Why I joined the Liberal Democrats

I first joined Labour back in the mid Eighties whilst I was still at school. As a working class West Midlander with an interest in politics and left wing beliefs growing up in the Thatcher Years, Labour seemed the obvious choice. For years I was incredibly proud to carry the same membership card that my family had carried for generations; I campaigned, I delivered leaflets, I attended meetings. Then something happened. The party that I had joined and supported for decades seemed to transform overnight into a far-left, doctrinaire personality cult where questioning the leadership in any way was a Thought Crime. I watched as the mood became steadily more toxic, policy became evermore reminiscent of a 1970s student union and the antisemitism and misogyny of some of the members, particularly amongst those attracted by Jeremy Corbyn became more apparent.  As the psychodrama of Corbyn’s Labour got worse, I stopped feeling proud to be a party member and I found it increasingly difficult to advocate voting for the Labour Party. Increasingly, I questioned whether I could vote Labour myself, let alone campaign for them. Then came the day that I had to finally follow my conscience and leave Labour. For the first time since my teens and like so many others in recent years, I was politically homeless. 

For some time, I looked for a new way to remain politically engaged, particularly to fight to keep the UK in the EU. I kept coming back to the Liberal Democrats. Surely I could not possibly join THEM – they had been in coalition with the hated Tories and they had no policies apart from electoral reform. Expecting to find it Tory-lite, I read the 2017 Manifesto and to my surprise found myself agreeing with large parts of it. Then I read about Liberalism in general and the history of the Liberal Party and found even more that I liked. As a teacher, I had already seen the positive influence of the Liberal Democrats in areas such as the introduction of Pupil Premium and free school meals for infants. A worrying thought hit me; I liked these policies and I really liked the values and guiding philosophy – was I really a Liberal Democrat and had I been in the wrong party for years? The answer was obvious. 

My initial experience has been very positive. Within days of joining I was receiving welcome messages on social media and being signposted to individuals and groups. Excellent initiatives such as the Lib Dems Newbies group on Facebook made me feel included straight away. I was invited to my branch AGM and was stunned by the fact that I, who hadn’t even got a membership card yet, was allowed to speak but was also able to disagree with others without it turning into an ideological war. This was very different to my experience in Labour. 

I have finally found my political home and I am proud to be openly ‘out’ as a Liberal …although I will NEVER wear sandals with socks.

* Mark Paine joined the Liberal Democrats from Labour in 2018

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23 Comments

  • Nice article Mark. And you are very welcome. I think it must be incredibly difficult to leave a political party after so many years, and strange to join a different one. But from reading this I feel you’re in the right place now.

  • John Marriott 25th Nov '18 - 9:18am

    A nice piece, Mark. It certainly ticks the right boxes. However, for the sake of balance, it might be interesting if someone were to write a piece entitled; ‘Why I left the Liberal Democrats’. Don’t forget to stick to under 600 words.

  • nigel hunter 25th Nov '18 - 11:12am

    I wandered around for years wondering where i belonged. I am here now. Your socks will get rather soggy with sandals this time of year!! LoL

  • ……………………………. Then something happened. The party that I had joined and supported for decades seemed to transform overnight into a far-left, doctrinaire personality cult where questioning the leadership in any way was a Thought Crime. I watched as the mood became steadily more toxic, policy became evermore reminiscent of a 1970s student union and the antisemitism and misogyny of some of the members, particularly amongst those attracted by Jeremy Corbyn became more apparent. As the psychodrama of Corbyn’s Labour got worse, I stopped feeling proud to be a party member and I found it increasingly difficult to advocate voting for the Labour Party…………………..

    Why is it that every ‘convert’ from Labour seems to post the same Daily Mail mantra about Corbyn? Is this the same dictatorial Labour party that challenged Corbyn in 2015 and 2016 and whose grass roots members democratically supported him? A party where many members and MPs openly oppose his stance on the use of nuclear weapons, Trident renewal, the Falklands, Syria, Israel, etc.?

    As for ‘John Marriott’s ‘Why I left the Liberal Democrats’…….. I am moving to the Suffolk coast next week (30th November) and I’m doubtful if I will make myself ‘known’ to the local LibDem group. However, if I do, my title for any such article would be ‘Why did the Liberal Democrats leave me’.

  • Expats – I dont know where you are moving to but it is wise. You do need to get out more. I suggest you visit some northern towns dominated by Labour and in some cases momentum. You will realise why you should stay with the Lib Dems

  • …………………david 25th Nov ’18 – 11:40am…..Expats – I dont know where you are moving to but it is wise. You do need to get out more. I suggest you visit some northern towns dominated by Labour and in some cases momentum. You will realise why you should stay with the Lib Dems………………

    David, Please don’t presume to patronise me; I currently live in the East Midlands; an area dominated by Labour.
    I have often been a ‘lone voice’ of the LibDem values in pub and elections but, unlike you, what I see is a Labour party returning to its roots and a LibDem party increasingly forgetting ours.

