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I am actively involved with the Social Liberal Forum, which is an organisation open to Lib Dem members. As it mission statement says "The Social Liberal Forum campaigns for the adoption of policy - by the Liberal Democrats and the government - that seeks to promote social justice and actively narrow gaps in power and opportunity between rich and poor".
You can read the rest of the statement here. The SLF claims that it represents the mainstream of the Liberal Democrats, and exists to ensure that social liberal ideas permeate throughout the party.
SLF was founded over a year before the Coalition, but since the General Election its stance has been to welcome the Coalition and the opportunities it provides, whilst trying to influence its policies.
For example, it was heavily involved in the opposition to the NHS Bill. In fact, our policy motion to Spring Conference last year directly led to a number of concessions and amendments to the Bill. It has recently put out a statement entitled "Unworkable and unnecessary elements of Heath Bill should be dropped".
I was elected to the SLF Council in the summer of 2010, and soon found myself taking on a number of roles, including that of membership officer. Membership has grown very rapidly from around 100 to over 1500.
Last summer SLF held a well-attended conference and drew in, as a speakers, Vince Cable, Chris Huhne, Simon Hughes amongst others. I'm now in the throes of planning the next conference in July and we already have an impressive line-up.
A couple of weeks ago a new group that opposes the Coalition, Liberal Left, was launched. A number of its key people are also on the SLF Council, and they don't see any conflict, as they all support social Liberal values.
Then last week Liberal Reform emerged, set up by some party members to promote economic liberalism amongst other things.
Confused? You'll be even more so when you've read Introducing… Lib Dems Against Factionalism.
I enjoyed the humour, but the key thing for me is that these groups are not in any real sense 'factions'. They are not fighting each other, but all trying to encourage healthy debate about the party's policies. It's a matter of emphasis, not differentiation.
Every Lib Dem membership card carries these words:
The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.
Those are the principles we all agree on and I'm proud of them.
I want to say one more thing about all this. I am Chair of Kingston Liberal Democrats and one of my tasks is to encourage and develop members. I would guess that many members are not interested in aligning themselves with one or other of these party groups, but have joined because they like the things we are doing on Kingston Council, or have been inspired by our MP, or feel comfortable with the general principles of the party. Others take clear policy positions from right across the spectrum of the party. Locally I am careful to embrace all our members (well, not quite literally) and make them feel at home in the party that I love.