I have a simple approach to politics, at heart I am pragmatic and try not to place ideology in the way of the best possible outcome.
New Labour in the late 1990’s was perfect for me and so I joined the party and I became a local councillor the day after Labour lost the 2010 election, became a Labour Group leader, and remained a councillor until the 2015 election. By then, I was feeling less connected to the party politically and I stood down.
The Ed Miliband era was tortuous for me. I found pockets of policy I agreed with, but I never believed that he would become Prime Minister. I found the sycophancy permeating from his inner circle, especially on social media, nauseating.
The nadir of of the Ed Miliband experiment was the 2015 election campaign. ‘Milifandom’ was embraced, #webacked celebrated as a triumph, and then people I respected claimed to believe the Ed Stone was ‘quite a good idea’. Like most of his leadership it was ill conceived, and out of touch with the ‘real people’ we were told he connected with so well.
Imagine my feelings at the even more sycophantic mania surrounding Jeremy Corbyn. It was the final straw, the party that once seemed to fit me like a glove by being compassionate but pragmatic, progressive but realistic, ambitious yet prudent and proudly British yet fiercely internationalist was dead. This is a description not of what I want the Labour Party to be but of who I am. It is why ultimately it made complete sense for me to ‘come home’ to the Liberal Democrats.
I believe in progressive politics, I think making society more fair is important and I think making opportunity more equal is essential. I believe that nobody is born better than anybody else, nobody should be refused the chance to express their sexuality, gender, faith, beliefs and other areas of their identity as freely as possible as long as they are legal and not harmful to others. I think Great Britain has been and has the potential to be a massively positive influence on the world and I think being proud of your country is something to be encouraged. I think the world should be safe for everyone and I think that wealthier countries have a duty to make an equitable contribution to this.
My core values no longer seem to belong in the Labour Party. For a long time a somewhat anti-US, anti-West and yes anti-British feeling has existed with which I am deeply uncomfortable. While it has its faults, I love the United States. I love my own country and the principles of Western democracy. Recently I was told that it was ridiculous to think the Foreign Secretary was one of the ‘big four’ cabinet posts. That it represented an imperialist and colonialist past, and we no longer had a major role in the world. Of course we don’t need an empire, but we should make the most of our past and present influence to make the world a better place.
Too often, what could be progressive policy is dominated by adherence to ideology, that markets are bad and that businesses simply exploit the worker in order to profit the privileged. For example, they claim corporation tax is too low and railways must be fully nationalised. On corporation tax, this ignores the challenges faced by small businesses, and assumes that profit is going to fat cats. It ignores the fact that giant multi-nationals can often negate these taxes, while small local companies struggle to make money to pay the owners. It ignores the fact that business rates are already inequitable. It gives the impression of a party that neither understands nor cares about business. On rail renationalisation, each case needs to be assessed and the best model should be applied. Some services are poorly served by the private sector and would be better if they did not have to generate profits, but this is not automatically the case for every service in the UK.
The simple fact is that my heart is a liberal-minded Social Democrat, I was reminded by Social Democrats in the Lib Dems that they have a powerful place in the party. After all, it is a merger between the Liberal and SDP parties. They described a party which believes in markets but not unrestrained capitalism, government that is effective but not intrusive, but is compelled to intervene where liberties, fairness, safety or opportunity are being threatened. A party that believes in individual freedoms and opportunities, particularly for people who want to help others. A party committed to being proud of Great Britain, maintaining our influence on the world and being a member of the European Union, NATO and the United Nations, outward looking and welcoming to those who need sanctuary as well as those who can contribute to our society.
I now realise that where I am now is where I have always been. The Labour Party flirted with my kind of politics, but the Liberal Democrats have stayed the course, true fliers of the flag of progressive politics. I also join because I believe in party politics. I reject the idea that people like me are more interested in power than in principle. What I believe in is facing the world as it is now and offering modern and relevant solutions and in fighting the battles of today.
For all those reasons I decided that a party which remains modern and relevant, which stays the course, is truer to my principles than one that floats back to a time that never existed whenever the going gets really tough.
I’m grateful for the warm welcome and hopeful for the future.
* Tod Sullivan run mental health services, chairs a mental health charity, and works with foster families. He is a former Councillor, Group Leader, Chairman of Overview and Scrutiny and a former Mayor of Lowestoft. He joined the Liberal Democrats, and the Social Democrat Group, in the last couple of weeks.