It took a while for me to work it out but in discussion on LD Voice about the Autumn 2016 Lib Dem Conference some things began to twig.
Party policy is ultimately decided by Conference motions. Only about 3,000 out of 75,000 members, so less than 5%, attend conference to fall asleep during several days of debates and speeches. I say fall asleep but for many it seems from reports, it is more a case of hangover so eyes closed may simply be a reflection of a need for peace.
A conference pass costs hundreds plus inflated accommodation in local B&Bs. Day passes are available but without any voting rights. So to vote, to have a say in Lib Dem policy costs hundreds of pounds in fees payable to the party and 3 nights accommodation. If you misplace your pass and need it replaced it’ll cost you another £25 – Ryanair would be so proud. There is a fund for poor people to attend if they apply and provide proof so that’s alright then.
Bottom line – when you hear about Liberal Democrat policy don’t get the idea that it is in any way the democratic view of the party membership. It is the policy of those activists who have the time and money and inclination to sit through 4 days of political discourse. If the vote was close then it might be the view of 2.5% of Lib Dem party members. Liberal Democrats believe in democracy for others but God forbid it might apply to internal party decisions – that would severely dent the party coffers, reliant as they are on Conference income, and probably offset those activists who can afford to attend (or have to attend as they are part of the elected caucus).
But really does this matter when the only policy that the public currently understand as Lib Dem is Brexit denial. On every other issue the party seems notably silent.