Opinion: One month on, why I just joined the Lib Dems

Since the UK elections, something’s been nagging at me. It’s not so much the result – politics needs to create losers so it can create governments. I get that. I backed a losing horse. But heh, that’s good old democracy for you. No point dwelling on it, life plods on.

No, what’s been nagging at me, still one month on, is why I’m still feeling interested. Could it be that I’m flirting with the idea of stepping off the sidelines? Might I be about to unmute myself? Is this how it feels to care about what happens next?

I joined others to find some answers; other people on the verge of becoming a Lib Dem.

I followed the signs to an area ironically marked “Reserved for a private party”. I nestled myself in. In amongst a bunch of very, very normal people. A totally and utterly unspectacular crowd. You could have fished us all up from any old street anywhere in the UK and dropped us right here. It was wonderfully relieving, and revealing.

I spoke to Helen. She had joined the party in 2010 for no other reason than:

 It just felt like something I wanted to do.

She asked me why I was here. I mumbled something about never really caring until I had children, and now I want to make the world a better place for them. 

Yeh, there are a lot of people who join for that reason.

I spoke with Amna. She looked young, and I presumed she was also here to find out more. I was right about the first bit; the second bit not so much. It seems, as my constituency candidate, I had cast my vote for Amna in the election – though I hadn’t known it. She was funny and honest.

 I guess I’m going to have to get a proper job now.

I wanted to go back to election day and stick a second cross by her name.

A tall man with fashionable glasses introduced himself:

Hi, I’m Norman.

We spoke about leadership. I advised:

Ed Miliband wasn’t unpopular with people because he was awkward, but because he was desperately trying not to be awkward. People don’t mind awkward – they do mind deceitfulness.

Norman said:

 I’ll remember that.

It’s probably wildly vain of me, but I got the sense that he really wanted to.

I’ve always felt that the Lib Dems suffer from existing in a void of the common sense. The politics on the edges seems to be where the real excitement is. Policies that polarise also impassion, and the centre – where most sense is often spoken – is left outflanked and overshadowed. The middle is the politics of the things we take for granted, the beige banality of our everyday decisions that make society tick along. It has no natural enemy, no need for a rallying cry… no need to vote for all that, because it’ll always just be there. Won’t it? I’m not taking the risk.

* Dominic Collard is a writer and guest editor at http://blog.pearson.com

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16 Comments

  • Hi Dominic,

    Great post fellah. Interesting what you say about the politics of the centre. The interesting thing is I don’t recognsise this party as the ‘politics of the centre’ (although that’s exactly how we’ve portrayed ourselves), I didn’t join the Lib Dems to be the calming voice between the left and the right!

    – Decriminalization of drugs and treating it as a public health problem
    – Standing up for Human Rights
    – Gay marriage
    – Stopping government surveillance
    – Cracking down on criminal tax avoidance
    – Wealth taxes not income taxes
    – Federalism, not nationalism
    – Internationalist, not isolated
    – Voting reform, so votes actually matter
    – Elected house of lords ending centuries of political privilege
    – Freedom to live how I choose, not how the government want me to live

    Are all the politics of liberalism and where we a SO different from the much more authoritarian approach of Labour, the Tories and even the Greens.

    We should be promoting that. Being ‘half way between the other two’ is just so weak I’m not surprised people didn’t want to vote for us.

    We need to promote ourselves as the ONLY radical liberal party that promotes personal freedoms and defence of the individual against the tyranny of the state, combined with a progressive view on policy that allows equality of opportunity so people can grow and develop to become whoever they want to be.

    I’d vote for that. I think others would have well. In fact the first paragraph of the constitution says it better than me:

    “The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.”

  • Gareth Wilson if you had stuck to that constitution you would not have suffered defeat. It is entirely the fault of the LibDems in government that we have a Tory one now. If you had made a principled stand against bombing Libya the world would be a different place today.

  • Joe Otten, if the Lib Dems had stopped the NHS reforms, I firmly believe people would have supported them and stopped the accusations of being ‘the Tories’ poodle’. The NHS reforms were high profile and all eyes were on the Lib Dems when you forced ‘the pause’.

  • Daniel Henry 5th Jun '15 - 12:38pm

    Hi Dominic – welcome to the party!

    “Ed Miliband wasn’t unpopular with people because he was awkward, but because he was desperately trying not to be awkward. People don’t mind awkward – they do mind deceitfulness.”

    Glad I’m not the only one who thought this.
    The few times he was able to be himself, he was actually at his best. I think his problem was bring surrounded by “advisors” trying to force him into a slick Blair mold that just didn’t suit him.

    I think the last season of The Thick of It was quite clever in how it showed it.

  • @ Anne,

    I think you’re right. To a point. We should have stood up even more for our principles, particularly at the start or coalition.

