Instead we grapple with complex, multi-dimensional problems of a post-industrial interconnected world. Hierarchical structures in business and industry have been replaced by networks that constantly evolve and reshape themselves to meet the needs of the world around them. In order to deal with the issues that face us as a nation and as a society we need creative, out-of-the-box thinking – something the Liberal Democrat Party used to be famed for.
If the Liberal Democrats are to survive as a party then it must move its practices into a new age based on three key principles of polymathic, multipotentialist evolution rather than on linear process:
Broad-based policy deliberation
Our local parties are made up of people from a variety of different backgrounds and professions whose outlooks and practices need to be utilised. Through using a combination of different skills to produce new ways of thinking, new concepts and approaches can develop at the intersections of where skills and knowledge overlap. While such concepts are not new they must go much further than before. Working groups on a massive range of policies and topics need to be created (the ‘networks’ of the party) and while headed by a specialist/expert they should be filled with a broad range of contributors – from archaeologists to physiotherapists to violin makers – rather than purely by those with a background in the subject of discussion.
While everyone has their own strengths it is important that people can (and are shown how to) adapt to new and changing situations in order to fill ‘gaps’ in skills and knowledge that need to be filled. We need to be flexible in our approaches in order to help as many people as possible and be prepared to learn a whole variety of new skills in order to shift focus and resources to where they are needed the most. This needs to happen throughout the entire organisation, from HQ to small local parties, if we are going to maximise the effectiveness and efficiency of the party’s now limited resources. For example, while once there was a Membership Officer that dealt purely with membership issues, there should be a Membership Officer that oversees a group brought together to assist in a specific membership drive etc before those members are reallocated to other groups as needed.
Rapid Knowledge Dissemination
While there are already systems in place for spreading ideas on campaigning tactics and general information (such as the ALDC and on various social media forums) this needs to be expanded and intensified. As stated above we need to make sure members are constantly learning new skills in order for them to assist in any area that is needed. New ideas, campaigning techniques and their results need to be shared, adapted, reviewed and reformatted constantly in order to allow us to keep pace with the shifting demands of peoples’ lives.
The greatest strengths of the Liberal Democrats are our ability to debate and discuss new ideas and to experiment in finding new ways to help people in our communities, to push forward with new ideas and new ways of thinking. We are not confined to the hierarchical structures that the two main parties are so dependent on and so we have the opportunity to be bold and dynamic. Let’s be brave.