Opinion: From a Lurker

Welwyn Garden City - pink fountain - some rights reserved by John Barnabas LeithWatching the election coverage last week was painfully gut wrenching. My only involvement had been to cast my vote, as I have done all my adult life for the Lib Dems. I can only imagine the hurt and despair of those of you who have been eating and sleeping that campaign, put body and soul into them and been confronted with those results.

I wasn’t always a lurker, I was an active member as a student at Birmingham University in the 1980s, a member of CND, Greenpeace and have been part of recent local protests against Tesco’s in Welwyn Garden City, against the closure of the QE2 hospital and the building of the New Barnfield Incinerator. I had a busy career in the NHS in Hull, working with drug and alcohol users and I currently run my own internet business. I have supported the local Welwyn Hatfield community as a Church Warden for six years and following that, I have been a school governor for five years. Service to the community is something that I have always believed in and tried to practise, however busy I have been with work and family life.

When I watched the UKIP “earthquake” last week, I felt bewilderment and despair in equal measure. To see the Lib Dems hurt so badly when they had taken the hard and brave decision to join a coalition with the Tories for the sake of the country. To see so many active local councillors lost, when a cornerstone of the party has always been local politics and service to the community. To see the meteoric rise of a truly nasty group of people, with no policy other than systematic hate and fear of others.

For me the results are an epiphany, I can’t continue sit by and hope that it will all work out somehow because I think this current situation is more dangerous than that. If people like me don’t make an effort to support the values of liberty, equality and community now they are under such attack, what sort of country will our children inherit? I don’t want my children’s future in Farage’s orange hands. For me Edmund Burke’s words ring loudly right now “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. I am going to stop doing nothing. I vow I will do everything I can between now and the election to make a difference in Welwyn Hatfield. I just need to know where and how to start!


* Helen Quenet is a Liberal Democrat member in Welwyn Hatfield

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  • *hug*

    I don’t know you, but I needed to read that. I hope your local party gives you something worthwhile to do, but if they don’t we can always use more like you up in Calderdale 😉

  • .. creditworthy ..

  • .. not ..

  • Helen – thank you, this is one of the most encouraging things I’ve read all week. I appreciate your time in putting your thoughts down.

    I’m sure your local party would love to hear from you and tell you how to get more involved. However it’s a shame they haven’t made the effort to contact you themselves, as a party member in their area. We can’t afford to have local party members out of touch with the local party, and some of our membership officers need to be given a kick.

    If you’ve been a church warden and a school Governor, you’ll have credibility and contacts in the area – I’m sure if you wanted to put yourself forward for an elected role these would serve you well.

    Best wishes

  • helen (Q)
    i fully understand where you’re coming from. there has been this streak of nastiness in all political parties for a while now which put me off getting involved (again).

    briefly, you write very well and with candour. i hope you continue to contribute more articles.

  • Thanks for your comments, Helen.

    Good luck, you are truly an asset to our party.

  • Richard Harris 28th May '14 - 7:38pm

    I admire your sentiment Helen, but do you really consider the party you are now going to support is anything like the party you actively supported in the 1980s? I have watched in utter disbelief at the support the LibDems have given to the Tories over the past four years (not the principle of supporting a larger party, just the right wing policies implemented by them). Support the party now and you support Cameron, Gove and the rest because that is what the LibDems are doing. Is that really true to the same principles that saw you join the party in the ’80s?

  • Sadie Smith 28th May '14 - 7:44pm

    Thank you for explaining. Quite a few people are beginning to see the dangers. Just by telling us helps a bit.
    I am sure they will use your skills in your area. Wish you were in Sandwell.
    I think you are right about the brave decision causing problems. I looked at the Coalition Agreement we voted on. It had a lot of good in it which has been done and, so far, ignored by the voters. Gratitude is hard to find. The Country tends to accept a good change and then ignore it, but can be persuaded that the people who ensured the good are also evil incarnate by oversimplified campaigning. Another voice is welcome.

