Lib Dems at 30 – let’s be bold, confident and radical

It’s a wee while since I hit 30 but I’ve been thinking a lot about how I felt at that time in my life.

My twenties had been pretty turbulent in many ways and had taught me quite a bit about the world and how it works and where things needed to change.

By the time I hit 30, I not only felt surer of myself, I felt more impatient even than I had at 16 to change the world. Why? Because so little had changed. Because we were still having the same arguments about power being concentrated in the hands of too few white men. Because opportunities for progress were being missed.

It’s a bit the same for the party. When it hit 20, it had 63 MPs and was in many ways at the height of its powers. Charles had been right on Iraq, Vince had been right about the financial crash which was only just starting to unfold. Actually, Paddy, our leader for the first 10 years had been right on social justice, right on Kosovo, right on Hong Kong.

As we hit 30, we are still right on the big issues of the day – housing, Brexit, inequality, climate change. We are much smaller in terms of MPs and councillors, but we have more members than we had 10 years ago. We had about 75000 members around the time Nick Clegg won in 2007. We broke the 100,000 barrier last year.

It is not easy being a third party in a bonkers electoral system that is built for two who want to keep it that way.  It wasn’t until our 10th year that we broke through, doubling our number of MPs to 46. It wasn’t until our 11th year that we had nationwide representation in the European Parliament. 

Nobody gets to 30 without there being moments of great joy and huge despair. Nobody gets to 30 without seriously screwing stuff up as well as triumphantly achieving heartfelt ambitions.

The coalition years, the first time Liberal Democrats sat around a cabinet table and did stuff at Westminster level, were a mixture of the two. Having said that, the scale of our muck-ups should be measured against the current incompetent shower who are quite prepared to sacrifice our national interest as collateral damage in their own ideological civil war.

We need to learn our lessons from those years but we also need to be incredibly proud of the things that wouldn’t have happened without us –  the raising of the tax threshold, more investment in mental health and the start of the necessary cultural change within the NHS (remember mental health is mainstream now and we were the ones who started to make it that way – something we should be grateful to Nick Clegg and Norman Lamb for), same sex marriage, securing 0.7% of GDP for international aid, more money for disadvantaged kids in school. These are all highly significant things.

Our task for the next 10 years is to continue to be right, to be audacious in getting our message across, to be bold, radical and insurgent. We have fought our way back before. We need to be confident that we will do so again.

We are at heart generous-spirited and optimistic. We see the best in people, we want them to have the opportunities to be the best that they can be. That is a joyful and positive message and it even has substance behind it. All the things we want to achieve have their roots in our belief that “no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”

We are this country’s establishment-busting, planet-saving, freedom-loving party that truly believes in letting people take back control (heard that phrase before?) of their lives. We need to stand up tall and confidently proclaim that message on every doorstep and in every way that we can. We have been very good at producing huge lists of policies over the years, but less good at the big picture stuff.  This decade needs to be the time when we get really good at that.



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

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Mar '18 - 1:26pm

    Excellent comments here. We are better at the small detail than big picture on some issues, but very much a big picture and even headlining party at certain points where both needed and appropriate. Iraq, education, Brexit, mental health.

    The party needs to get more into the mainstream as well as the radical and bold.The most absurd thing is the notion a few have that it is contradictory. When so much around you is crashing about you, to be seekers of truth and advocates for solutions, is not liberal establishment.

    We could do more if we see Brexit as more subtle in its allowing for change, rather than sounding apologists for status quo. Nick Clegg got it wrong on the EU that more than much, in saying it might be as it is in future.

    The future needs the voice of reason and emotion to be heard. We are or can be that…

  • David Evans 3rd Mar '18 - 2:28pm

    The scale of our muck-ups should be measured against us covering up the divisions in the current incompetent shower who used the chance to totally undermine us and are now in a position where they can sacrifice our national interest as collateral damage in their own ideological civil war.

  • John Marriott 3rd Mar '18 - 2:36pm

    Goodness me, is it really THIRTY years? Yes, I suppose it is. As a ‘founder member’ I’ve still got my diamond shaped lapel badge with the torch logo somewhere. At least I think it was a torch, which I prefer to the ‘bird of paradise’; but I suppose that was a bit too much like the Tory emblem at that time, just as UKIP’s new patriotic lion is a bit too much like the Premiership logo.

    I seem to recall that we called ourselves the rather awkward ‘Social and Liberal Democrat Party’, which the media rapidly rechristened ‘Salads’. Indeed I remember David Owen at the time of the merger saying that his doctor had advised him “to eat salads for breakfast”!

