Time to re-connect with politics!

On the day of the Prime Minister’s announcement, I was working from home. As some of us did, I received endless messages from friends and colleagues, who were commenting on a sequence of unfolding political events, which have never (?) been seen in British politics. When it was clear that Mr Johnson would eventually resign, I was actually looking forward to his speech. It has been the most extraordinary few years for the nation, democracy and the political process in Britain.

In recent weeks, we were all reflecting on the quality of politics, here at home, but also across the globe. Most of us would question the lack of integrity, decently and honesty of some of our politicians who, with decisions they make, have such a huge impact on our lives. I was so disappointed that the Prime Minister didn’t say sorry and that he didn’t apologise. Tons of articles and press releases have been issued to cover some of the horror stories of his government. The more I thought about it, the angrier I was with the rest of his Cabinet. In my view, there was absolutely no decency in what they did. They did know, all along, the character of the Leader of the Conservative Party and our Prime Minister. They knew that he was not trustworthy, they knew that he is a charlatan, someone who is not at the service of others but someone, who is self-centred, indefensible with, apparently, great character and charisma.

On Thursday evening, as I was getting ready for my last work meeting, I received a text message from a friend of mine. I said to him that the government, lack of leadership, incompetence across all governmental departments meant that I started to doubt whether there is any point in enhancing my passion and interest in the civic process.

He however said something to me, which made me think and strangely, restored my faith in politics. He said that this might be a good moment for people to reconnect with democracy. It does sound like a good idea, however is it possible, I wondered?

In my view, as a nation, we reached one of the lowest points in our political history, we need to take more responsibility for what happens in our towns, cities and neighbourhoods. Using a football analogy, we can’t only be spectators, we need to be far more active in engaging with the political process at the local or national level. Voting a couple of times a year is simply not enough; we need to campaign on topics, which are close to our hearts and we feel passionate about; from environment to immigration, from housing to human rights issues. Write to your local or national paper, do your own and thorough research, volunteer, stay active and connected with grassroots issues that might help to shape policies at the local and national level. Be the change that you want to see in others.

We have to remove ourselves from our comfortable “political bubbles”. Moreover, we stay decent only if we put ourselves at the service of others, we remove our self-interest but we always try to look at the bigger picture. It is so hard, but maybe it is a good moment to be less judgmental and give people a chance, even if we don’t agree with their politics? Having said that, we must choose wisely our political leaders. Is being funny or “charismatic”, whatever that means, enough to govern? We also must do everything, in order to avoid further polarization, to listen better and challenge our own way of thinking. As a Polish national, I know that we can’t be simply content with the “political status quo”. We must engage hard to reach groups (or easy to ignore as I call them) to explain better the consequences of our political decisions. Political education and not “partisan education” has to be at the heart of our democratic thinking.

Finally for me, true leadership is about acknowledging mistakes and about saying sorry. From time to time, it really is important, for the sake of healthy political debates, to detach ourselves from we believe or stand for so that we can understand other points of view. I understand that some of my suggestions might sound “lefty and snowflaky” to some, however I know that I want to continue being a “person of dialogue”. This is the one of the ways to build better tomorrow; tomorrow full of hope and positivity, tomorrow, which serves the common good.

* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and councillor for Handside ward, Welwyn Hatfield.

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  • Michael Cole 9th Jul '22 - 6:11pm

    Dear Michal. Spot on ! My views exactly. Two key points, to my mind:

    1) “He said that this might be a good moment for people to reconnect with democracy.” Liberals/LDs campaigned for years on constitutional and electoral reform; it was one of the reasons I joined the Party. But the campaign has gone strangely quiet for the past few years. Perhaps it is seen merely as an academic matter and not a ‘bread-and-butter’ issue. Now’s the time to revive it, especially electoral reform. People have now seen what FPTP does and are ready to be convinced. Don’t let Labour steal the thunder on this issue.

    2) Contact with real people is so important (that’s why most Tories don’t like it). Grassroots campaigning and casework has always, in my lifetime, been at the heart of Liberal politics. Perhaps more effort should be devoted to spreading the word to weaker (or maybe virtually non-existent) groups in nearby areas and helping to establish some kind of presence. There are still frequent reports of “There was no LD candidate”. It shouldn’t be all about ‘target seats’. We should be ambitious – as far as resources allow. Again, the people are ready for it.

  • Jason Connor 10th Jul '22 - 12:59pm

    People want a choice and it’s so important that the Party are active in Labour facing areas and that means at least a leaflet delivery and support for candidates standing in those wards.

  • nigel hunter 10th Jul '22 - 2:38pm

    FPTP has been a disaster.PR is needed. HOWEVER it has to be explained to the public HOW IT WORKS. that means talking about face to face and explaining it on leaflets.It is indeed no good leaving it to Labour to sell.It has to be pushed constantly to get it into pepoles heads.Tory papers etc talking about character, personality,etc is whitwash for them to sell THEIR candidate.Some one who exhudes confidence,political maturity etc, not ya-boo personality would make a better leader.Johnson hid in fridges and did grandstand stunts rather than confront questions to win.That is not what we want.

  • Nonconformistradical 10th Jul '22 - 3:26pm

    “PR is needed. HOWEVER it has to be explained to the public HOW IT WORKS. that means talking about face to face and explaining it on leaflets.I”

    Indeed. But in plain English – not academic gobbledegook

  • I am totally with you on this one, but how can we reconnect with democracy and stop being just spectators ? Your chance of being allowed to “play” politics at any meaningful level is about the same as my being offered a contract with Chelsea next year (other teams are available). The fences that keep you out of any significant engagement in the political process are as high and well patrolled as those around any premiership pitch.
    My local council have just published three policy documents, on housing, the environment and transport. They produced them after consulting with various “experts” such as housebuilders, major utility companies, the NFU, etc. I have come to the conclusion that if you want to be a political player and have influence, find the local organisations that the always get an invite to consultations and weadle our way onto their executive, which shouldn’t be too hard. Where I live it’s the Ramblers Association, CPRE and the local Civic Society. Before you say, “Why not stand for the local council”, we have a unitary system and there are no more elections, not even Parish Council until May2025. Until we get real democracy, good luck to you !

  • Nonconformistradical 10th Jul '22 - 5:24pm

    @Chris Cory
    “Before you say, “Why not stand for the local council”, we have a unitary system and there are no more elections, not even Parish Council until May2025”
    Which doesn’t stop LibDems from campaigning now e.g. knocking on doors to talk to voters about the council’s policy documents.

  • Michael Cole 11th Jul '22 - 6:34pm

    Nonconformistradical: “Indeed. But in plain English – not academic gobbledegook.” Absolutely, beware of boring people.

    Many years ago I used to demonstrate STV with numbered and named squares of bits of cardboard. In the good old days when we could muster 60+ MPs an enterprising MP produced a pack of cards depicting our MPs; as I recall, they sold well. There must be members (maybe at ALDC) with the skill to produce a pack demo pack for STV.

  • Absolutely.

    Knock on doors and ask people what they are worried about. Then link their problem to what is concerning them, and tie it in with what we have been saying about Brexit, honesty, or whatever is clearly relevant to them.

    Whatever you do don’t just tell them about our policy documents (which nobody reads and are actually very poorly written for campaigning on). And definitely don’t mention STV unless they actually ask a question about it.

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