    Mark Paine seems to have had no problems with a Labour party that, under Blair, became ‘Tory lite’,and embraced the Tory doctrine of ‘send a gunboat’ to effect regime change. This (my) party opposed such action only to U-turn on Libya and Syria.

    As I’ve said this party left me!

  • Yeovil Yokel 25th Nov '18 - 2:53pm

    Well done & welcome to the fold, Mark. It’s not essential to have socks with the sandals, but like me you have a beard which makes us both trendsetters.

  • Peter Watson 25th Nov '18 - 3:12pm

    “I had already seen the positive influence of the Liberal Democrats in areas such as the introduction of Pupil Premium and free school meals for infants. A worrying thought hit me; I liked these policies”
    Universal free school meals was trialled by Labour and opposed by Lib Dems until Nick Clegg surprised his party by announcing it out of the blue (apparently in return for supporting the Tories’ married couple’s tax allowance).
    And a Pupil Premium was in the Labour (and Conservative) manifesto in 2010.

  • Joining and Leaving! I have voted at every general, local, euro and by-election that I could since 1970. I have voted Lib/Lib Dem on roughly 19 out of 20 occasions, right up to and including 2017. However, listening to Vince Cable recently, I realise that I fall into the category of voters he appears to despise i.e.. old with a basic education, and with a faith based (Christian) world view. So, I’m not sure that I have left the Lib Dems as much as they have left me. I have no idea how I will vote in future. Incidentally, although I fit the “Leave” stereotype, I voted Remain and will do so again if I have the chance. That is for the positive reason that I want my grandchildren to live in a world that is not blighted by the conflicts and horrors that my grandparents experienced and I believe that being a member of the EU is a positive way of achieving that.

  • Good stuff Mark. Actually the attitude to party leaders fits with the philosophical base of the party. Over the decades whether our leaders have been inspirational or depressing (make your own judgements folks) we have given them a hard time – and not just at the Glee Club. Leader worship does not go with the territory and it is a robust enough faith for surviving whatever the leadership chucks at us. A long time ago it was said by one of our theory gurus (it might have been Michael Meadowcroft but he will put me right if it wasn’t) that at its best the feel and style of a party can be as important as policies.

  • Thank you for all the feedback. These are entirely my views and not part of an anti Corbyn agenda. I did oppose the Iraq War and I was never a Blairite, having issues not just with Blair’s foreign policy but in not pushing a more progressive agenda.
    It is not my intention to view the Lib Dems as a pre Corbyn Labour Party in exile. That would be an insult to this party and members who have been fighting for Liberal values for a long time. When I joined I did so for positive reasons because I realised that I am a liberal and the only party that truly embodies those values is the Liberal Democrats.
    I have been made to feel very welcome and I know that I have made the right choice. My only regret is that I didn’t do it years ago.

  • David Warren 25th Nov '18 - 10:42pm

    As someone who also spent far to many years in the Labour party I can say that you have made the right move Mark.

    The Lib Dems are on their way back after a difficult period and as you quite rightly say the party is full of great people.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 25th Nov '18 - 11:52pm

    Mark, you are to ignore the naysayers as you continue to be welcomed by all of us glad to see new members who realise that if it could get the coverage it should, this party is the real place more than ever for moderate, radical, progressives, working together for the individual and common good.

    Unlike our excellent , humorous David Warren, who might misquote me even in Italian, as a vegetarian, not keen on his analogy, but as with our excellent David Warren, I regard the move from Labour now as understandable, I did it years ago!!!

    We need a unity on the centre left, by the accounts of so many I read, Labour has not returned to what our friend expats calls the roots of the party, those roots were not in division, and antisemitism, which by the week some, members there are fleeing from.

    It does not make me or Mark glad to read of that, but the truth of the experience of some cannot be glossed over.

  • lorenzo Cherin 25th Nov '18 - 11:54pm

    1st of two ,of the great name of David, should be Raw!!!!

  • Kathy Erasmus 26th Nov '18 - 7:45am

    I had exactly the same journey. Proud to be a LibDem

  • Lorenzo Cherin 25th Nov ’18 – 11:52pm………… Labour has not returned to what our friend expats calls the roots of the party, those roots were not in division, and antisemitism, which by the week some, members there are fleeing from…………..

    Labour membership has soared to approaching 600,000 (almost doubling since Corbyn became leader). As for antisemitism there is absolutely no evidence, despite the publicity, that it is any more widespread in the Labour party than any other; including ours. Does it exist in Labour? of course it does but I’ll wager that the evil that is racism, of all kinds, is more a symptom of the ‘right’ than the ‘left’.