  • I’ll make a few polite points
    1) LibDems (or Libs) haven’t been in power for years – out of practice
    2) Helen’s point – going into coalition or key decisions in coalition? Can’t separate the two, electorate won’t.
    3) Obsession with electoral reform a bad call. Who would trade political collateral wasted on e.g. PR vote (blown for a generation), Lords reform long grass, for not breaking promises on student fees now?
    4) The reviled TB is right to point out that LibDems stood on a left of centre platform and ended up in a right of centre coitus – maybe could’ve got away if restricted to the economy, but spread to social issues
    5) No point getting rid of Clegg now, if LibDems are wiped out at the general election, may as well blame it on his leadership than some other poor sod who won’t have time to turn it round

  • Little Jackie Paper 28th May '14 - 8:47pm

    Ms Quenet – With respect (and just to be clear I do mean that). As heartfelt as this might be, what you are talking about here is basically, ‘one more heave.’ The public can vote for whoever they like and can express whatever views they wish. The rise of UKIP is, to my mind, about a whole number of things but I simply can not see more of the same doing the job for this party. I’d love nothing more than to sit here and tell you that things will turn and get better, but the stark truth is that this result could be seen coming. As nice as many of the candidates that lost are simply dismissing people as, ‘truly nasty,’ isn’t really going to cut any ice at the moment.

    The mood out there is some way from what the LDP would like it to be – it is what it is and I just don’t think that one more heave will help anyone. A glorious, heavy, defeat on the back of a pure, principled stand and Burke quotes is still a heavy defeat.

  • John Roffey 28th May '14 - 9:04pm

    Risking the accusation of repeating myself – but ‘quotes’ reminded me.

    Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

  • Little Jackie Paper 28th May '14 - 9:09pm

    John Roffey – I can’t remember who said it now, but

    ‘We’d all like to vote for the best man, but he’s never a candidate.’

  • Robert Wootton 28th May '14 - 9:19pm

    @Richard. So the going has got tough. So we have to keep going but not by doing the same things and expecting a different result. Being in coalition has hurt us because we had to compromise on our manifesto pledges especially on tuition fees.

    So the LibDems need to win by a landslide in 2015. We need to change our priorities. Let us build a vision of a Fair Economy; a Strong Society. A society where people are not alienated from there fellow citizens by great wealth and extreme poverty. A government that does not penalise people for being poor or for being rich. An economy that makes poverty history and lifts everyone out of benefits and the benefit trap. Where everyone has sufficient disposable income to realise their own potential. Where people are allowed to form a community and be neighbourly.

    Of course this is only a small part of what needs to be done. We need to work with our European counterparts to create a fair economy across the EU and make poverty history in all the member states. Economic migrants would slow to a trickle.

  • Great post, Helen. I for one also feel a renewed onus to campaign following last week.

    @Richard Harris 28th May ’14 – 7:38pm

    “Support the party now and you support Cameron, Gove and the rest because that is what the LibDems are doing. Is that really true to the same principles that saw you join the party in the ’80s?”

    Utter rubbish. That is akin to saying by supporting Labour post-2001 was to support George W. Bush. I remain committed to my opposition to the Conservatives, but the election delievered the result it did and we have to deal with the reality of the situation it presented rather what I would have prefered it to have been,

  • Bill Le Breton 28th May '14 - 9:54pm

    Helen, you sound like an instinctive campaigner, which the party needs in numbers, so welcome, welcome welcome.

    You rejoin us at a difficult time. We have just been thumped by 93% of the electorate in a campaign where, as you highlight, the worst type of politicians and demagogues have been stalking the streets of our communities.

    We did not dent their success. In fact, unintentionally but indisputably, our leader helped to give them the oxygen of publicity. So, when our country needed us to fight the extremists we were worse than useless, a feeble force, ignored as self-satisfied opportunists.

    So, your first campaign, should you accept it is to help to get a leader who can be effective in the battle against extremists like Farage and the other force of conservatism and isolationism in our country, the Tories.

    Without change we shall continue to make no difference to the most important struggle in Britain today! the struggle for an open, tolerant, diverse society in which none are enslaved by poverty, lack of education, conformity and dependence.

  • Bill, we haven’t been thumped by 93% of the electorate. Barely a third of the electorate turned out to vote.

  • Bill Le Breton 28th May '14 - 10:22pm

    Thanks Tabman, ‘of those who were motivated to vote. ‘ so does that mean we were able only to motivate just 2% of the electorate to vote for us? And in a battle against a dangerous xenophobic demagogue who one might have thought would have motivated all true Liberals to support our campaign?