    The birth of this new party was by no means easy. We know what happened in the Richmond (Yorks) by election in year one, when the surviving SDP (which is apparently ‘surviving’ to this day somewhere in the political ether) possibly gave one William Jefferson Hague an early entry into Westminster – or, given the fact that the SDP candidate finished second, closely followed by the Lib Dem candidate, was it the other way round?

    Well, from an opinion poll rating of +/- 3% back then through the heady heights of anything up to 25% down to a rather disappointing 8/9% today, life with the Lib Dems has been anything but dull. As someone, who was proud to have been part of the attempt to challenge the old two party system, but who has now decided that it’s time to move on, I wish all those enthusiastic young (and, judging by some of the LDV contributors, not so young) all the best for the next thirty years. By the way, folks, there IS more to life than Brexit!

  • “We are this country’s establishment-busting….. ” ? It would be good if we.

    I’m sorry to have to say it, but it’s so many knighthoods and peerages to bust the establishment that I’ve quite lost count.

  • Alex Macfie 3rd Mar '18 - 2:47pm

    David Raw: We use our strength in the House of Lords to hold the government to account, and don’t care if by doing so we undermine the whole institution. This is in contrast to Labour Lords, who try to avoid defeating the government too much because at bottom they are happy with the HoL as it is, i.e. an unelected chamber muzzled by a gentlemen’s agreement.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 3rd Mar '18 - 2:49pm

    David, would you rather that we just sat out the House of Lords and let the Tories have a majority?

    I mean, you have to be in it to reform it.

    The Westminster electoral system is unfair and awful but nobody is suggesting we shouldn’t fight elections.

  • paul barker 3rd Mar '18 - 3:03pm

    For any of us who get depressed at our current situation I reccomend looking at the Long Term, at our strengths & the underlying weakness of our main rivals.
    The decline of The Conservative Party is hard to grasp & even harder to beieve : back in the 1950s they were estimated to have 3.5 Million Members, now its 70,000, a fall of 98%. Perhaps they are about to bounce back but it doesnt look like it right now.
    Our Membership is now 40% larger than The Tories, that doesnt make a difference in the very short run but it will matter over time.
    Labour have shifted tracks & are on an irreversible course towards The “Far/Radical Left”. Parties of that sort can thrive in modern European societies but they dont get 40% in Elections. Labour have chosen to abandon a lot of “Their” Voters & those Voters will respond in their turn, very slowly.
    A new space is slowly opening up in our Politics & its taylor-made for us to fill.

  • David Evans 3rd Mar '18 - 3:41pm

    Unfortunately Caron, you have to be in the House of Commons to reform things,not the House of Lords. Would you rather we just sat in government ministries for five years and just let the Conservatives get on with undermining the electoral system by allowing them and their allies almost unlimited spending on elections. Would you rather we just covered Cameron’s back against his “crazed loons” while letting him totally undermine us all over the country while taking the blame for what went wrong?

    As you say, “You have to be in it to reform it,” and Nick had our one chance to reform it, but instead we are no longer in it at all.

  • paul barker 3rd Mar ’18 – 3:03pm…

    Well, Paul, that’s everything sorted then….Any chance of next week’s Euro Millions winning numbers whilst you are on a roll?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 3rd Mar '18 - 3:57pm

    @David Raw: I’m not defending the knighthoods – I haven’t got much time for them myself, to be honest. I would actually have rathered they had peerages – but if they had done that, we wouldn’t have Vince and Ed in the Commons now.

  • John Marriott 3rd Mar '18 - 4:35pm

    Cancel the torch. I was wrong. It was just words on the badge. So much for my memory!
    @David Evans
    Your ‘pain’ at what happened between 2010 and 2015 is probably reflected amongst many party members. When it was decided to accept Cameron’s ‘offer’ there was always the risk that the Lib Dems would become the fall guys for austerity. Mistakes were made which have been cited many times. How about Danny Alexander’s famous yellow Budget box at add to the list? As they say; “Once bitten…”

  • Sue Sutherland 3rd Mar '18 - 4:46pm

    I agree with Caron that our stated aim is to bust the Establishment but I’m afraid that in fact we are guilty of propping it up. This became very evident when we were in Coalition and a lot of our MPs became awe struck by their own grandeur. When Simon Hughes comes to your local dinner and tells you, with stars in his eyes, how marvellous it is to be a member of the Privy Council because no one from our party has been a Privy Councillor for two million years you know something is seriously wrong! I’m afraid we rolled over and let the Tories tickle our tummies in this respect.
    I would like to suggest that we ditch all titles in all of our communications for a start. If we want to reform the House of Lords why on earth do we reference people as Lord this or Baroness that? I have also no idea why anyone wants to be a Sir. Well done to Nick Clegg for not wanting to be a Lord but why would he want a title at all?
    I would like us to do this publicly as an act of rejecting the establishment and perhaps it would remind all of us to reject pretentiousness and question power most when we ourselves hold it.

