35 years on and the fight is more important than ever

Today marks 35 years since I joined the SDP on my 16th birthday. What motivated me then was a desire to turn this world into a kinder, fairer place where all people had power over their lives. My parents thought it was a rebellious phase that wouldn’t last.

Being involved in this party has brought me an extended family, my best friends, some amazing highs – Willie Rennie winning in Dunfermline, Christine Jardine and Alex Cole-Hamilton in Edinburgh for a start. There’s been the sheer joy of working with others on a common cause. You never know how wonderful the highs are if you don’t have lows and there have been many of them – the frustration, the disappointment of defeat and sometimes self-inflicted wounds.

The SDP and the Liberal Democrats have so often been on the right side of the argument, from Iraq, to Vince predicting the economic crash to Hong Kong to the Gurkhas to housing to civil liberties and protecting us from 90 day detention.

In some ways the world back then was very different. We are all so much more inter-connected now. In 1983 there was no internet, no 24 hour news cycle (breakfast tv had started only a few months before), no mobile phones. The other side of the world seemed so inaccessible.

There was injustice across the world with apartheid South Africa being the focus of our fight for human rights. The subsequent release of Nelson Mandela and the leadership he showed in creating an inclusive democracy shows what can be achieved from a seemingly impossible situation.

But there are some similarities to today: a cruel Tory Government, albeit with a massive majority, inflicting massive damage on our society, an extremist Labour Party too busy fighting a civil war to stop them and an unfair electoral system which held back the advance of any moderating voice. A celebrity with little will to tackle poverty and injustice was in the White House.

There has been some social progress since then. My LGBT friends can now marry and their partners’ status as next of kin is protected. Back then, if your same sex partner took ill or died, their disapproving family could keep you away from their bedside or their funeral. Workplaces and Parliament are more diverse – but there are still too few women and people of colour in positions of power.

But I never thought that three and a half decades on, an even worse Tory Government would be forcing the country on a disastrous, self-destructive path or that a Labour Party run pretty much by Militant would be helping them. That a celebrity misogynist, racist internet troll in the White House would be consorting with dictators and helping them destabilise the world.

We might be in a much better place now had we embraced the possibility for radical change that the 1980s brought, if that injustice at the Alliance winning a quarter of the vote and only 23 seats had led to PR and a better, more diverse politics.

We are now in the most dangerous time of my lifetime by a long way – and I lived through the Cold War. Back then the BBC, which was just becoming open to regional accents reading the news, was supposedly a biased lefty bastion but at least it had pretty rigorous standards of news analysis. This morning, Love Island featured on its top stories on the mobile app and the shambles of Brexit and the growing clamour for a vote on the deal did not.

The best years are yet to come though because we will – and it might take a while – defeat the malign forces which threaten everything this country has taken for granted. The Lib Dems have always fought for everything this country needs to flourish – freedom, justice, fairness, human rights and generous spirited internationalism. Those values will defeat the malign influences who threaten our very democracy.

35 years on I am fighting to save the basic values of freedom and democracy and to create a kinder, fairer world. The Liberal Democrats lead in fighting to stop Brexit and for a politics that delivers homes, decent jobs & fulfilling lives for all. If you’re not already a member, why not join today.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • John Marriott 31st Jul '18 - 9:45am

    Noble sentiments, Caron, with which I entirely agree. Like you, I wanted to change the world, but in particular change the way we appeared to do politics back then. I’d been flirting with the Liberal Party when I returned from four years working abroad in 1974. You see this country and the world in general when you live elsewhere. It was a PPB by David Steel in 1979 that finally persuaded me to join and to become actively involved. I decided to join the SDP as well as my local constituency was designated to them for the 1983 General Election.

    So, why are we still struggling to make headway after all these years? The answer in two words: TONY BLAIR. When his version of Labour came to power in 1997 they could have done what they, and many of us, want : Real Devolution to ALL parts of the U.K., Reform of Parliament, PR, a Written Constitution etc. etc. And they blew it!

    There are three Prime Ministers who, in my opinion, head the list of those who did our country the most harm. Besides Blair and Thatcher, the other, for reasons I have no need to describe, is one David Cameron!

  • A kinder and fairer world, how I agree with that statement Caron and the rest of your article.
    I would also add another Prime Minister to John Marriots list, Harold Wilson, probably because I am older,but I remember disliking him intensely

  • No I did not know Harold Wilson personally but I do remember trying to keep our old family retail business afloat over many years and he did not so much to he!p us as I remember!