  • Bill. We all know that anger is a bigger motivation than reason. Especially if your support is grumpy and lukewarm.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th May '14 - 10:55pm

    Welcome Helen! You have already been engaged in the battle for liberal values and it is good to see you join a new front! UKIP have given me passion to fight the right for the first time in years, I think I forgot just how negative they can be about everything! Imagine discussing politics with a Romanian if you are a UKIP supporter, it’s just rude. And before any angry Ukippers retaliate, I know, I am trying to reform the Lib Dems too.

  • Thanks for this interesting article. One point which struck me…. the author has flagged her opposition to a new Tesco (apparently on industrial land) in her home town of Welwyn Garden City. Net migration into the UK is running at over 200,000 a year, equivalent to around FIVE new Welywn Garden Cities every year, rather more than the odd supermarket. Assuming the author dislikes UKIP’s idea of controlling immigration (from her description of UKIP as having “no policy other than systematic hate and fear of others”), but is also not keen on development in her home town, where are all the new shops and houses to be built?

    (No doubt there are reasons why this particular Tesco was wrong… but there always seem to be, whatever the development, whatever the location, and wherever in the UK… localism in planning and open door migration may be incompatible?)

    But again, thank you for an interesting article.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th May '14 - 5:08am


    Obsession with electoral reform a bad call. Who would trade political collateral wasted on e.g. PR vote (blown for a generation)

    I do find this strange. We in the Liberal Democrats are accused of “propping up the Tories”, yet it is considered a tiny and irrelevant issue that we have an electoral system whose distortion can result in a party with just 35% of the vote gaining a majority of seats in Parliament. While in May 2010 it did not quite work out like that, the distortions it gave us were enough to rule out an alternative Labour-led coalition, and resulted in a serious over-representation of the Conservatives and under-representation of the Liberal Democrats which very much shaped what came out of the coalition they formed. If people are so angry about they coalition and what has come out of it – as we are told they are, and I believe that – why is there no big talk about the electoral system that gave it to us? Why aren’t people angry about that?

    Had the Liberal Democrats in May 2010 not made so much effort on targeting seats, had their campaigning been more spread out, they could have won the same share of the vote, but fewer seats, and the Conservatives would have had a majority, and we would have a pure Conservative government now. Why do the same people who accuse the Liberal Democrats of “propping up the Conservatives” think that is acceptable? Surely supporting an electoral system whose distortion is very likely to give us a majority Conservative government in the future even if the Conservatives get well under half the vote is just as much “propping up the Conservatives” if not more so.

  • @ Helen

    “I’m wondering how you think we arrived at under 7% of the vote on Sunday night and the loss of hundreds of Councillors least Thursday? I wonder if grim fatalism and a shrug of the shoulders is enough in the face of a wipeout and near oblivion at the polls?”

    Well, Nick Clegg is pretty damn unpopular – I can’t deny that. If we were three years out from an GE I’d support the calls for Nick to step down, but we are where we are. Removing Nick, finding a new leader, changing policy direction, the question of whether we leave the Government – these would take months, months and months and involve us talking to no one buy ourselves. We don’t have that time.

    Every single one of these decisions will subject the party to more infighting at a time we have to be united – not through a deluded sense that all is fine but an acceptence of if we don’t stand and fight for the values, which both you and I share, then no one will. At the moment , in the media we look like we only care about ourselves. This has to end.

  • AC Trussell 29th May '14 - 1:36pm

    Good on you Helen- when I’m well enough I’m going to do what I can.

    This is to all the miss-lead (wimps)

    Don’t know if it’s been said above (no time to read all) but it sounds like a lot of you have been brainwashed by the Lab/Tory supporting media. ( The Media is ruining this country) Practically the entire media will report in the most negative way possible when it comes to the LIB/Dems- if anything at all, and nothing ever positive. Every “politician” will use student fees as the best discription of Lib/Dems.- of course never saying what they were going to do( worse!)
    It seems that there are a lot of people who have no idea what coalition means! From what I’ve heard Labour will find it impossible to work with another party.
    The Party voted for all we have got and i find you all a load of wimps for giving in and reacting exactly the way they want.
    This is the best Party and Nick Clegg is the best for the job (PM); most people have no idea what the Lib/Dems have done and stand for because no one tells them!

