Reprise: My first post of the year

This is the post I wrote 365 days ago that went live as 2015 dawned.

Despite all our efforts, it ended up being one of the worst years ever to be a Liberal Democrat. The devastation of election night, followed less than a month later by the death of Charles Kennedy could have knocked the stuffing out of us. In many ways, we are still grieving and adjusting to our new circumstances, while simultaneously engaged in that #libdemfightback.

There are huge challenges ahead of us in this coming year – the Welsh and Scottish elections, the London Mayoral election and local elections, as well as the EU Referendum and making sure that all these new members stick with us. Where the referendum is concerned, it will be up to us to make the case to remain a positive one and not a choice that people are scared into making.

Thankfully, we have a leader who is very good at articulating what liberalism is all about and who is good at getting himself and the party noticed. We have many committed long standing activists and new campaigners all over the country. If we can harness that energy and articulate a bold, radical message, we may even take some steps forward, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that we’ll make any more than that. The giant leap will take more time but there is a determination to claw our way back. 

I think that a lot of what I wrote a year ago turned out to be pretty accurate as the year unfolded, especially that bit about the dangers of defining ourselves in relation to other people. Let’s step back in time and embrace the fact that we are: “an establishment-busting, planet-saving movement with radical solutions to the world’s problems grounded in a profound respect for every unique individual and the communities in which we all live.”

2015.

It’s here.

Because of us, we’ve known exactly when the General Election would be since the Autumn of 2010. Taking away the ability of the Prime Minister to slot in an election at a politically expedient time is a good thing.

Anyway, this year is going to bring its challenges, its tears, its tribulations and, we hope, its joys. And they will just start with the General Election in May.

So, fellow Liberal Democrats take a breath, a few swigs of bubbly and enjoy today – for tomorrow and every other day until May 7th, we knock on doors. Nobody will tell our story for us. We have to do it for ourselves with heart and soul. We have a good one to tell. Even at a time when the country was strapped for cash, we did a whole load of good for children, for women, for anyone on a low and middle income. We did a lot of what we said we’d do. Kids from poorer backgrounds are performing better because of the money that Nick Clegg sent to spend on them. Families now have the choice over who takes the leave when a baby is born, something that Nick Clegg had been banging on about for years and Jo Swinson implemented. That policy sums up what liberalism is all about – giving people the right to make choices about their own lives that suit them. Those changes in the mental health system? Driven through by Nick Clegg. Sure, we’re not feeling the effect of them all yet, but the cultural change has been started. That’s why we need Norman Lamb in office as long as possible to finish the job. And there’s our Steve Webb. A proper pensions expert in charge of pensions. He’s done a great job of making sure that the pensions system is fairer for everyone, and more liberal, giving people more choice and power. And then there’s our Lynne Featherstone making a huge difference for women and girls across the world, taking action on sexual violence, education and FGM. And was there not something about same sex marriage too?

In Scotland, our long held ideas are now setting the agenda, with the Smith Commission providing a blueprint for how the constituent states of a federation should relate to each other. It’s early days, of course, but Mike Moore and Tavish Scott played a blinder, getting the other parties to move significantly from their opening positions to ensure a significant and sensible set of new powers would be given to Holyrood.

We maybe need to be a bit more candid about where we got it wrong, where we agreed to things that we shouldn’t. We don’t need to make a major production of it, but it’s important that we are authentic and genuine about our record.

We need to make sure that we are still in the game as a national party at the end of this and that requires us to work together. Britain needs the Liberal Democrats to be strong and active to counteract the fear and scapegoating that the other parties are sinking into, some with more enthusiasm than the rest. That’s much more important than any internal difference of opinion.

We’ve never been more up against it. I believe we can do well and confound expectations in May, though. We have been climbing up a very big mountain in treacherous conditions relentlessly and doggedly since May 2010. So many times people think we’ve been defeated by an avalanche or a bolt of lightening, but we’re still there.   We’ve had our squabbles, but the Liberal Democrat family has been remarkable in the way it has stuck together. That’s not to say we have forgotten those family members who are currently estranged, but it could have been a lot worse.  It’s important that we continue to stick together up to and beyond May. The cooler and calmer we are, the better the decisions we will ultimately make.

The very last thing I want to see is a period of majority Tory Government or, heaven forbid, a Tory/UKIP arrangement, to illustrate to people exactly what the Liberal Democrats have done to restrain them. We know what that would mean – benefits being removed from young people, the Human Rights Act being put in the shredder, a divisive, unpleasant and distracting referendum on the EU, draconian, illiberal “anti-terror” laws which will perpetuate, not solve, the problems, a rolling back of the size of the state with people abandoned to exploitation by the powerful. And on immigration, the Go Home racist vans would be the least of the policy failings. It’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that Labour would be that much better, either.

We are not a split the difference party, though. We are an establishment-busting, planet-saving movement with radical solutions to the world’s problems grounded in a profound respect for every unique individual and the communities in which we all live. We have five months to convince the electorate that we have been putting those values into practice these last 5 years. There is much we can do as  foot soldiers to influence the outcome of the election and our country’s future. We all have our own ways of getting our message across. We don’t need to be constrained by scripts from LDHQ, although if they ask, I obviously never said that…

This was meant to be a “Happy New Year to you and yours” type post, not this particular stream of consciousness. It’s funny how things turn out. May 2015 be very good to all of you and give you peace, health and happiness.

 

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

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2 Comments

  • Thomas Shakespeare 31st Dec '15 - 11:09am

    “I believe we can do well and confound expectations in May, though”

    I found that tough to read. The sad thing is, if we had said clearly that we were wrong on tuition fees and had a positive, radical campaign message, maybe we could have. At the very least we would have got more than 8 seats. The pitch wasn’t great at all. We needed to remind people why they voted for us in 2010. No-one reads a whole manifesto. People vote with their hearts, not their minds.

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