A long slow goodbye… a warm hello

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.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • A very warm welcome Tod!

  • Phil Aisthorpe 19th Jan '16 - 12:37pm

    An inspiring account Tod. Brilliant stuff.

  • Mathew McCarthy 19th Jan '16 - 1:05pm

    It’s wonderful to see somebody express a lot of the beliefs that I and the vast majority of Liberal Democrats feel in such an eloquent and inspiring way. Welcome to the Lib Dems, Tod. I get the feeling you’re going to be very at home here.

  • Welcome aboard!

  • Tod , a welcome very heartfelt indeed!!!!!!!!!I rarely see an article in which I emphatically agree with it all , here is one . Like you I was in Labour , in my case as someone in my forties , this was a while ago ,firstly when I was in my teens ,then again in the earlier Blair era . I share so many of your instincts , especially as I married into America , literally , and hate to see a knee jerk anti Americanism , which is to me a fascinating country , not because it is the land of my in laws , but the land of Roosevelt and Kennedy , of Martin Luther King , and of Bernstein and Sondheim et al ! I fully gravitated the way of you and away from Labour , earlier , in the Iraq war period and to fully to become what in my heart what I was for years , a Liberal Democrat , made sense .The whole party politics thing can drive me mad at times and has here too , the left right thing particularly . It s a party that is very decent on a human level , a word under appreciated !I look forward to engaging with you in it .

  • P. S. Above should have read “to fully become what in my heart I was for years , a Liberal Democrat “

  • It’s possible that Corbyn may succeed, but it seems unlikely that he will be allowed to do so, not least because of hostility from those who would lose some of their power and influence if he ever came to power. So Tod is probably making the right choice: moderate left of centre progressive politics, with a chance of making things better for real people in his community. Welcome to the Lib Dems, Tod. It’s why I stay!

  • “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.” – This a truly wonderful encapsulation of why I am a member of the party.

    A very warm welcome to you, Tod.

  • A very warm welcome from me too 🙂

  • Denis R Sullivan 19th Jan '16 - 4:40pm

    Dear Tod, I know how hard if must have been to leave a party you loved and were committed to, however when the party you joined takes such a divergence from you fundamental beliefs, then the move can be easier. For someone who was so involved it must have particularly difficult for you. I do hope our Party lives up to your expectations of us. We will have a period in the wilderness but in time our Party will return to influence British Politics and it needs people like you to help us in that task. I am one of the people Ian McF circulated this to, so you see we really are all good friends, most of the time. Yours aye, Denis Robertson Sullivan

  • Hove Howard 19th Jan '16 - 4:56pm

    For me, this article pretty much sums up why I’d be very reluctant to vote Lib Dem, let alone rejoin or campaign for the party. There’s a lot of windy waffle about equality but a curious amnesia about the five years leading up to last May, during which the party was part of a government that presided over a large increase in inequality. Then there’s the smeary Daily Maily stuff about Labour being ‘anti-British’ – in what way, precisely? And it is not anti-American to believe that the relationship has been, shall we say, somewhat one-sided for many years, and has caused us to enter into some very unwise foreign policy commitments – and that these have had long term ramifications.

    The Lib Dem opposition to the Iraq war was one reason why I joined the party. Opposition to ID cards – the quintessential New Labour programme to bag and label British citizens before they were dead – was another (presumably Mr Sullivan had no issues with this). I approved of the Lib Dem opposition to Trident renewal, and its support for rail re-nationalisation. Ten or fifteen years ago, the Lib Dems were the principled party of the centre-left, and it paid electoral dividends. Given how difference-splitting centrism fared at the 2015 election for the Lib Dems, it takes some chutzpah to point the finger at Labour’s failings, I must say.

  • Neil Sandison 19th Jan '16 - 6:48pm

    A man after my own heart .such an insight into where Labour is drifting .Welcome and enjoy your pragmatic but progressive politics.

  • Chris Thomas 19th Jan '16 - 7:33pm

    I had the pleasure of chatting to you last week, welcoming you to our local party and understandfully where you were coming from. I think we are very lucky as a party to have you with us.
    The Liberal Democrats have for years been a party that believes in the principles of the freedom of the individual and you only have to look at the preamble to our constitution to explain exactly what a Liberal Democrat is. We don’t repeat these principles enough. Welcome aboard Tod.

  • Hove Howard , negative when others are being positive . Amnesia is not being shown , many realise our party did what it felt was correct . Yes mistakes were made , concluding line of the classic movie _ “Some like it hot , ” “nobody s perfect !” Are you Howard , perfect ??!!!

  • Welcome, and well-written.

    (your region)

  • A warm welcome. I share a large part of your journey, although I was never a Labour party member.

  • Gordon Miller 20th Jan '16 - 9:27am

    Thanks for sharing Tom – I’ve made a similar journey albeit I worked for the Party too for some time. I’ve struggled since Corbyn but found the jump to transition to another Party too much to contemplate at the moment. It’s great to hear from people with similar experiences.

  • Andrew Martin 20th Jan '16 - 1:58pm


    It’s always difficult to leave a party you once loved, and I hope we can give you reasons to stay in the long term.

