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?