  • Sue Sutherland 3rd Mar ’18 – 4:46pm…………….Well done to Nick Clegg for not wanting to be a Lord but why would he want a title at all?………

    I think the opposite of Clegg…At least with a peerage he could have formed part of our Lord’s team…A ‘sir’ is ‘neither fish nor fowl’..

  • To be a member of this party you should be optimistic for what we can do to society, see the best in people, treat people equally, want everyone to be the best they can be, to want everyone to have the same freedoms and choices and opportunities and not to accept anyone being left behind, and believing society should be more equal.

    If only we were radical. If only we had policies to reduce economic inequalities and end relative poverty. The coalition is evidence we are main stream accepting the current orthodoxy – that 5% unemployment is a price worth paying to control inflation, that the UK should have a balanced budget, that full employment can’t be achieved. We even became a mini-Conservative party believing in tax cuts rather than targeted government expenditure and believing only in equality of opportunity and not a more equal society (equality of outcome).

  • Strong positive message from Caron about what it means to be a member of this party and the need to focus on the big picture.

    I am not so sure about being an establishment busting party! Maybe in the time of the whigs and the non-conformist movement in the New Liberalism of the early 20th Century or even the young liberals of the 1960’s

    If the establishment includes includes leading politicians, senior civil servants, senior barristers and judges, aristocrats, Oxbridge academics, senior clergy in the established Church of England, the most important financiers and industrialists, governors of the BBC, and the members of and top aides to the royal family – What is it we busting up?

    I would certainly characterise the party as anti-authoritarian but I think, like it or not, we (along with all mainstream political parties) are part of the establishment. If the Establishment includes a closed social group which selects its own members in government or any relatively small group of people exercising some degree of control, then the very fact that we have members in both houses of Parliament must make us part of the establishment. At least that is how much of the public will see it.Tribalism is rife in politics and we are no exception.

  • @ Paul Barker “Labour have shifted tracks & are on an irreversible course towards The “Far/Radical Left”. Parties of that sort can thrive in modern European societies but they dont get 40% in Elections.”

    Paul, if you look up the figures for the General Election in 2017 (with Mr Corbyn as Leader) they got………………………….. would you believe it ?…………….. FORTY PER CENT !!

  • I’m another who thinks the Lords needs an overhaul, but so long as it is in existence, we do need to be in there and using it to challenge the government of the day as best we can. And like it or not, making reference to a person’s title is the easiest way to distinguish them as a member of the House of Lords. IMO, getting hung up on titles in a negative way is just as much of a distraction as getting hung up on them in a positive way.

    Well done to everyone who has worked hard over the years to make the merger work, and ridden the various highs and lows. Disagreements keep everyone honest and inject a bit of drama, but the real progress comes through hard work and from finding common ground and putting people ahead of personal ideology.

  • A Social Liberal 4th Mar '18 - 6:23pm

    Caron, can you tell me what is establishment busting about propping up the HoL despite it being in our DNA to bring it down. What is establishment busting about propping up the status quo in the HoC, despite the representation of disabled and working class in that house being almost non existent.

    Yes, the party has brought in AWS, but that is no more representative than any other system whilst being just as descriminatory and just as illiberal. And whilst certain sections of our party gloats over the rise of discrimination the reality is is that we remain just as unrepresentative

  • Richard Underhill 5th Mar '18 - 9:40am

    Please see Vince Cable on ITV’s Peston on Sunday 4/3/2018. Labour MP Caroline Flint was “seething”.

  • Paul Pettinger 5th Mar '18 - 2:28pm

    Alas asking Lib Dems to focus on Lib Dem achievements in Government distracts us from the overall record of the coalition, which is what most voters judge us against (and esp as we pursued a kamikaze strategy of trying to own the Coalition’s record). By this measure the Coalition was not a success. In a wide range of ways Coalition policy was at odds with long standing Lib Dem positions. Just because the post coalition Governments are worse doesn’t change this and sadly our record in coalition (the cynicism we helped engender by breaking trust and promises, combined with things like the stagnant economics) helped lay some of the foundations for the anarchy that has followed. There is much we can take from the coalition era, including about how not to conduct ourselves!

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