Why I returned to the Liberal Democrats

At the age of 49 and being of a naturally cynical disposition, you would think that I would be immune to unreservedly believing in exciting shiny new things. Well, reader, I have a confession to make – I signed up as a supporter of Change UK. Yes, I believed that they were the future of British politics and yes, I actually believed that they would transform the political landscape, kill off tribalism and usher in a new age of cooperation and consensus. Truly this was the glorious bright new dawn…

However, as we seen the bright new dawn is more like a rainy November morning in West Bromwich. 

I joined the Party in November after leaving the Labour Party in a mixture of disgust, guilt and embarrassment. The Liberal Democrats seemed ideal for a centre Left socially liberal person like me, I really liked the policies and every one was so nice (if you want to see not nice, attend the average CLP meeting and criticise Jeremy Corbyn). Great, here was my new political home. But then came TIG. 

TIG looked wonderful; a happy gang of pragmatic modernists drawn from all parties and none. They hung out at Nandos and seemed like regular guys.  So I wrote to Lib Dem membership to cancel my membership, signed up to Change UK, became a group admin and started spreading the word on social media. 

Then reality intruded into my centrist idyll. It became apparent that Change UK seemed to mean radically different things to different people. This non-party (no members, no structure and no policies) was simply a blank canvas on which anyone could project their ideal political party. CHUK had all the solidity and depth of one of those old 2D Hollywood film sets. The groups I was in were full of well-meaning, enthusiastic, idealistic people campaigning for ‘change’ but with no clear idea of what that ‘change’ actually might be and no direction from CHUK high command. I could not fault their commitment to the cause but I did not actually know what the cause was and, truth be told, neither did they.  I had made a mistake. 

So I slunk back to the Lib Dems like the Prodigal Son, fully expecting to be turned away for leaving after only a few months. But not only was I accepted but I was welcomed back with open arms. 

Why is this relevant to the Liberal Democrats? All those things that I saw in CHUK actually already existed. That pragmatic, evidence-based, progressive liberal party of my dreams was the one I was already in. We are the party that CHUK, Renew and all the new centrist kids on the block aspire to be and we need to be getting that message out there. If people want change (and I believe that they do) then the only way that is going to be through us. No vested interests, no closed mindsets, no us and them, no veneration of an imagined past at the expense of the present, but a group of people who truly believe that progress comes through empowering individuals to the benefit of society as a whole. This is a great party and it took me leaving it to see that. We have so much to offer a broken country that desperately needs change that isn’t just an empty slogan and a photo opportunity.  I am proud to be a Liberal Democrat and so should you be. 

* Mark Paine joined the Liberal Democrats from Labour in 2018

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16 Comments

  • Welcome back.

    Fatted calves all round! (Vegan version available).

  • Peter Martin 19th May '19 - 9:19am

    The groups I was in were full of well-meaning, enthusiastic, idealistic people campaigning for ‘change’ but with no clear idea of what that ‘change’ actually might be…

    OK but isn’t this the same problem for all centrist parties? If everything is going reasonably well then it makes sense to keep the ship’s rudder centrally aligned and keep any changes relatively minor.

    Some would say we adopt the concept of “radical centrism”. But just what does that mean, exactly? This is implies some sort of change but in what way? Nick Clegg didn’t seem to want any change, apart from some tinkering at the edges, and just about said so in his famous debates with Nigel Farage.

  • John Lamb - 19th May '19 - 9:26am

    Absolutely right Mark. I suspect there are quite few others out there with a gentle prompt would return back to their political family – the Liberal Democrats

  • What a brilliant article. Thankyou Mark for your honesty, and welcome home!

  • Linda Dickins 19th May '19 - 12:29pm

    Welcome back…glad you saw the light!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th May '19 - 12:57pm

    Mark

    Did smile at this, as one who became friends with you on social media and shared my views with you and extolled the best of our party to you, I did explain to you that this party is worth sticking with, and , like you, though not keen to jump ship, I was keen on an alliance with the new group. I thought then, as now, a god social democrat like you has a place in this party, we are not a liberal party only, we are the Liberal Democrats, and the Democrats also includes social democrats ex Labour. I think I was right then , we both are now, you cannot get a sense of a party in months but years. Welcome to the party again.

  • Mick Taylor 19th May '19 - 1:35pm

    Welcome home

  • Peter Chambers 19th May '19 - 2:22pm

    Welcome back Mark.

  • Katharine Pindar 19th May '19 - 5:31pm

    What a heart-warming article! Well done, Mark, for your honesty in telling us and your final good judgement!

  • Roland Postle 19th May '19 - 6:04pm

    Welcome back! If anything is killing tribalism and modernising politics I think it’s a cultural trend where people are more inclined to question their political allegiance, not only in the UK but around the world. It’s driven, perhaps, by a more diverse media environment, and by greater scrutiny and communication of and about politics online. I think it can only be a good thing for democracy in the long run even if it causes some populist turbulence, panic over fake news, etc.. in the short term.

    It seems to me you’ve merely been part of this trend Mark, and there’s no shame in that. However as you say, Lib Dems are undeniably the best suited party to lead the country into a modern political age and just possibly heal divisions with some genuine change. I’m consciously anti-tribal but I can’t think of a time in my life when the country feels like it needs one party more than it needs Lib Dems now. We can only hope sufficient members and voters of other parties question their own loyalties in coming elections and head this way 🙂

  • David Chadwick 20th May '19 - 10:40am

    “If people want change (and I believe that they do) then the only way that is going to be through us”.

    This is a strong selling point for us: we’re an open and democratic party; if you want to get involved then you can make a real impact here; you can write policies and run campaigns. By contrast, the new parties (Renew) seem to have been set up by people who can’t be bothered with the hard work required to run a party and win elections, which is terrible preparation to be a politician.

  • Robert (Somerset)Yes 20th May '19 - 11:51am

    Yes, welcome back. A useful line that can be drawn from the original post is: ‘we are the party the others aspire to be’. I would include the Greens in that as well.

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