From UKIP to Social Democrat in the LibDems

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

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  • Little Jackie Paper 6th Mar '17 - 9:50am

    ‘I’ve always had a romanticism of the 80s’

    I take it that you weren’t actually there? Good grief.

  • Jack Watson 6th Mar '17 - 10:14am

    First of all, welcome to the party! It’s good to have you with us.
    Secondly, I think your story provides a compelling reason why we need to begin diversifying our message. Since the referendum we’ve become the ‘anti-Brexit party’. This has had its benefits, not the least of which is another wonderful MP in Sarah Olney. However there is clearly a segment of the 52% who are unhappy with the version of Brexit that we are getting from the Tories but still wish to see it carried out. A referendum on the terms of the deal in which a rejection of the deal means remaining in the EU would be disrespectful to these voters. Instead we need to reach out to voters such as yourself by proposing liberal alternatives. I’ve said for a while that we should focus less on preventing Brexit and more on joining the EFTA.

  • Alexander Balkan 6th Mar '17 - 10:16am

    Romanticism is largely on the music and popular culture, as well as the beautiful Alliance. I’m aware everything else was terrible, as is the case with pretty much most history. But one has find beauty in something

  • Alexander Balkan 6th Mar '17 - 10:21am

    Very pragmatic Jack – I completely agree. We cannot allow Farage to be the default voice of the Brexit voter. While the other parties offer extreme solutions, we need to offer sensible ones that work for everyone. It’s not a difficult concept.

  • Hi Alexander.
    I am pleased to hear you have found a new home in the LibDems. You are obviously highly motivated and industrious. I hope this forum will be kind to you. It is normally extremely probing and rigorous, but can be harsh in this respect. It is also interesting to have the opportunity to probe and understand somebody coming from the leave side. I share your antipathy towards the old established order but would take issue with this statement.
    ‘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.’
    On the contrary, I believe, the old established order has in fact ‘Taken back Control’ by virtue of the Brexit vote.
    What say you.

  • paul holmes 6th Mar '17 - 10:50am

    Well Alexander, I joined the SDP/Liberal Alliance in 1983 and was a founder member of the Liberal Democrats in 1988, so I share some of your perspective on the 1980’s -but the music and popular culture was pretty dire as I recall it!

    As for Lord Owen I was very impressed at the start. Only yesterday I heard a clip being played on the radio of him proclaiming at the launch of the SDP that it was the most democratic party in the UK with One Member One Vote unlike any other Party at that time. That was one part of my attraction to the SDP compared to the various Electoral Colleges, Block Votes and privileged decision making by MP’s that then featured everywhere else.

    But then of course, when the SDP conference in Sheffield 1988 voted for merger with the Liberals, he took his ball home. One member one vote apparently only applied as long as those members voted the way he wanted. Call me old fashioned but I have always believed that democratic votes should be respected.

  • Little Jackie Paper 6th Mar '17 - 10:51am

    Alexander Balkan – ‘Romanticism is largely on the music and popular culture’

    To coin a phrase, the best days of the 1980s were in the 1990s.

    For what it’s worth by the way I’m more or less with you on the EFTA type option.

  • “‘I’ve always had a romanticism of the 80s’”.

    Well as someone who can remember before 1997, the sixties were much more fun, much more liberal, and the music was much better. The 80’s were dominated in more senses than one by Thatcher, the Tricoteuse of the Tory party.

  • Richard Underhill 6th Mar '17 - 11:41am

    The national interest is difficult to define. People in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have different opinions, so the “United Kingdom” has made steps towards becoming a federal state, comparable to the former Federal Republic of Germany, while implying that federalism means centralism, which was fiercely denied by our former leader Paddy Ashdown.
    Paddy brought new member John Cleese to Liberal Democrat federal conference, who talked to us about the psychology of the issue. Federalism implies devolution, which is good for mental health. For instance, devolution to Scotland is not enough, devolution within Scotland is also needed. Devolution to Northern Ireland existed before the Troubles, but the actions of the devolved government contributed to a perception of injustice which was expressed by non-violent members of the minority. A fair electoral system (STV) was useful, but not sufficient in itself, for instance it was not applied to MPs. Patience, delicacy and understanding are necessary now. We have also applauded the electorate of the Republic of Ireland in using STV to elect their first female President, Mary Robinson, using second preference votes, from among three candidates. She did campaign to sound of Simon and Garfunkel.

