Opinion: It was one week ago today but it feels like longer

We have been here before.

My last full time commitments with the party were the back-to-back by-elections of 1982 that saw us make significant gains on the Tories and beat one Anthony ‘Tony’ Blair into third place with a message of change and a better alternative, followed by the sting of an all-too-foreseeable but nonetheless devastating loss on a point of principal.

I don’t recall much about the Beaconsfield by-election.  But I do recall that in Mitcham and Morden I arrived exhausted from the previous campaign. We set up shop in what had been, I think, a grocer’s on one of the busier streets of Merton. Volunteers came from across the country to help save the seat of the one MP who had resigned when he left the Labour Party to join the SDP. Frankly, we never stood a chance, but that campaign helped solidify the very foundation upon which the Liberal Democrats were built – that principles matter.

I stayed in the campaign office during the count. I was too tired and too depressed to see the point of watching Angela Rumbold start her parliamentary career. When he returned to our office, Bruce Douglas-Mann thanked everyone. And then, off script, he told us that while ‘you can regret making a promise, you can never regret keeping one.’

It was those words and his actions that inspired people who had never thought about politics as a matter of character to come back and try again, and there were many from that by-election who rode the buses and tube to help secure Simon Hughes’ groundbreaking win in Bermondsey the next year.

Then I left for the United States, resolved to come back and resume my small part in the effort. It never happened. Sometimes, like last Thursday, I still feel as though I quit a fight that needed to be finished.

But it will always need to be finished, and it hasn’t ended because of one bad night.

And we have, now, the luxury of once again being a party whose MPs can rise to the vision of a former leader to be ‘our defence against the growth of government. MPs today have a more exacting task than ever they did f they are to study the pretensions of the state and confront it’.

It is a task urgently needed not just of the MPs but of those in the Other Place and all those of us who proudly assert the rights of the individual and the dignity of the person.

Remember going forward the advice of Bruce Douglas-Mann and the vision of Jo Grimond. Don’t make promises that can’t be kept. And if you make a promise, keep it.  Speak truth to power, and in time all will be well.

* Chris Fauske, an Essex-native, is now is a resident of Massachusetts.

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4 Comments

  • Interesting article, Chris Fauske.
    The Mtcham and Morden result may not have been what we would have wanted but it did have a sliver lining.
    Angela Rumbold stood down as a Tory councillor in Kingston after she became an MP.
    Rumbold had been the brains of the Tory group in Kingston.
    In Kingston we went on to form a minority Liberal Alliance administration and eventually a majority Liberal Democrat administration, and 2 Liberal Democrat MPs. Merton’s loss was our gain.
    it effectively took the Tories until last week to restore their pre-1986 majority on the council and oth MPs in the borough. Nick Clegg has at least resigned but some of the others who are responsible for setting us back at least 30 years need to take note, especially as the party can no longer afford extravagant salaries for those at the top.

  • John, agree with you about others looking to do the decent thing especially Lord Ashdown.

  • Richard Shaw 15th May '15 - 12:48pm

    “Nick Clegg has at least resigned but some of the others who are responsible for setting us back at least 30 years need to take note, especially as the party can no longer afford extravagant salaries for those at the top.”

    You are right about us being set back 30 years, John, but only in terms of the numbers of MPs. The fault doesn’t lie solely with the current or recent leadership, but is shared by all leaders, execs, campaigners, going back to 1988 and beyond. We are a highly-federal, strong-willed party after all, so we must all (even you, John) “take note” on what has happened over the years.

    I only joined in 2010, having followed the party since ’97, but I can honestly say that the party is much stronger structurally than pre-2010, with reformed membership services, the replacement of EARS with Connect and the propagation of the “Hull Method” of campaign targets, etc. I firmly believe that we are in a much better condition to engage with members, both new and current, and campaign and capitalise on new opportunities that present themselves. If it’s possible to lose 49 MPs in one go, then it’s possible to win 49 MPs in one go!

  • Richard Shaw 15th May ’15 – 12:48pm

    Richard I cannot understand you when you say- “You are right about us being set back 30 years, John, but only in terms of the numbers of MPs”

    What do you mean??? “only in terms of numbers of MPs” ???
    We went up in terms of nmners of MPs at every general election in the period after 1988 until 2005. It was only in 2010 that the decline began.

    Since 2010 we have lost members, councillors, MEPs, members of the Edinburgh Parliament, members of the Cardiff Assembly, members of the London Assembly.

    Most important we lost the trust of the voters because in 2010 we campaigned loud and clear on one issue and then did exactly the opposite at the first opportunity whilst the Tories laughed all the way to the polling booth.

    We came fifth in terms of the popular vote behind Con, Lab, UKIP, SNP.
    We lost the youth vote to The Greens.

    How can you say we “only” lost in terms of MPs?

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