This piece is long overdue, as I joined the Liberals Democrats back in October 2016. Since then, I have been elected Secretary of Runnymede & Spelthorne Liberal Democrats. I am also deeply involved with the newly formed (or regenerated) Royal Holloway LibDem Society.
So how does one defect from UKIP to the LibDems? I shall be frank.
I started involvement with UKIP in 2010, at the age of thirteen. This was when the party was an anti-EU pressure group. It felt outrageous and fantastically rebellious to participate in an idea that could undermine the entire establishment. When I saw the three main parties, I saw spin, snobbery and fakery. I did dream that one day something big would take down the political elite, who to me had a contempt for ordinary people and democracy. Today, I still believe this contempt exists strongly, but now we have a situation where they are forced to listen a little bit more.
My involvement in UKIP allowed me to channel my indignation. Also, being the only young person in the room, on many occasions, allowed me to develop a range of political and communication skills that may have taken much longer to attain in another party.
However, I came to realise that the party was seriously limited: organisationally and intellectually. There is no plan, for anything. It’s all improvisation. And if there is someone with a plan, he/she will probably leave or get kicked out, because the party’s vested interested in keeping the party like a pressure group is too strong. It felt like what Party HQ really needed was a textbook explanation of the roles and functions of a political party on every wall, before anything serious could begin.
Much more can be said, but Tories commonly ask me why then did I not join them, my apparent “natural home”, especially with Brexit now being implemented by them. Well, because I decided that I longer wanted Brexit to define my politics.
The 2015 General Election left me with the bitter aftertaste of Farage’s terrible election campaign, where his anti-immigration populism went to new heights. This was not the party I joined. But where could I turn when all I saw was contempt for the ordinary people with the others? Running my local Vote Leave campaign allowed me to study new strands of thinking on Europe, and when Lord Owen came out for Brexit after a life as Pro-Marketeer, I studied the SDP. I realised that I was an old school social democrat who would have loved the energy of the SDP. I’ve always had a romanticism of the 80s and this was probably the icing on the cake.
Furthermore, I reasoned that the best home for social democrats who campaigned for Brexit was not the Labour Party, but the Liberal Democrats – or as I prefer, the merger name of Social & Liberal Democrats.
Why join an ‘anti-Brexit’ Party? Because I believe that we have a Tory Brexit which no one voted for. I advocated EFTA during the referendum and I remember lead Leave campaigners doing the same. Consequently, this country desperately needs a pragmatic party to call out the absurdities which come before us – and Labour’s overwhelming baggage prevents them from providing any credible opposition.
I might have my disagreements, but in the era of post-truth we need a sophisticated kind of politics to call out the reactionaries and extremists. The LibDems must relate to the 52% who voted to Leave, as well as the 48%, in order to fully embrace their potential. The implications of the Brexit deal will be much bigger than any one party, and we must show that we are putting the national interest first: standing up for the Single Market, workers’ rights, the NHS – and vitally chasing up the promises made by the Vote Leave campaign.
I believe the old establishment which I resented have been dealt a major blow. We can now work to construct a Britain we want – not a Britain they want.
* Alexander Balkan is Secretary of Runnymede & Spelthorne Liberal Democrats