  • Neil Sandison 6th Mar '17 - 11:45am

    Good article Alexander .As a social democrat the first time around it is clear there are times when we need to do things collectively for example like climate change,air and sea pollution over fishing ,the refugee crisis by working together with partners .
    Post Brexit we will need an EFTA type agreement to trade within Europe the party must formulate policy so that we do not appear to be standing still on the 23rd June but have Liberal Democrat solutions to the challenging times ahead.

  • Arnold Kiel 6th Mar '17 - 3:03pm

    “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.”

    You have indeed come a long way, Alexander. I am sure the last, logical, step to become a remainer will take you just one thoughtful evening with a good bottle of French red.

  • PHIL THOMAS 6th Mar '17 - 3:54pm

    This Guy seems confused ? Why let Kippers join the Party ? Can these people be trusted ?

  • Phil Thomas…If he has read the party preamble and agrees with it, then of course he can be trusted.

  • @Alexander Balkan

    I don’t think the SDP were ever an anti-establishment party (even with their talk of breaking the mould). Liberalism is anti-the-powerful therefore more anti-establishment. Liberalism wants to remove power from the powerful and give it to the people.

    I don’t think the majority of Leave voters wanted to be in the EFTA and have membership of the EEA giving membership of the Single Market and for EU citizens to have the right to come here to live and work. However a majority of referendum voters might well have supported it. To find out there should have been another referendum on whether the UK should be a member of the EFTA and the EEA. To re-join the EFTA would need the consent of its four members. It might be possible to move from the EU to the EFTA and retain membership of the EEA.

  • There was a lot of talk about EFTA. The problem was no one asked what the views of its member countries were. Not keen on having Britain as a member its seems.

  • Your journey, Alexander, epitomises why we should seek to engage with supporters of UKIP, and other parties, who choose to join in our debates on LibDem Voice. I want to understand why people, at least those who are capable to rational exposition, have such a different view of the world to me. I am not going to be persuaded that Brexit is a good idea, but I am interested in why the majority of people who voted in the referendum disliked our membership of the EU. Liberals should listen as well as persuading.

  • Sorry Andrew, I am not in favour of expelling those who voted leave,blast them which you infer

  • Andrew Hickey,

    “Quitling”? “Quitling”?


  • Instead of “respecting” the EU Referendum vote, it might be better if politicians said that they know what the result was and go on to say what they want to say about where we go from here.

  • Lee_Thacker 6th Mar '17 - 9:59pm

    When you joined UKIP in 2010 Nigel Farage was leader. You are saying it took you several years to work out what he was like and to realise your political party was not too keen on immigrants?

    Which leading leave campaigners declared themselves in favour of joining of EFTA?

    What is this “political elite” you refer to?

  • Ruth Bright 6th Mar '17 - 10:11pm

    Give Alexander a break. He said he joined UKIP when he was THIRTEEN. Who hasn’t done daft stuff things at 13? At 13 I had a scrapbook about David Steel. It doesn’t get much more misguided than that.

  • Lee_Thacker 6th Mar '17 - 10:16pm

    Do you still want a new social democratic party led by Kate Hoey?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Mar '17 - 10:18pm

    Alexander your article and joining is very welcome !

    This party has become way too obsessed with the EU and wretched Brextitis !

    Any more moderate and “Alan Sked ” UKIPERS are more than welcome to alleviate the obsession so moderate remainers and even Liberalleavers can feel less like an isolated minority when looking at our national and I , add LDV priorities !

  • “Alan Sked ” UKIPERS are more than welcome”.

    Oh no they are not.

  • @ Ruth
    “At 13 I had a scrapbook about David Steel. It doesn’t get much more misguided than that”.
    Wow, you’re one confident Lady admitting that! 🙂 Respect!

