When is a Lib Dem not a Lib Dem?

Question: when you see a headline such as ‘Lib Dem Jo Bloggs calls for…’ do you assume that Jo Bloggs is a member of the party? To me, that seems quite a reasonable assumption to make, and appears to be the convention the media follows in most cases. If the person’s not a member, but connected in some other way to the party you might see a qualifier added like ‘Lib Dem supporter’, ‘Lib Dem donor’ or ‘Lib Dem voter’ but ‘Lib Dem’ on it’s own implies membership.

Yesterday, Conservative Home referred to ‘Lib Dem Mark Littlewood’ in the headline to this article (shorter version: he wants a return of the National Liberals and an electoral pact with the Tories) despite the fact that he hasn’t been a member of the party since 2009. In response, I tweeted:

Any article referring to Mark Littlewood as a Lib Dem has failed a basic fact check.

Despite not using his Twitter username, this came to the attention of Mark Littlewood, who then started getting rather angry at me for things I hadn’t said. For the record, I don’t dispute how he’s voted at recent elections, but I know many people who’ve regularly voted Lib Dem for years, and I wouldn’t expect the media to describe them as Lib Dems when they’re giving their personal views. They may think of themselves as Lib Dems, but when the media ascribe that label to someone I believe it’s implying a much deeper connection than merely being a voter or a supporter.

This isn’t about Mark’s views, but about how (to borrow a phrase) ‘membership has its privileges’. To describe someone as ‘Lib Dem X’ when they’re not a member is a simple journalistic error that’s easily corrected, which is why I talked about fact checks. Mark Littlewood publicly resigned from the party, and to refer to him in a way that implies he’s a member of it isn’t accurate, in the same way I wouldn’t refer to ‘Lib Dem James Graham‘ despite the fact that – to the best of my knowledge – he still holds mostly the same views he had when he was a member of the party. Surely this is an obvious point?

3 thoughts on “When is a Lib Dem not a Lib Dem?”

  1. I’m not sure how Mr Littlewood monitors Twitter but he is clearly scanning for relevant mentions. He took me to task once on Twitter, even though he doesn’t follow me or vice versa, and I’ve never interacted with him. In that case I didn’t even mention his name, nor was my point at all critical, but he construed my tweet as such and upbraided me for being illiberal.

    I entirely agree with your point. Your interpretation of that construction (‘Lib Dem Jo Bloggs …’) is the one that most people would put on it.

    I’m not quite sure why Mr Littlewood is so keen to continue being associated with the Lib Dems, given his public resignation. Presumably it is so the incautious reader might get the impression that the sort of views he espouses are somehow representative of a significant current of opinion in the party.

  2. Mr Littlewood’s pretensions to speak on behalf of the party he left three years ago are a travesty of its good name. If he wants to make a career out of something, then let it at least have some grounding in reality.

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