    You left (no pun intended) Labour years ago because of ‘intolerance and dogma’, Mark Paine has just discovered it and, as for Kathy Erasmus and David Warren, they don’t say.
    My political journey will probably be in the opposite direction; however, I hope I will be rather more forgiving when describing my history with this party.

  • I had my doubts about the coalition, but realised you have to dirty your hands when in power, even if minority power. Unlike some, I accept that the national leadership won’t get it right 100% of the time. What is important to me is the general outlook and approach of my party. I’ve been a member since 1981. I’m still proud to be a member of a party that hits most of my hot buttons. Unlike some, I will not over react to mistakes by the national or local parties. Mark is very welcome.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 26th Nov '18 - 3:10pm

    expats you are wrong, there are many sites that reveal the problem i Labour is terrible on that subject compared to a few years ago, many are drawn to Corbyn who are left of him, and in that are different to in other political groupings, so full of anger and prejudice against bankers, capitalists, Israel, they are not comparable.

    A small minority is a massive number in there stance, for their views are very worrying, google and read and for goodness sake research, it makes those like me sad, I was in the party when most Jewish British were rather keen on it, now, eighty per cent do not vote for them.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 26th Nov ’18 – 3:10pm………………..expats you are wrong, there are many sites that reveal the problem i Labour is terrible on that subject compared to a few years ago, many are drawn to Corbyn who are left of him, and in that are different to in other political groupings, so full of anger and prejudice against bankers, capitalists, Israel, they are not comparable……..A small minority is a massive number in there stance, for their views are very worrying, google and read and for goodness sake research, it makes those like me sad, I was in the party when most Jewish British were rather keen on it, now, eighty per cent do not vote for them………………

    The major decline in Jewish support came, not under Corbyn, but under the leadership of the Ed Milliband. This was hardly a protest about antisemitism (after all, as a Jew himself, he called for ‘zero tolerance’ over perceived antisemitism in the party) tbut about his stance on Israel. I suggest you look up the likes of Maureen Lipman, Kate Bearman and the response of the Jewish Chronicle to his condemnation (rightly in my opinion) of Israel’s treatment of Gaza…
    Under Milliband Jewish support was around 18%. Corbyn has had little impact; after all the antisemitic publicity still around 16% of British Jews support Labour.

    You, and other converts from Labour, remind me of a friend who, many years ago,converted from the CoE to Catholicism. He seemed to have an endless supply of horror stories about his experiences before ‘seeing the light’; one wondered whyever he stayed so long in the CoE. Still, the old adage about the fervour of converts is usually true.
    I prefer the facts as stated by the all-party Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into antisemitism in the United Kingdom. It found “no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party”…It did however, note that the perceived lack of action “risks lending force to the allegations of antisemitism.”..However, if as the report states there are equal problems in other parties, where are their actions to combat such problems?

    It may be rather simplistic but, to me, the ONLY test of racism should be hatred/dislike of a person based solely on their race; likewise for antisemitism. Not muddied by references to “prejudice against bankers, capitalists, Israel”.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 27th Nov '18 - 4:09pm

    You are quoting incorrectly, though you are correct in the accuracy, these comments from the committee are dated, the many who have joined since, have extended the problem.

    You are completely wrong about my view, I have no conversion, my views have barely changed, I crave a good decent party that is compassionate and can include, not offend, I care not one jot the label on it but the attitude within it. I would like to be part of a movement that can win, if in the US, would have sought election as a mainstream Democrat.

    Yes the comments on Milliband are correct, the percentages did alter, but the tropes about bankers and Jewish capitalists, and the presumption the Israel government has a link with Jewish members of the party, is antisemitism, you should read the accounts of the many who leave. I would admire you if you joined them, knowing this, to improve their attitude, to explain that you believe that tendency is wrong, but to doubt it is there and make little of it is a mistake, and even Corbyn has admitted it has been a growing problem on the left.

    This party and the Conservatives have problems, antisemitic comments is not one causing any out of the ordinary level of outrage, one or two like Tonge are not the issue, it is the left admitted issue, the tropes, the singling out of Israel, that is, on facebook, in meetings. Why not research it, join them and see what you can do to change that culture, rather than tell me what you think, based on a view, one you would do well to convince me of, so politics could improve.

  • Neil Sandison 30th Nov '18 - 3:48pm

    Labour is making the same mistakes it did under Micheal Foot its trying to please and appease every one pandering to whatever self interest group that is in the press this week or last week .The problem with that is when you come to write a coherent manifesto you start to let everyone down your economic figures dont stack up and you have to hide the real costs or the press will put your sums under the microscope now i know some will say they improved their vote last time from a very low base but it should always be remembered oppositions do not win elections ,the government of the day loses them normally because they have run out of steam or the public is seriously irritated and bored with them.

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