  • @ Andrew Hickey

    I didn’t even know that the SDP still existed as a political party. Alexander Balkan stood in a by-election in Tooting and received 15 votes –

    By joining the party in October Alexander timed it well so he could attend the AGM and become the Secretary of his Local Party.

    The 10 SDP “principles” ( [they seem more like aims to me] are not ones that liberals would automatically reject. (I expect you would find number 6 a problem, but it is believed that about 30% of Liberal Democrat voters voted Leave and the Liberal Party supported Leave.)

  • This does confirm my feeling that the Lib Dems have changed since 2010 with two big influxes of members who may have some values I’d agree with but are probably not liberal in their philosophy (see also how the terms progressive, centrist and moderate are used to define the party). Maybe that’s a good thing but it’s not for me anymore.

  • Chris Moore 7th Mar '17 - 9:03am

    Welcome, Alexander.

    We need people with energy and a different perspective to the majority of members in the party. I liked your article.

    I’m delighted that we have gained an ex-UKIP member. Everybody on here should remember that we are trying to persuade people of different opinions to move to us. That is how you gain support.

    This is a good article because it challenges unspoken assumptions.

  • Thank you for your honest and bold statements. Welcome to the party! We might disagree on Brexit, but I think we agree on so much more. You are totally correct about reaching out to the 52%!

  • Jack Watson 7th Mar '17 - 9:49am

    I think all of those commenting that Alexander is not welcome in the party need to remember that we are LIBERALS. We’re openminded. We embrace personal choice. We’re tolerant. We’re forgiving.

    Alexander clearly has a history of opposing the party and one of its core policies. He has now willfully joined the party and written for its blog. Let’s be liberal about this. Let’s ask him to stay.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 7th Mar '17 - 9:55am

    Andrew Hickey, You claim that someone cannot agree with the preamble to the Lib Dem Constitution, and also want to leave the EU. It should be pointed out that the preamble is intended as a general statement of liberal philosophy and ideals, and is not intended to tie the party permanently to particular specific policies about how to bring these ideals about. The preamble only contains one sentence which mentions Europe, and this only appears in the last paragraph – the sentence that you quote, about the “European Community”. The party does not seem to have considered it necessary to update this to refer to the “European Union”. Actually the official pre 1993 term was the European Communities. Is it possible that the preamble chose to say “Community” instead, to show that what the party supported was a general principle of cooperation between European nations, rather than one particular institution?
    It seems quite possible that someone could agree with the preamble, and also want to leave the EU. They might say that they supported the old European Communities, but do not support what the EU has become. Or they might say that they support friendship and cooperation between European nations, but think this should take a different form from the EU as it currently exists.
    It should be noted that while those who wrote the preamble considered Europe important enough to mention, they did not consider it important enough to give it more than one sentence, or to mention it before the last paragraph. It was clearly seen as just one of many beliefs, and certainly not the most important.
    The preamble also contains the sentence “We believe that sovereignty rests with the people, and that authority in a democracy derives from the people”. Doesn’t that sentence suggest that if a majority of the people wish to leave the EU, then the party should accept this decision?

  • I’m sure that a lot of us in the party would agree with you, that if Brexit is inevitable, then we should be aiming for membership of the EFTA or, at the very least, not also trying to leave the Customs Union. Nobody voted for this in the referendum, and it seems we’re the only party in England besides the Greens saying this.

    Above all else, Andrew, you are very welcome in the Social and Liberal Democrats, and I am sure that you will hear that from all of our members.

  • Ed Shepherd 7th Mar '17 - 12:22pm

    “I’ve always had a romanticism of the 80s and this was probably the icing on the cake.”
    It was awful. Dominated by extremism, stupidity and decay.