  • Richard Dean 29th May '14 - 3:58pm

    Seconded. I definitely LIKE this comment!

  • Matthew

    You’re conflating a couple of issues…

    LibDems form a coalition government, something not done in a generation. Instead of expending all political capital to deliver on the manifesto for the betterment of the electorate (and prove their worth), they make compromises to pursue electoral reform that will perpetuate coalition government and their future. Greedy, self serving and not a smart play – blown, see you in 30 years.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th May '14 - 6:21am


    LibDems form a coalition government, something not done in a generation. Instead of expending all political capital to deliver on the manifesto for the betterment of the electorate (and prove their worth), they make compromises to pursue electoral reform that will perpetuate coalition government and their future

    Yes, and the reason the Liberal Democrats were weak in the coalition and the Conservatives strong was the electoral system, which delivered five times as many Conservative MPs as LibDem MPs even though the Conservatives only got one-and-a-half times as many votes as the LibDems.

    You seem to be another one of those people who seem to assume the 57 LibDem MPs could have said “jump” and the 300+ Conservative MPs would have jumped to their tune. Why do you think 300+ Conservative MPs would have been so much more willing to give up on their core ideals and pledges than the Li bDems? The reality is that the Tories held all the cards. Had the LibDems refused to compromise or insisted on compromises far away from the Tory dream, David Cameron would have been appointed Prime Minister at the head of a Tory minority government, and the ready excuse for any problems after that would be “I can’t get things done because I don’t have a stable government, thanks to these LibDems being there holding things up, not budging on what they want, even though they clearly lost the general election”. This is, after all, the line YOU yourself are using here, as you see the issue of electoral reform – which would end the sort of rotten unrepresentative government we have right now – as some trivial issue that only LibDems care about.

    Look Abdul, I’m one of the most bitter critics of Clegg going round here. I’ve been saying the man’s no good and shouldn’t be our leader since the day he first emerged as the supposed leading contender for the role. It didn’t take me all those election losses to see the point that he’s unfit to lead the Liberal Democrats. Yet when I turn round and see people like you spouting your stuff, I despair, because the points you are making are illogical nonsense, unreal fantasy. People like you are getting in the way of deposing Clegg, because Clegg is playing the game of trying to muddle up opponents of his poor leadership with people who oppose the whole formation of the coalition, and then pointing to people like you with your unrealistic assumptions about what was possible in the coalition and trying to suggest anyone who opposed his leadership is some fantasist like you.

    Any debate must start with reality, a serious discussion on what was really possible in the light of the May 2010 election results.

    I am not going to take ANY lecturing on “propping up the Tories” from people like you who think electoral reform is a minor issue. It is the electoral system we have now, First Past the Post, which props up the Tories in every election, giving them many more seats than their share of the vote. If you don’t think that’s important, then YOU by your acceptance of FPTP are propping up the Tories by accepting an electoral system which gives them many more seats than their share of the vote. The same applied to almost the whole of the Labour Party. That is why I regard them as beneath contempt, and would never want to join them even when right now Clegg’s continuing leadership is forcing me out of the Liberal Democrats. In supporting the continuance of FPTP the Labour Party is the biggest proppers up of the Tories going.

  • Helen Quenet 30th May '14 - 9:07am

    I wanted to say thank you for the kind responses and reply to a couple of comments.

    Tpfkar – I did get an e-mail inviting me to the post election “Thank -you” party next week but wasn’t planning to go as I haven’t done anything useful. However, I got a lovely welcoming e-mail this morning and I will be going with my 16 and 18 year old sons. I am looking forward to it.

