Former Conservative Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell joins the Liberal Democrats

Stephen Dorrell was Health Secretary in John Major’s government and as recently as 2014 was Chair of the Commons Health Select Committee.

Tonight, in an article for The Times (£), he announced that he had joined the Liberal Democrats.

However, we belittle the distinct political traditions of Liberal Democrats, social democrats and liberal Conservatives if we pretend that voices in the “centre” are all the same. The argument for realignment is different. Democratic politics requires its practitioners to build coalitions of people whose views are not identical, but who share political objectives and a commitment to see them translated into reality.

Brexit is the immediate illustration of the issue. Liberal Democrats, liberal Conservatives and social democrats share a strong belief that the UK’s interests are best served by remaining a member of the EU and building in Europe the world’s most effective champion of liberal values. These values, enshrined in the EU treaties, are not, as Vladimir Putin says, “obsolete”; they are the essential ingredients of the success of western civilisation, and liberals should organise to defend them wherever and whenever they are threatened.

Looking beyond the Brexit crisis, it is also obvious that our democracy is in dire need of reform. Parliament has lost the ability to speak for voters because it doesn’t represent the balance of their views. Britain needs a more proportional voting system to ensure the views expressed in parliament reflect the country.

All this requires liberal Conservatives and social democrats to break cover from their respective parties and join the Liberal Democrats in a big liberal tent. It isn’t just a question of “joining the Liberal Democrats”; by joining, their objective is to expand the Liberal Democrats to include fellow liberals from different backgrounds, all of whom are committed to delivering the reform of our politics that is so urgently needed.

Welcome, Stephen.

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  • Michael Sammon 5th Oct '19 - 8:44pm

    I think he is spot on about the broad liberal tent. Good news, welcome.

  • Paul Barker 5th Oct '19 - 9:38pm

    He is very welcome & makes an excellent argument for Realignement on the Liberal Centre/Left.

  • An interesting biography on Wikipedia. Clearly an expert on pensions, NHS contracts and the laws of trespass.

  • Ross McLean 5th Oct '19 - 10:49pm

    I’m old enough to remember the gossip that he might join us about 20 years ago, when Hague and then IDS were the Tory leaders and we had a big drive to get some big names to come over to us. I believe there were high-level talks, but in the end he got cold feet. Now here he is. I think he came via ChangeUK didn’t he? I seem to recall him standing in the Euro elections(?) It’s good to have him, and I hope it prompts a few others….

  • Steve Comer 6th Oct '19 - 7:38am

    I’m not sure that Stephen was ever in Change UK, but he was prominent in the European Movement. I think this is the key issue for many moderate Tories who considered themselves to be pro-business and had a social conscience.
    This is not as unusual combination, you could say the same about many mainstream Christian Democrats across Europe.

    I think we’re now seeing a realignment of forces in the centre ground of politics. Perhaps a bit like the Peelite split from Conservatism in the mid 19th century, or the Liberal unionist split for Liberalism in Gladstone’s time?

  • Jayne Mansfield 6th Oct '19 - 1:47pm

    @ Steve Comer,
    Stephen Dorrell was a lead candidate for Change UK in the EU elections but failed to be elected.

    I am not sure how many of the Change UK members there are left now. The latest defection must be a great disappointment to Anna Soubry and the remainder of the group.

  • Peter Hirst 6th Oct '19 - 3:51pm

    The gulf between the two main Parties is so wide that it is a wonder there isn’t a torrent of MPs joining us. Party loyalties run deep and it takes time to reverse a lifetime of allegiance. We must do whatever we can to make those who wish to make that transition as easy as possible.

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