  • Sue Sutherland 7th Mar '17 - 1:32pm

    Hi Alexander and welcome. I’m glad you have joined us because you think we have a Tory Brexit that no one voted for and because you think our party should stick up for the 52%. I agree with both of those things and I was a member of the SDP too and a founder member of the Lib Dems. Now I find the subtlety of Liberalism much more attractive because it’s about balancing power by various means in order to create a more equal society.
    Unfortunately, I think you and many others attracted to UKIP were rebelling against the wrong elite if I understand you correctly. The intellectual elite have certainly taken a battering from the Brexit result but unfortunately I think the real elite, the very wealthy, will be completely cushioned against the economic hardship it will cause and that those who are weakest in our society will suffer most. Those are the people who were part of the 52% I’m concerned about now and always have been, people who were totally misled about the EU by the papers like the Mail and Express who’s owners are part of the true elite and by those who promised benefits like more investment in the NHS after Brexit.
    Fear of strangers is a natural human emotion as evinced by some commentators on your post here. This has been stirred up by these papers and people like Farage, so I hope you will help us to send a message to those who still support UKIP that they have been taken for a ride by greedy, power hungry, wealthy people who care for nobody but themselves.
    I heard people on TV saying we can’t look after our own so how can we look after other people and I’m hoping that the Lib Dems will adopt even stronger policies to look after our own and those who are in desperate need who are strangers to us now, but who will become part of our community and give back so much more than they have received. I hope this for you too.

  • Well said Sue Sutherland.
    When will people learn not to rally to the call of Jingoism.
    We’ve all seen where it leads. And when Britain is the ‘leader of the free trading world’ you can bet your bottom dollar that we will still have thousands sleeping rough on our streets.

  • @ Andrew Hickey

    UKIP supported libertarian ideas which can be “socially liberal” with the state not imposing its view on how people live. (You refer to libertarians being acceptable within the party “but we need the libertarians there to critique the left’s ideas and vice versa” – Nigel Farage has stated one of his favourite books is On Liberty by John Stuart Mill.

    It is not a liberal principle to support UK membership of the EU. The British Liberal Party does not.

    It is not a liberal principle to support economic migration (it seems more Conservative as it benefits business and the “fittest” who migrate, rather than everyone in the country from which the economic migrant has departed). A more liberal solution would be to have policies to improve the economic situation of everyone in the poorer country, not only those who leave. Alexander Balkan does state “Farage’s terrible election campaign, where his anti-immigration populism went to new heights”. It is quite possible that he is not anti-foreigner.

    I have already pointed out that there is little in the SDP’s “10 principles” for liberals to disagree with.

    Alexander also pointed out this main motivator is to “undermine the entire establishment”. This is a strong tradition in British Liberalism. He also gives the impression that we need to address the feeling of being left behind that many of the 52% have. Liberalism is concerned with improving the economic conditions of the poorest because liberals recognise that the poorer a person is the less liberty they have.

    We do not expect every member to support every policy. We expect them to share our liberal principles. It is quite possible that Alexander shares more liberal principles than a libertarian.

  • @ Michael BG “UKIP supported libertarian ideas which can be “socially liberal” with the state not imposing its view on how people live”. Errrrrr ?

    So………….. if we adopted UKIP’s swivel eyed alternating policy of privatising the NHS, as I lay waiting for a transplant operation which I couldn’t afford to pay for, it would be a great comfort to me to know that ‘I was free’ and my death would simply be a bit of a post truth phenomenon – and of course the state hadn’t imposed it’s view on me but instead simply priced me out of the market. Alleluia..

    Now I’m prepared to forgive the follies of youth (subject to a probationary period which would not include being a branch secretary within a few days after coughing up my first subscription – a bit of desperation there in Spelthorne ?)…. but caution should be the watchword until the spurs have been earned.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th Mar '17 - 10:46pm

    As ever, Catherine Jane and Ruth add sense !

    A young man joined a democratic party in a democratic country aged thirteen.

    It is a party we do not like because we disagree with it and it with us.

    Alan Sked, whatever others say , was once a Liberal, his hero is Franklin Roosevelt, he founded UKIP and left it as soon as he perceived Farage to be creating a Frankenstein !!!

    When a young man realises what a middle aged Alan Sked realised, but unlike the self same founder of UKIP chooses this party instead , three cheers !

    Some ageist types are in reverse , not realising it is not folly, or youthfulness that only leads to certain decisions or changes minds.

    This party owes much to former members of various parties.

