Opinion: The habit of liberalism

I read somewhere that it takes 30 days to make a new habit. By all accounts, predictable behaviour is what the old brain likes. When it sniffs out something new, something out of the everyday ordinary, it’ll fire up the fragile in us and persuade our will power into a quick surrender. Any attempts to break with our norm will be wrestled from us. Until 30 days. At 30 days, the brain tells itself…. hold on, I recognise this, this thing you’re doing – carry on, nothing to see here. 30 days for the reluctant plodder to transcend into the regular jogger; 30 days until the ciggie quitter becomes the “No thanks I don’t smoke”-er.

30 days ago I made a decision to make a new habit. I decided I was going to care more about what happens next in our country. I was a bit nervous; ‘caring’ isn’t really something that comes naturally to me. I am a prolific helper of old ladies with heavy suitcases, and I will confidently stand by my record for apprehending dog walkers with a laissez faire attitude to canine bowel movements; but give me bad things happening elsewhere, to other people, and my default is to lurch for my off switch. Out of sight, ‘n all that. The “And here’s where your money will go to” bits of Comic Relief, the “Scenes some viewers may find distressing…” – these are my tea brewing moments. It’s appalling. I know it’s appalling. But, you know… habits!

So that’s why I joined the Lib Dems, 30 days ago. I had voted for them in the General Election, and they had lost gigantically. I’m not suggesting the former led to the latter, but somehow I felt responsible that I hadn’t done enough. So what better place to kickstart a habit for wanting things to be better.

The funny thing is, I think I must be a wonder of medical science, because this new habit of mine… none of it feels like it’s been a struggle so far. The old grey matter seems to have been roundly unfussed with this seismic shift in my new way of life. In fact, it seems to have positively enjoyed the new habit, welcoming it like a long lost friend. And perhaps that’s exactly what it is.

Perhaps this isn’t a new habit at all. Perhaps there’s nothing new for my brain to fight against. Perhaps I’ve been a Lib Dem all my life. Certainly the last 30 days haven’t seen any mind-blowing moments of sudden clarity, no thunderous Damascene conversion. I still believe in the things I’ve always believed in, still defending them when they’re being rubbished, still incredulous why absolutely everyone doesn’t agree with me on everything.

I thought being a member of a political party would mean placards and marches and leaflet folding and canvassing and long meetings in dusty village halls chaired by people called Kenneth. But it’s been nothing like that. I’ve had a chat over a pint with Norman Lamb, done a bit of research on fracking for a party colleague (conclusion – not a good thing!), and Tim Farron even let me help him out with an article for The Guardian. If you do take a notion to care more, the Lib Dems seems to be a place where you can turn that into actually doing useful stuff. It’s all been rather good fun.

I know, I’m not quite threatening a Nobel prize for political activism on the record of my first 30 days, and I know that we (‘we’ – sounds a bit funny that); that we won’t win anything with cosy chats and sideline hugging. I’m working myself in, slowly.

If, during those first 30 days, I had been close to surrender, then something happened on day 24 which would have pulled me back from the brink. I’m sure it would have done. I met someone who said that he had joined the Lib Dems because of an article I wrote. I don’t think I’ve ever politically awakened anyone. Awakening my children for school every morning is success enough. Maybe he’ll go on to awaken someone else. Maybe that’ll happen, over and over again. Like a ripple. Or a habit. An unbreakable habit.

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

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7 Comments

  • Excellent article

  • Writing some good Focus leaflets should help awaken people.

  • On the topic of new members, the figure of 61,456 for the total party membership has remained unchanged on the party website for some weeks now. As I have observed on a previous thread, I do not see any need that it should be updated on a daily basis, but I would very definitely suggest that the figure should be updated regularly, for it would be good for party morale to know that the membership was still steadily on the increase if that was the case, and a useful corrective for over-optimism if it was only going up in dribs or drabs – or indeed if it was not going up at all.

  • Liberal Neil 2nd Jul '15 - 4:02pm

    Hugh p – it was something to do with freezing the list for the leadership election and will just now have gone through the end of quarter lapsing process. I’m sure they’ll get it back up and running soon.

    Dominic – great article, welcome 🙂

  • John Tilley 2nd Jul '15 - 4:52pm

    I have just read this article.
    I like it.
    I especially like the sentence —
    “..If you do take a notion to care more, the Lib Dems seems to be a place where you can turn that into actually doing useful stuff..”

    You seem to have done more useful stuff in 30 days than some manage in 30 years of membership. You are really welcome to the party and I hope you carry on as you have started.

    BTW – I also agree with you that fracking is NOT a good thing.

  • Brilliant article. Welcome to “we”.

  • Simon Banks 6th Jul '15 - 2:00pm

    Welcome! The good news is that there are many more new members like you; though not all have got stuck in quite so quickly, they want to.

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