    Helen Tedcastle – I am of an age where in my teens/20s the Tories wrecked devastation on the North and Midlands. Lots of my friends were casualties of them and as a psychologist in the NHS many clients had psychological problems as a direct result of their policies. I’m still coloured in my attitude to them by that. I know I should be able to move on and they aren’t the “nasty” party they used to be (or so I am told!) but I personally found the LIb Dems getting into bed with them VERY hard to take and when it happened thought I could never vote Lim Dem again. I feel pretty sure there are others my age who won’t vote Lib Dem again because of this, so yes I do think there was some damage done. The main policy blunder that I think has been hugely damaging and will continue to be is the University fees issue. I go to the local Uni gym and get a chance to speak to students quite regularly, they can’t see past what they see to be a betrayal by the Lib Dems. As I know from my own experiences at that formative age you don’t forget because you feel emotions very strongly. Very sadly I think a large part of a generation is probably lost to us because of this.
    I’m governor of a “requires improvement” secondary school so my impressions of education policy are from that perspective. It’s a curate’s egg, good and bad. There is much better use of data to drive improvement and each child’s progress is monitored much more closely. I believe that no child should be short changed by the education system, they should “be all they can be” and the data is helping us see where that might not be happening, so that’s good. I do think that Gove’s own personal background has been helpful in focusing attention on children who otherwise might not have been on the radar. Although, his statements like “State schools in England should be more like private schools” are annoying in the extreme, give us class sizes of 10 or less, £9000 a term for each pupil and let’s see what happens! BUT education is about much more than exams and there is a sausage machine mentality that is pushing out of the curriculum all the lovely things like music and drama that were frankly the most memorable and enjoyable aspect of my own education. The wellbeing of the teachers is also of great concern to me, 99% go above and beyond every single day and they get tired and demoralised by the constant battering from all angles.

    Richard Harris – If I recall rightly the main thing that drove me to the Liberals in the first place was that we were the only unilateralist party and that mattered so much to me then. It still does now but more because I’d like to see Trident/defence money spent on more useful things. So I have changed and to continue to be relevant I think all parties have to change too
    Little Jackie Paper – I didn’t mean “one more heave” I was just talking from a personal perspective and I recognise that a lot of people who have been active in the recent campaign don’t feel they have any energy left to heave! It’s clear the messages didn’t work and that they need to be reworked for next year.

    Robert Wootton – I really like what you said 🙂

    Bill Le Breton – “the struggle for an open, tolerant, diverse society in which none are enslaved by poverty, lack of education, conformity and dependence” Amen to that.

    David G – Lots of issues with why Tesco’s was not a good idea but put simply that there’s already a huge Tesco’s Extra 2 miles down the road. They would have sucked life from a very pleasant town centre with independent retailers. And yes we need more cheap affordable housing and that brownfield site would have been a fantastic place to build lots of them and it’s sitting there useless now because Tesco’s own the land………

  • AC Trussell 30th May '14 - 1:13pm

    For decades people have only been told negative stuff, no matter what “journalists” write about.
    It could be MP’s; the N.H.S. ; global warming; immigration; lack of houses; no jobs; the E.U. energy prices , etc,etc.
    We didn’t have all this being fed to us none stop, when I was younger. It’s been slowly increasing with more and more information (negative)causing more and more moaning.
    People have lost interest in voting because- as they see it- it makes no difference- and they are right! The majority feeling is being ignored.
    The FPTP system used to leave a majority content that their vote did something. Now the majority are unhappy- it could be two thirds!
    If STV or even AV had come in, a majority would have felt they had -at least some input in the outcome.
    The present system is not democratic and is now giving rise to Scottish Independence and UKIP.
    The Tories and the Labour party not only think, but actually feel they own the system and will squeeze the life out of any “one” ( Nick) that tries to change it.
    I see the Lib/Dems as a candle that we will have to fight to stop being snuffed-out.

    I think Nick Clegg has done a remarkable job considering the situation he is in.
    I may be a bit thick (Matthew Huntbach) – but I honestly cannot see why you dislike the man so much?

  • Tsk Matthew I never said any of that…again you conflate two issues…the unfairness of the current electoral system is clear (London, Cambridge give yourselves the clap, sorry a clap)…problem was LibDem focus and timing….totally wrong play…once in a generation play…premature ejaculation

  • Helen Tedcastle – I’m no fan of Gove, but if you’re going to attack him, do so on things he has done not on things he hasn’t. He’s not “personally cut out books like to kill a mockingbird from the gcse syllabus” at all. What he has done is to insist that the syllabus includes a Shakespeare play, a pre twentieth century novel, and some earlier poetry. Outside of those prescriptions teachers can teach what they like. By all means criticise that prescription, or the fact of prescription, but to argue he’s banned certain books is myth-peddling.

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