  • Happy Birthday, Caron.

  • Graham Evans 31st Jul '18 - 12:59pm

    @Barry Lofty Along with the earlier Atlee government the Wilson government laid the foundations of all that is socially progressive in British society. I know nothing about your family business but why did you expect the British Prime Minister to provide you with any special assistance? It should be remembered that when Wilson first came to power the biggest economic issues facing the country were relative economic decline compared with continental Europe, and regular balance of payments deficits. These days no one seems to worry about the UK balance of payments but in 1964 it was the biggest problem facing the Government.

  • John Marriott 31st Jul '18 - 1:02pm

    Ah, Harold Wilson. A bit of a character, wasn’t he. Pretended to smoke a pipe in public; but preferred cigars when the cameras were turned off? Mates with Joe ‘Gannex’ Kagan (remember that last Honours List?). He might never have made it to Number 10 had Hugh Gaitskell not died prematurely. Sadly, the end of his life, like that of Ramsey Macdonald, ended in the twilight of dementia. At least he knew when to quick, unlike Labour’s first PM. I gather that his recently deceased wife, Mary, had wanted him to remain an Oxford don and not to dip his toe (or should it be total immersion?) into the muddy slough of politics.

    Would I add him to the list? No!

  • Graham Evans 31st Jul '18 - 1:06pm

    @ John Marriott I think you overestimate Blair’s freedom of action. He may have been leader and PM but many Labour MPs and grass roots activists had not bought into New Labour. They tolerated it because of an urge to end 18 years of Tory rule. If we had a presidential system like the French, or New Labour had rooted out people like Corbyn from the party rather than tolerating them things might have been different.

  • John Marriott 31st Jul '18 - 1:41pm

    Sorry, Graham Evans, I can’t agree with you. I was part of the 1997 General Election as the Lib Dem candidate for the newly created Sleaford and North Hykeham Parliamentary Constituency. Going round the many villages that make up the seat, together with the major towns I felt at first hand the desire for change, real change, amongst what has remained a very conservative electorate. The usual question I had on the doorstep was “Who came second last time?” Even a massive swing to Labour and the votes I gained in third place were not enough to dislodge Douglas Hogg; but I reckon he had a few nervous moments.

    Believe me, Blair, given the goodwill his win engendered, could have done anything he wanted, with a majority in the House of Commons to die for. Had he actually been Social Democrat instead of Tory lite he might have grasped the nettle. A golden opportunity, perhaps the ONLY opportunity, to change our country for the better was missed. Will it EVER come again?

  • Barry Lofty 31st Jul '18 - 1:50pm

    You cannot run a business without making a profit Harold Wilson seemed to think you could, good o!d socialist ideals
    We did not want special treatment just fair treatment

  • paul barker 31st Jul '18 - 3:07pm

    I echo Carons feelings. As to why we are where we are, we all know the reasons : The Coalition & Brexit.
    We are currently averaging 9% in The Polls, our best performance for 15 Months. Both Major Parties (at the Westminster level) are split from top to bottom. Public Opinion seems to be shifting towards our positions on Brexit & much else.
    We carry on.

  • Martin Land 31st Jul '18 - 6:18pm

    I have to say, Caron that much of your pessimism is misplaced. I joined the Liberal Party in 1973 and despite all that you can recite so much has got so much better. China is increasingly prosperous as is much of the developing world. Famine is no longer ever present in our lives. Communism and Apartheid have collapsed. Southern Europe is Democratic as is much of Latin America. Lives are improving in much of Africa. Yes, of course, there is still much evil in the world but we MUST stop fighting on their agenda. We must set out our vision for a better future and start fighting for it.
    Self indulgence must come to an end. Liberalism must be militant and no longer apologetic.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 31st Jul '18 - 6:21pm

    A fabulous piece.

    Caron you and I are the same age.

    You can read my own take on my joining a political party as a youth and marching for Mandela here…

    it is part of an article to celebrate the centenary of his birth


  • Graham Evans 31st Jul '18 - 11:01pm

    @ John Marriott I’m sorry to see a Liberal Democrat repeating the claim of the hard left of the Labour Party that Tony Blair was “Tory lite”. The Labour Party is deeply tribal and in many respects very conservative. Most Labour MPs then, and probably now, opposed PR, even only because it threatened their own seats. Similarly reform of the House of Lords has been opposed by most Labour MPs because it threatens the supremacy of the House of Commons. Even agreeing to establish a Scottish Parliament was as much driven by fear of the rise of the SNP as by a genuine commitment to constitutional reform. Moreover, much of the Government’s economic policy was not driven by Blair as PM but by Brown as Chancellor. Indeed through having control of the purse strings Brown was able to strongly influence, some would say meddles in, most elements of domestic policy.

