Sunday 9 December 2012

Welcome aboard Air Lib Dem

Along with every other member of the Liberal Democrats, last week I received my free copy of the first edition of the party’s new monthly magazine Ad Lib.

It is a glossy pocket-sized (A5) magazine that replaces the party’s official weekly newspaper Liberal Democrat News. As if to reinforce that point, across the cover it says “a new magazine picking up where Liberal Democrat News left off”.

But does it? For a start, unlike LDN, Ad Lib contains virtually no news. It is essentially a collection of features; nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it is performing a very different function to LDN. The trouble is, it is not at all clear what that function is meant to be.

Ad Lib reminds me of an in-flight magazine, a collection of anodyne articles written in advertorial style (but without the accompanying airline sick-bag). The prize for blandness goes to an interview with Julian Astle about how he wrote Nick Clegg’s September conference speech. This talks entirely about the mechanics of writing the speech without once touching on the political content, which in party terms was highly controversial.

An interview with Clegg by the normally reliable John Kampfner fails to challenge the leader and doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know. An interview with Shirley Williams about the formation of the Gang of Four manages to cover a significant phase in the history of the Liberal Democrats without once mentioning the Liberal Party. A short piece on Dutch politics refers to only one of the two liberal parties (VVD) and ignores the other (D66). And Tessa Munt’s desert island discs is a desperate piece of filler.

Political argument comes to life only once, where two writers present the cases for and against banning ‘Page 3’. But headlining these pieces respectively “On the one hand” and “On the other” inadvertently makes it look like the sort of fence-sitting for which Liberal Democrats are regularly lampooned.

A page headlined “Upcoming events” lists a series of events on December 5th, 6th and 7th, which is not much use when the magazine arrived with most members on the 6th.

At least some quality material is provided by Liberator’s Jonathan Calder, in a satirical piece titled “Whipped – From The Desk Of The Junior Whip”. But as Jonathan says rather cryptically on his blog:
As is apparently obligatory in Lib Dem publications, it carries a mildly satirical article by me, though what appeared in the magazine is not exactly what I sent in.
So, all in all, Ad Lib is neither newsy like a newspaper, nor as incisive or stimulating as you would expect of a political magazine. The first edition has not attracted much advertising and it is hard to see many members wanting to subscribe. It is therefore likely to become heavily reliant on subsidy (if not as heavily as LDN). Frankly, there are better things on which the party could spend its limited resources.

POSTSCRIPT: The page advertising subscriptions to the now-defunct Liberal Democrat News is still up on the party’s website.


  1. Have to admit that I've been a bit bewildered by some of the praise that's been given to Ad Lib by other people - it has an air of 'will this do?' hanging over it, probably because all the people involved in making it appear to have it as one thing to do amongst many other tasks. (When the editor's job was advertised, IIRC, most of the job description was about getting the party coverage in other magazines)

    "there are better things on which the party could spend its limited resources"

    I think the problem here is that the party hasn't thought this through, and gone for something cheap that won't attract many subscribers, rather than taking a risk at something different. The party needs to enthuse members and communicate with them, so early investment in a decent magazine could pay off in activity (and advertising).

    (Nick Barlow)

    1. Liberal Democrat News had clearly outlived its usefulness, but it would have been better (and cheaper) to replace it with something online.

      The party has e-mail addresses for most members on its database, so it could have e-mailed a weekly bulletin to them, a single page containing a series of links to things like speeches delivered in the past week, key parliamentary debates, local by-election news from the ALDC, forthcoming events harvested from Flock Together, op-eds in the national press, conference news, report-backs by party officers, and so on.

      East Midlands region already does a similar thing daily for its members (although it is unstructured and a bit random, juxtaposing a major event in the EU with a protest about tree felling in Market Harborough).


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