#NewMembersDay: Why I joined the Liberal Democrats #1

My first few elections were easy – I knew I liked the LibDems, and they were the only ones who stood a chance of beating the Tories in my hometown. A no-brainer, you might say.

It wasn’t until I moved to Scotland that I had to wrestle with tactical voting. SNP v Labour, and not a LibDem in sight. I talked it over with my partner at the time, and we both decided to vote LibDem regardless. But lo, suddenly I found myself in the polling booth, ticking a Labour box in a moment of blind, tactical terror. It is the only time I have voted out of fear rather than hope. I regretted it almost immediately. Turned out my partner had done the same.

I made a resolve never to vote tactically again and so, when the Holyrood elections rolled round a year later, I voted LibDem (to little avail).

To little avail, did I say? It’s true that my vote did not count for much, and I knew in advance that it would not. My previous Labour vote had “made a difference”, by which I mean it had picked a person and policies I disliked over those I disliked even more. My Labour vote mattered in Westminster. But it also made me feel sadder, smaller, a little more cynical.

We have freedom to choose. For many of us, that freedom would not have existed 100 years ago. Every time I vote, I do so in the knowledge that I stand on the shoulders of those giants who paved the path to the polling station for me. I also do so in the knowledge that for many people around the world, that sort of choice is still as far away as ever. That choice, to vote for what we actually believe in, in precious. As it turned out, my “meaningless” vote for the LibDems meant far more to me than my “meaningful” vote for Labour the previous year.

At the start of 2015 I was wavering again, back in the old SNP-Labour sandwich. And yes, having disagreed with some of the choices made in Government. But political parties do not exist in order for us to agree with every single decision they make – to do so would mean a party so blinkered and inwards looking that it sought to effect no changes in the outside world. Debate, disagreement – even disappointment – these things drive our discourse forward. I don’t slavishly agree with the minutiae of every single Lib Dem policy. I never have, and I hope the party continues to challenge the boundaries of my small, unseen prejudices such that I never will.

But I do agree with what they stand for. Permit me to paraphrase from the back of that shiny new membership card:

A society that is fair, free, open. A society that balances liberty, equality and community. And possibly the most powerful of all for me: a society in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

I voted Lib Dem, by the way.

When the exit poll came out, I was about to offer to eat my hat, until Paddy did it for me (thanks Paddy. Mine’s an old acrylic bobble hat, and certainly not as tasty looking as that BBC delight). When the results started to come in, the lost deposits, the fourth and fifth places, I was stunned between sleep and speechlessness. I went to bed hoping it would get better, only to wake up to the sound of Vince Cable’s concession speech. I couldn’t understand what was happening.

I went to work that morning in a daze. Quite possibly sleep-deprived, I watch Nick Clegg’s speech and sobbed alone in the office. I realised then, like a slow, cold handclap sneering in my stomach, that through all my years of considering myself a Lib Dem voter, I had never once considered what our country would look like without them. I had assumed they would always be there. Not always in Government maybe, but at the very least pushing, pressing, holding Government to account. I had taken the Lib Dems and everything they stand for completely for granted.

Later on Friday afternoon, still feeling a bit numb and struggling to process what Britain had lost, I joined my first political party. I’m not really sure why. I felt the need to do something, perhaps, to make amends for my complacency. I felt the need to rebuild. Above all, I felt the need to be positive. After a campaign framed in fear and intolerance, I was now shocked by the vitriol of social media towards those who had dared to exercise their democratic right to vote for the Conservatives. I actually felt angry on behalf of those Tory voters who I must, statistically, know and who were now having to read through pages of personal attacks when all they wanted to do was like a picture of cats on a bicycle. There had to be a better way forward than that. So I joined.

Imagine my surprise when later that evening, Paddy Ashdown announced on question time that over 1000 people had done the same. As I type this, it is nearly 10,000, almost a 25% increase since polling day. I hope those Lib Dems who were not as complacent as I, who were already members and who have canvassed and counted and campaigned over the years, know how grateful I am.

To them, I apologise. I should never had taken the Lib Dems for granted. I will do what I can to help us rebuild.

 Through my tears at Nick Clegg’s resignation speech, I caught the following words:

Fear and grievance have won. Liberalism has lost. But it is more precious than ever, and we must keep fighting for it.

I agree with Nick.

* Phoebe Demster is a pseudonym. The author is known to the LDV team but is unable to write under her own name for work reasons.

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8 Comments

  • Daniel Henry 13th May '15 - 11:44am

    Very nice piece!
    Welcome to the party! 🙂

  • This is a fantastic post. Phoebe – thankyou!
    And I cant post my name for work reasons either. 🙂
    Like you I am also based in Scotland. Sadly we have a lot of areas here where there isn’t much of a local party, so I’m not sure if you are lost in one of these? If so, you wont be getting much in the way of phone calls and welcomes. So if the nice people at LDV will pass on my email to you I’d be happy to hear from you and I can talk you through how the Scottish party works and how best to get involved. (same applies to any member in Scotland who lives in an area without a strong local party).
    If I may put it this way, Welcome home! Now we need your energy!

  • Great piece, and welcome! 🙂

  • Helen Quenet 13th May '15 - 12:21pm

    Fantastic post, thank you 🙂 I have voted LIberal (/Dem) since 1978 despite having never lived in a constituency where we were challengers. I have seriously thought about tactical voting and once even went into a pollling booth ready to vote Labour. But at the last minute I couldn’t physically do it and I voted Lib Dem as always. I think the reason I couldn’t do it in the end was that I felt it to be a self betrayal and a betrayal of those who earned me my vote.

  • Stephen Hesketh 13th May '15 - 12:25pm

    Wecome Phoebe and every other new member.

    I’m not sure what goes out in the new members pack but might I recommend reading our collective values as set out in the preamble to our constitution:

    http://www.libdems.org.uk/constitution

    These great words do much to convey the richness that is the Liberal Democrat tradition.

  • Yes, Welcome.

    Can I point out that you can register your true identities on the Members-only Forum, without affecting your postings in the Public area.

    My identity in both areas is the same and is my true identity, as I don’t need to retain anonymity. I quite like having my posts highlighted with the little orange birdie.

    I’ve never voted tactically by the way, although I voted for Shirley Williams as SDP in Crosby. It wasn’t quite the same, as we were recommended to do it by our local party. I’m very pleased that she is perhaps one of our most famous LibDems.

    Can I use this opportunity to appeal for the ability to edit our own posts ?. I frequently make a posting and then realise that there is a small error that it would be nice to correct. I suspect there are reasons for not allowing it, but I’d quite like it.

  • matt (Bristol) 13th May '15 - 5:34pm

    Starting to wish I’d joined this year rather than last year so I could have a fuss made of me too, but that’s not a very helpful or worthy sentiment….

    Welcome all!

    “… I had never once considered what our country would look like without them. I had assumed they would always be there. Not always in Government maybe, but at the very least pushing, pressing, holding Government to account. ”

    That is exactly why I joined after the Euro-elections. Forwards!

  • peter tyzack 14th May '15 - 11:23am

    Have we not mad a fuss of you Matt/ Do come to the party on Saturday..!

    And thank you Phoebe. I know what you mean, I have voted tactically sometimes, and whenever I do I feel dirty.

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