  • Philip Knowles 1st Aug '18 - 8:24am

    There was an interesting interview with Paddy Ashdown yesterday morning on R4 which outlined some of the issues that Tont Blair had in 1997.
    Worth listening to on the iPlayer

  • John Marriott 1st Aug '18 - 11:01am

    @Graham Evans
    The fact remains that 1997 marked one of those rare occasions in the 20th century when a non Tory government with a decent majority had a chance to change things radically. In 1906 it was the Liberal landslide that brought about pension reform and the ‘People’s Budget’. In 1945 it was the Labour government whose programme laid the foundations of the Welfare state. So what did New Labour leave us with? Not much, in my estimation.

    I wonder whether a Lib Dem government, instead of a Blair government, with a similar majority would have had the intestinal fortitude to bring in the reforms it had championed over many years. I have to ask whether the same vision exists in the Lib Dems today?

  • @John Faulkner “Even Liberal Democrats forget that the most important issue facing us is climate change.”

    Yes – never mentioned – from today’s Guardian:

    Fire and water: July’s global weather extremes – in pictures

    “Heatwaves are setting temperature records; Europe suffered its deadliest wildfire in more than a century; 90 large fires in the western US have destroyed homes and forced the evacuation of at least 37,000 people; flood-inducing downpours have pounded parts of Asia. This year’s summer weather is more extreme because of human-caused climate change, scientists say”


  • Happy birthday Caron for yesterday. I hope you enjoyed it.

    John Marriott, what I remember was that at the 1997 general election Labour didn’t really promise anything much with regard to the economy, and didn’t delivery full employment. People were enthusiastic for his new government but I think it was emotional – a change, a new younger PM with charisma, rather than based on policies to abolish poverty and the causes of poverty. The Labour landslide of 1997 didn’t leave us with any lasting positive social reforms.

    Barry Lofty, I wonder if whether your intense dislike of Harold Wilson is based on what your parents said about him, rather than an examination of what changes his governments made while in power. Perhaps you can answer some questions. Did your old family retail business go bust? When was that? Please can you say what Labour policies the 1970-74 government or the Thatcher government repealed which helped your family business?

  • ( In 1983)” The other side of the world seemed so inaccessible.”
    Not with the Bucket shops and Biman Bangladesh. Some were able to escape Thatcherism.

  • Peter Hirst 1st Aug '18 - 5:22pm

    I think that to prosper, we have to rise above the meldrum of two party politics. With Vince and the state of the others we should be being seen to do this more. We should promote what is best for the country and point out how partisan they are. We might be ridiculed initially but in time we will be seen as the easiest way out of the mayhay that is our politics today.

  • John Roffey 2nd Aug '18 - 12:05pm

    Conformation from Director-General of the National Trust that Brexit best for environment.

    “Hilary McGrady, Director-General of the National Trust, argued that the Government must be brave and think carefully about the future.

    BBC Radio 4 presenter Nick Robinson asked: “Regardless of whether you believe Brexit is or isn’t a good idea, are there opportunities in terms of the policies that can be developed outside the EU which simply don’t exist when you have to reach agreement with 27 other countries?”

    Ms McGrady said: “Yes absolutely, this is not about where you stand on Brexit but this is one moment in a generation where we can make a difference.

    “Our environment is under massive threat.

    “There are all sorts of statistics to show birds, bees and butterflies are all in huge decline.

    “Why that matters is these are the creatures that pollinate, farmers are going to be dependent on nature as much as anyone else so this is an opportunity.

    “Our own government here have made a great commitment.

    “I am calling on the government to be brave about this and to be the future thinking.


  • John Roffey 2nd Aug ’18 – 12:05pm

    “Conformation from Director-General of the National Trust that Brexit best for environment.”

    Firstly her comments seem to be no such thing. Secondly particularly on the environment it is often important to co-operate between countries, especially our near neighbours and internationally. It was pointed out that acid rain knew no national boundaries. Many species are crossing national boundaries – especially birds.

    If there is a thought that being outside Common Agricultural Policy might mean more environmentally friendly agriculture – that is a possibility but I won’t be holding my breath under a Tory government. But that has already happened and more so than when we were outside the CAP with a lot of “mono-culture” and intensive use of pesticides.

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