Opinion: Why I joined the Liberal Democrats

Twenty-first century politics are a mockery of the rigorous and committed process that is required if our society and our communities are going to have a chance of surviving the challenges that dominate the agenda today. I happen to believe in politics and in the innate ability of men and women to work together in political organisations in order to create a secure and sustainable environment within which their life chances can be enhanced. To achieve that we need a far better quality of politics than we get from the two major parties today.

Spin, image and focus groups have dulled the public appetite for involvement in the political process – even at the most basic level of voting – and the electorate sees politicians as cynical chancers who will embrace any tactic that will give them a chance of power. Over the past twelve years new Labour has abandoned any semblance of an ideological anchor in progressive politics.

There was a time, before Blair, when, even if one did not agree with its proffered solutions, Labour could be trusted to have an instinctive response which would differentiate it from the Conservative right. Helping the poor, empathising with the developing world, being gentle with refugees, defending civil rights, building houses to let and espousing comprehensive education, could all be expected to be part and parcel of Labour’s agenda. But today all this has gone and the pragmatic dissection of its honourable past means that nothing is too illiberal or too harsh for Labour.

I discovered my personal Liberal millstone very early on. Once identified, we happy band of instinctive Liberals have no choice: it’s a lifetime of commitment and struggle. I joined the party way back in 1958 and after very few years it was a case of finding jobs that would keep me in politics. Over the thirty years to the merger I reckon to have done just about every task within the “backroom” and in the “frontline”, and to have written on just about every subject. It’s all on my website. Faced with those who lacked confidence in the potential of their Liberal beliefs, the task was to provide them with the material with which to triumph in debate and on the hustings.

Within the party Leeds was somewhat unusual. In the main Leeds Liberals were dislodging entrenched Labour hacks. Not left wing ideologues but essentially social democrats. Having spent fifteen years getting a Liberal elected in place of a social democrat in West Leeds it seemed rather perverse then to join them!

But then was then and twenty years on it is vital to examine the abject state of politics and to determine how best one can today analyse the rampant illiberalism that is destroying the linkages on which our communities depend, and to decide how best to reverse the trend and to persuade the electors to adopt the Liberal solutions that alone can transform society.

I have spent most of the past seventeen years in international politics assisting new and emerging democracies. It his high time I got stuck into domestic politics again! In my judgement the ecological imperative is almost universally accepted, even though there are very different views amongst the parties as to how survival can be won. Three massive current issues remain: [1] the consequences of the US and UK invasion and occupation of Iraq which continues to make life horrendous for the Iraqi people. [2] The government’s determination to use identity cards as the main means to create a massive database on every citizen which is a huge threat to our privacy and to our essential civil liberties. [3] The bright vision of a united Europe is under serious threat from xenophobes and conservatives of Right and Left who believe that somehow the British Isles can be floated off into the Atlantic in contradiction and defiance of their geographic location and their European heritage.

Realistically, to play any role in influencing these issues one has now to be in the mainstream of politics. I have therefore joined the Liberal Democrats.

* Michael Meadowcroft was a Liberal Member of Parliament for Leeds West from 1983 to 1987, and founder of the ‘continuing’ Liberal Party in 1989 following the party’s merger with the SDP. He has just joined the Liberal Democrats.

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22 Comments

  • Charles Anglin 13th Oct '07 - 7:33pm

    Although I’ve disagreed with his chosen course over the last few years, Michael Meadowcroft is without doubt one of the strongest and most eloquent voices for liberalism of the post war era. I’m so pleased he’s joined us.

    Welcome home Michael.

  • Mark Wright 13th Oct '07 - 9:02pm

    As eloquent as ever Michael. Welcome home… 🙂

  • Rochdale Cowboy 13th Oct '07 - 10:23pm

    Welcome back Michael. Back in 1982 I was chair of Durham Univ Liberals – you came to speak – but room was double booked – we ended up – about 20 of us in a small room in a pub and you gave the best speech I have heard – on why Liberalism? All the best

  • JonathanFryer 13th Oct '07 - 11:55pm

    As you know Michael, I have always respected your integrity, your internationalism and your Liberalism. I was glad that we were able to continue working together through Liberal International British Group and Liberator even when we belonged to two separate parties, but I am absolutely delighted we find ourselves in the same one again! You will be a valued asset.