  • If New Labour was “perfect for you” then how have you “come home” to the Liberal Democrats. If your values have changed over time then that is welcome. If they haven’t thena are you not hitching yourself to the nearest available thing and will you go back when/if another “perfect” New Labour type thing emerges

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Jan '16 - 9:30am

    Hove Howard 19th Jan ’16 – 4:56pm “it takes some chutzpah to point the finger at Labour’s failings ”
    Please use English words where possible.
    I read in Time Magazine that during an Arab-Israeli war an Israeli military aircraft was shot at and hit over the Mediterranean. The pilot landed the ‘plane on an American aircraft carrier, but was summoned up to the bridge by an irate US captain who said “We are neutral in this war! How dare you land your aircraft on my ship!”
    The Israeli replied “Terribly sorry, I thought it was one of ours.”
    That is chutzpah.

  • Lorenzo 19th Jan ’16 – 11:10pm……………..Hove Howard , negative when others are being positive . Amnesia is not being shown , many realise our party did what it felt was correct . Yes mistakes were made , concluding line of the classic movie _ “Some like it hot , ” “nobody s perfect !” Are you Howard , perfect ??!!!…………..

    “Our party did what it felt was correct.??!!!…You’re ‘avin a larf, ain’tcha?….NHS re-organisation, bedroom tax, tuition fees, secret courts, etc. All of which we opposed pre-2010….

    Oh, I’m sorry, perhaps I should quote some of the lines that were used whenever a ‘red line’ was crossed, a good local councillor lost, beaten by a penguin, etc.
    Remember, “Collective responsibility”,”Compromise for the good of the Nation”, “Country before Party”….

    Tod Sullivan…..It seems that, as a new recruit to the LibDems, you were very happy with the Blair years. Why not? Everyone loves a winner. If your nadir was Labour’s 2015 campaign, heaven only knows what you thought of ours? If the ‘party you were so proud to serve is being taken over by looney Corbynites why not stay and fight for it? You won’t be alone; we are constantly being told that the majority of members and MPs are anti-Corbyn.

  • Tod Sullivan 23rd Jan '16 - 10:05pm

    Thank you all for the feedback positive and more challenging. Much appreciated.

    I thank you for the welcome and I hope to contribute something to the party. I am absolutely convinced that I have made the best possible choice and for people who doubt me I fully understand your doubts, but I hope you will give me the chance to prove my commitment and my intentions.

  • Tod Sullivan 23rd Jan '16 - 10:06pm

    @Hywell I think I said ‘WAS perfect for me’ implicit in that is that I changed and that the party also changed. I don’t think I have a record of ‘hitching’ myself to anything, I have no intention other than to be committed to the Lib Dems. I hope (in the limited word count) I explained my values, they have of course developed over the years, the feeling seems to be that they fit well within the party, which is why I joined – I think if I were hitching myself to something fashionable, with all due respect, now would probably not be the time for me to make this choice. ‘Everyone loves a winner’ I assume means that you think I joined Labour because they were fashionable and in power, I did not, I was first able to vote as an 18 year old in 1996 local elections – my joining the party that my father, grandfather, grandmother and uncles were members of was largely tribal but also fit with my very new and very much developing political thoughts. As time went on I changed, the party changed and I felt very much in the wrong place (had I not been an elected councillor I would have likely made a decision to leave sooner but felt an obligation to the fact that I was elected as a Labour candidate). Bear in mind I stood down from my safe council seat at a time when Labour were anticipated by most to be about to form a government – I think it would be an odd choice for me if I were driven only by hitching myself to ‘winners’.

  • Tod Sullivan 23rd Jan '16 - 10:08pm

    Hove Howard. You seem to have made some odd assumptions, in what way did I suggest ID cards were something I supported? I didn’t, they were a stupid idea. Anti-west / US feeling is something I personally experienced from some members, undoubtedly so – it is not rife but it exists in a very significant way in the many meetings I’ve been part of. Also, the leader is a supporter of the Stop The War Coalition who are apologists for Russian aggression and vociferously anti-west… thus I feel there is anti-US and anti-west sentiment amongst SOME people within the party. But hey ho, I don’t tend to give a great deal of credibility to people who put words in my mouth about something as silly as ID cards.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 24th Jan '16 - 11:47am

    Welcome, Tod and I certainly hope that you get involved more in the party – do come to Conference in York if you can.

  • George/Tod – there is a huge amount in New Labour that was not very liberal. So rather odd to describe it as perfect. As Tod says his views have changed since then so it is a moot point but.

    But the Liberal Democrats (in so far as they are anything) aren’t something which is a home for Labour people who really want a Labour party without the bits they don’t like. That is not a group of people who exclusively liberals.

    As the former Social Democrat Charles Kennedy said, there is a difference between ourselves and Labour and the Conservatives. We’re liberals, they’re not”.

  • Tod Sullivan 24th Jan '16 - 9:03pm

    Nobody said New Labour was perfect. I’m sure you weren’t intending on stretching semantics to the limit by extrapolating my ‘perfect fit’ comment in such a silly way so I don’t know where that came from.

    I’m not sure there’s much I can add to my comments that will convince you. I’ve been as clear as I can, I’m in no way looking for a ‘labour party without the bits I don’t like’. I think I’ve made the right choice, you seem less certain. I hope I’m right, most of the discussions I have had with people so far make me think I am.

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