    Come one come all, with democratic anti-racist views, like Alexander!

  • @ Lorenzo,

    I’m afraid your hero Professor Alan Sked stood against the winning Liberal Democrat candidates in Bath, Newbury and Christchurch – each time getting a derisory vote.

    Now however clever you may think Prof Sked to be – and his views on the Habsburg Empire are well informed – in modern times he has followed a far from friendly stance to the party to which you now belong.

    I have no problem with the young man changing his mind – if he has – but a certain caution is reasonable in the initial stages.

  • @ David Raw

    When UKIP had a policy of privatising the NHS I except it was based on their libertarian ideas of a small government. This is why I don’t think Libertarianism is compatible with Liberalism. (I have quoted Conrad Russell on this on LVD in the past.) There is the Libertarian Party of the UK for libertarians to join. However Andrew Hickey not only thinks libertarians should be in the party but that the party needs them! (Hence my point!)

    @ Andrew Hickey
    “We’re not the Continuity Liberals”
    Are you saying that the British Liberal Party is not based on liberalism and for a party to be classified as liberal it must support membership of the EU? What about the Canadian Liberal Party then?

    I am glad you seem to have moderated your opinion from anyone who was in the UKIP needs to explicitly state which liberal principles they agree with to one where they can join but must be watched. Alexander’s article was not a comprehensive piece on why he is a Liberal Democrat, but was about part of his journey from being a member of UKIP to being a member of the Liberal Democrats.

    I joined the party in 1988 and attending the AGM that year and was then “elected” on the executive. I then stood for the first time for the party in May 1989 (I think by then I was Membership Secretary). It is not unusual for new members to join their Local Party executive within a few months of joining the party.

    I think Andrew that you really do need to differentiate between liberalism and our policies. When we discuss what our policies are people on both sides often use the ideas of liberalism to support their argument and therefore someone is not a liberal just because they don’t support a particular Liberal Democrat policy.

  • I agree with Mr Balkans post to the extent that he seems to be reminding us of the need to honour the Social Democratic aspect of our party history. it seems to me that there are some party members who take a purist approach to this – and some of them even oobject to the `Democrat` part of our title (which, of course, was a nod to the Social Democrat input into the merger). I seem to recall that, a few years ago, when the superb Mr Farron took lead of the party there was even talk of ditching the `Dem` in our title, presumably for that very reason.
    Indeed, the `continuity liberals` use the argument that the Lib Dems have strayed from the path and have been contaminated with `non-liberal` social democratic ideas.
    The way I see it is more that we have reunited two streams of centre leftism that became artificially divided at the turn of the century (for various reasons).
    One of our best leaders came from a Social Democratic background (Charles Kennedy) and I believe that the party constitution was formulated by a former SDP man.

    Social Democrats welcome here!

    I am, however, a little baffled by the fact that the continuity SDP has taken an anti-EU stance – since, as I understand it, one of the things which prompted the `gang of four` to set up the SDP in the first place was the Labour Party’s hostility to the EU! The whole EU -project was, as the kippers never tire of telling us (i the ir own way), underpinned by Social Democratic ideals.
    David Owen just strikes me as one of those `maverick` politicians who chop and chamge their allegiances because they are mainly in it for themselves.

  • Allistair Graham 10th Mar '17 - 7:00pm

    I am a Liberal Democrat because I believe in freedom and democracy. This freedom allows for a diversity of views within a framework of mutual tolerance. For this reason I welcome Alexander and it would be thoroughly illiberal not to do so. I am intrigued however, by his mention of the phrase “post-truth”. Perhaps Alexander would like to elaborate….?

  • Philip Rolle 11th Mar '17 - 2:13am

    I also thought this was a good article.

    Few here will welcome me saying so, but there is a similarity in UKIP and the modern day Liberal Democrats. That is that both parties have an intolerant streak running through them. It is clearly evident in the comments here and has become more pronounced since the party “lost* the referendum. The Liberal Democrats that I voted for over many years until 2005 rarely did exhibit such intolerance, and were much the better for it. If you are all not careful, this narrow and truculent mindset will inhibit the party’s recovery.

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