    However I think this 100% principled approach isn’t compatible with coalition politics. Compromises must be made in coalition. I don’t think that the British public are ready for that. Its going into coalition fulls top that killed the party, not the specific policies. With hindsight a confidence and supply arrangement with us voting on each policy on principle would have been better for the party.

    But would it have been better for country? Definitely not – it would have led to extremely unstable government. Plus we wouldn’t have got any Lib Dem policies through (tax threshold, pension reform, pupil premium, free school meals etc) we would have only been able to block Tory ones we didn’t like. Perversely we probably would have got more credit for doing that from the public than actually making things better.

    I really can’t see the Lib Dems going into coalition with anybody again under the current voting system. I wouldn’t vote for it again.

  • Julian Heather 5th Jun '15 - 1:55pm

    Welcome to the Party, Dominic ! We are delighted to have you. And in Streatham, we are even more delighted, as I understand you live in the Balham part of the Streatham Constituency. I gather you have already met Amna Ahmad, our Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate in Streatham in May. I look forward to meeting you – and your family very soon, hopefully at our Streatham “Thank You” Party this coming Sunday ! (ps if by any chance you don’t have details, pleased do contact me on [email protected]).

  • Welcome Dominic. You’ve come home! 🙂
    I joined in 1986, when I was 15. This party is like a family in so many ways. Frustrating at times, downright annoying at others. But there really us a sense of togetherness and warmth too – which you seem to have picked up on already.
    That’s a great post. Hope to meet you at the conference bar sometime!

  • Hello. I also joined recently. Sadly I had not even had a candidate on my polling card. I had only one.
    At the end of the campaign there was a lot of mention of red lines, which eventually made it impossible to form a coalition government amongst parties as the other parties would not match.
    I joined as there are major changes contemplated which will impact the nation for a long period of time.

  • “because he was desperately trying not to be awkward. People don’t mind awkward – they do mind deceitfulness.”

    I do not see anything “deceitful” about trying to come across well on television. Do you think David Cameron comes by his manner naturally? Or Nick Clegg? All politicians are actors who play a role in the public eye. You are never seeing the “real person” — only a façade which you judge to be more or less real. Some are better at acting than others, and some put more time and effort into it than others. But it is the most unnatural thing in the world to stand in front of a microphone, under the harsh glare of lights and cameras, and give a speech. If that is deceit, then everyone in such a position is deceptive.

  • peter tyzack 6th Jun '15 - 9:34am

    Dominic made a revealing comment at the start.. ‘nagging at him’.. that he had ‘backed the losing horse’.. well I ‘rail’ against all these horse racing analogies, that all emanate from campaigning methods used in First Past the Post. As voters we all see the varying qualities and attributes of the different candidates , and can easily put them in order of preference as individuals, and that is what we should be doing for the benefit of ourselves and our communities. We need to build back identity in our community and stop trying to bet on which national leading horse is going to win… community based politics for community based elections.

  • Sadie Smith 6th Jun '15 - 11:46am

    Welcome
    As a longstanding member, I found Christine’s reason compelling.. There are significant changes in the offing, and they are not likely to be helpful to the country. And may be difficult to reverse.
    We need a positive vision and optimism, which is why testing everything against that preamble is so important. And we need to deliver it with humour and in an understandable way. Quite a lot of our Parliamentarians have been able to do it. Political commentators are a slightly different hazard these days, but they can be avoided at worst and challenged at best. One just has to remember their ego!

  • Simon Banks 6th Jun '15 - 3:54pm

    In our struggling local party we got 16 new members during and just after the election and the flow hasn’t dried up yet. We held a get-together in the most central venue we could find for our sprawling area, a friendly pub, and had five apologies (promising that they were sufficiently interested in the local party to reply) and three people actually turned up, which given the widely-spread area I found quite good. We hope to have a second event which may appeal to people at one end of the area.

    Judging by the comments of those three, plus what I’ve heard from others, a major reason for the surge seems to be that people who had considered themselves to be Liberalish for some time and had voted for us, but not necessarily always, were horrified by the result and suddenly felt, “I’VE got to do something about this. It isn’t just something happening around me I can ignore.” That seems to me a good start.

    I too do not see us as a party of the centre, though of course on some issues we will be taking positions between Labour and the Conservatives. On others we won’t and we must not feel there’s something wrong or dangerous about that. Perhaps it would be beneficial if we went on less about whether we’re of the centre or not and only spoke of left, right and centre when we’d clearly defined what we meant. They are not fundamental forces or poles like right and wrong or life and death.

  • sally haynes-preece 6th Jun '15 - 6:39pm

    I don;t think the descriptions left right or centre are really relevant today. I see nothing wrong with being a radical centrist party .

  • You can only be radical — of whatever persuasion it may be — if you spend your time making other people feel uncomfortable about where they stand. Unfortunately, over the last five years, the only people we’ve made feel uncomfortable are our own voting base.

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