Why I Am No Longer A Member Of The Liberal Democrats
I was a committed Liberal Democrat member for nearly 22 years, the only political party I ever joined.
My membership lapsed on January 1st. I will not be renewing it. Anecdotally, it would seem I am not alone in reaching such a decision.
At the time I joined and for nearly all the subsequent years, this was the party whose political principles and policies most closely corresponded with my own. That is not to say I agreed with every LD policy.
However, unlike the other major political parties, it was always fully accepted that one had the right as a party member to dissent, publicly if necessary, against any policy one profoundly disagreed with. In addition, party policy was and still is largely determined by the membership and agreed by Conference. Should that ever cease to be the case the Lib Dems may as well pack up and go home.
This is not something I decided lightly or suddenly. I came close last year to not renewing my membership but I was due to stand for re-election in May 2011 and had been reselected as the prospective candidate in my ward some months earlier. Unlike some of my colleagues, I had no illusions about my prospects and in many ways it would have been far easier to step down altogether and retire undefeated. However, I took the view that I had been elected by my constituents (and re-elected 4 times) as a Liberal Democrat and if I was to leave the Council it should be as a Liberal Democrat, losing after having fought a full campaign, which I did. I know of several colleagues who have chosen to bow out this May and given the party's likely bleak prospects in Liverpool, I don't blame any of them for one second.
Like almost every other Liverpool LD Councillor, I was deeply unhappy when the Lib Dems nationally made formal coalition with the Tories, a party I dislike intensely. I accept that the party had no choice but to make some sort of accommodation with the Tories given the national circumstances and the instructions of the electorate and I could have just about stomached a confidence and supply arrangement. As members, we received a stream of emails from various party bigwigs which, reading between the lines, made it clear that the only game in town as far as they were concerned was being in power, supposedly to deliver some Lib Dem policies and eventually getting as many LD MPs as possible elected in 2015. (I always responded to these signing myself as Paul Clein, Collateral Damage, May 2011.) We were also told that the Coalition Agreement was political Holy Writ as far as the leadership was concerned. This brings me to one of the main reasons I left the party.
The proposed changes to the NHS were NOT in the Coalition Agreement and although I have no doubt that the Liberal Democrats have elicited some significant improvements to a flawed piece of legislation, it should have been opposed en masse by the party. Nauseating as it was to see the same Labour Party which introduced so much private provision into the NHS during their 13 year tenure in office acting holier than thou over this issue, it is hard to disagree with their basic stance.
Another main issue which alienated me from the party was student tuition fees, which I campaigned against from day 1. The fact is that an element of the party's leadership had long wanted to dilute or jettison our commitment to abolishing fees. They had brought this to conference more than once and been knocked back by the membership. I suspect Clegg and Co. saw this as an oh so clever means of getting their way with their own members by trading this away in the coalition agreement negotiations. Sure, abolition of fees still remains LD party policy but that looks rather hollow now. What was doubly infuriating was seeing the same Labour Party which betrayed their manifesto promises twice, introducing tuition fees, trebling them, then commissioning the report which they knew would increase fees significantly after the 2010 general election reap electoral benefit with a campaign of breathtaking hypocrisy.
I know Andrew Stunnell and other LD ministers did their best towards the end of 2010 to ameliorate the budget reductions imposed on Liverpool City Council and that we received an additional £14 million in 2011-12 as a result. That does not alter the fact that Liverpool and other similar authorities received drastic budget cuts which were almost impossible to deliver without affecting front line services. It was not just the scale of the cuts per se which was so damaging but the necessity to deliver them in such a short timescale which was unconscionable. I accept there was a need for all sectors of government to suffer budget reductions but there is a very valid reason why Liverpool and other authorities with high levels of poverty used to get additional grants which have now either been slashed or have disappeared. Whilst I have no doubt that Labour too would have made significant budget reductions in local government if re-elected in 2010, I do believe they would not have been on such a large scale or on the unreasonable timescale dictated by Jabba The Pickle.
Finally, the ignorance of historical process and the naivete when dealing with Cameron and his acolytes which characterised the party leadership (and still does) was unforgivable. Whenever Liberal parties got into bed politically with the Tories in the past, two things happened. Firstly, they suffered losses at the next subsequent general election and, secondly, that element of the party which was more comfortable with the Tories joined them. I suspect this is what will happen in 2015 and that the Lib Dem election campaign that year will be woefully inadequate due to minimal resources and significant reductions in the size of the membership in many parts of the country. This is what happened to the Liberals in the 1920s when the party hollowed out from the inside.
The fact is that Cameron has consistently run rings around Clegg and for all Clegg's bluster will doubtless continue to do so. If and when (as I expect) the Lib Dems split after the 2015 election, I will consider joining the social liberal party which emerges from the ashes. One thing seems certain. I remain a liberal and there is no way I can see myself joining the Labour Party or any other in the interim.