  • Gareth Epps 14th Oct '07 - 1:56am

    I’m delighted to have Michael with us. Innate Liberalism is urgently needed in a concentrated form, and for those of us working hard in areas in need of community politics, those with first-hand experience and understanding can offer guidance and leadership that is needed most at times when those basic freedoms are most under threat. Michael will strengthen us for exactly those reasons.

  • Martin Land 14th Oct '07 - 9:10am

    Welcome back, Michael. It really doesn’t seem more than thirty years since I tramped the streets of Leeds with you and Maggie Clay, Gordon and Sue Lishman, et all all under the fatherly eye of Richard Wainwright.
    We need your wisdom. Fancy a job as Party President?

  • Martin J Ball 14th Oct '07 - 1:54pm

    Welcome back Michael – are you going to update your website soon…?

  • Geoffrey Payne 14th Oct '07 - 5:38pm

    I am glad you are back. When I was involved with Coventry Poly ULS and YLs, we invited you over, and you gave an excellent speech at the poly and helped out Cllr Rob Wheway (as then) with some good local publicity.
    However your greatest contribution in my opinion is an interlectual one.
    The Liberal Democrats today seems to lack the imagination to link up with the vast number of liberals who are not currently in the Liberal Democrats. Usually they are to be found in Friends of the Earth, Shelter, Liberty, CND, Stop the War coalition (excluding the Trots of course!), Oxfam and so forth.
    Was it ever thus? However today it is clearer than ever that Labour is not going to be the vehicle for Liberal values, despite the “Libertarian Socialism” of the 1980s that has gone to ground today.
    I always thought you put the Liberal case in the 1980s better than anyone else in this context.

  • Michael is one of the very few Liberals who is able to write lucidly about liberal principles – David Boyle and Tony Greaves have this ability too, in my opinion, but distressingly few others. As a number of people on LDV and in Liberator have noted, we are failing to convey our Party’s principles to the electorate with the result that we are not building a strong enough base of ideologically committed people who will carry us forward. I hope that those in charge of the Party nationally have the sense to see how valuable Michael could be in articulating the principles of Liberalism, not only to the electorate but also to the membership.

  • Cllr P Pettinger 14th Oct '07 - 6:30pm

    At the last general election I managed to acquire a copy of the Liberal Party’s manifesto. I found it absolutely absurd in so far as its policy positions were almost identical to our own. Welcome aboard Mr Meadocroft. I do hope, but not expect, that the Morrishs and Liberal group in Exeter will also (re)join us. They are sound Liberals and collectively both Liberals and Lib Dems would be without doubt a stronger vehicle for Liberalism than working in two seperate camps.

  • Great news! Welcome aboard!

  • Richard Gadsden 14th Oct '07 - 11:19pm

    Welcome back. I’d love to see the Morrishes and the Oborskis back in the fold. That would finally reduce the Liberal Party to Mr. Radford and his fans, who are the only group I am glad to have lost.

    It has been a slow process to bring the Liberals back, but Nigel Ashton should be mentioned as a genuine liberal and Liberal that I am proud to be in the same party as. Michael Meadowcroft is a giant of Liberal politics and is very welcome amongst his fellow Liberals. Feel free to run for the Lords list…

  • Good to see Michael back. I remember meeting him many years ago at the Margate assembly in my Canterbury Young Liberal days.

    Sadly, Richard, that other Liberal standard-bearer Mike Oborski died recently. Let’s hope Fran follows Michael & joins too.

  • Welcome back Michael. The debates at Assemblies in the ’80s between yourself promoting liberalism and Ken Livingston socialism were inspirational. We need your passion and clarity of thought to reinvigorate the projection of the party’s core values.

  • One of the (many) fundamental ideological differences between the proper Liberal Party and the “Lib Dems” is the former’s belief in free and fair trade, as opposed to the obsession with creating a European superstate endemic in the Liberal Democrats.

    How ironic that Mr Meadowcroft should now talk about “a bright vision” of a “united Europe”.

    What a shame he has decided to abandon his principles after all these years, by joining an organisation that bears little relation to the Party of Gladstone and Palmerston.

  • Leeds West Resident 16th Nov '07 - 11:08am

    MIchael Meadowcroft is a spent force. He has not JOINED the Liberal Democrats he has RE-JOINED (He was a member during Alan Beith’s Leadership Campaign). Nobody has done more to undermine the Liberal Democrats in West Leeds than this man. He fielded ‘Liberal’ candidates against official Liberal Democrats costing the party safe seats. His past is very murky and he has a eputation for being snide.

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