Why I am not renewing my Liberal Democrat membership

Richard S Grayson

Sunday, 07 July 2013

On Sunday 30th June, my membership of the Liberal Democrats was due for renewal.  After 25 years in the party, I have decided not to renew.  That decision has been taken more in sorrow than in anger, though I have been pretty angry at various points in the past few years.  But over the last year, I have gradually come to the view that I can no longer support the party.  By that I mean I can’t even vote for it in elections, and if somebody can’t even do that, how can they remain a member of a party?

Before I offer my reasons, I should just explain that through a peculiarity of the system of party membership, my membership is ‘lapsing’ which is subtly different to ‘resigning’.  Anybody who wants the details can read the endnote,[i] but put simply, it means that I have paid a subscription for a year, but that that has now run out and I am not rejoining.  But why lapse, and why not resign some time ago?  After all, there have been plenty of issues over the past three years over which, on principle, I could have chosen to resign.  My wife resigned when the party agreed to scrap the Sustainable Development Commission.  My mother did so over tuition fees.  Plenty of people who have given a life of commitment to the party (and/or its predecessors) have gone on other issues, or just out of outrage against the coalition in general.

It’s the economy

Had I resigned over particular issues, it would have been over the economic/fiscal policy and public spending.  My history with the current leadership over these policies is quite long.  It began in 2008 when I was one of those who opposed the leadership at party conference over a small part of the Make it Happen policy review.  I have written at length in both the New Statesman and for Compass about what happened in that debate.  Put simply, the debate was over whether or not, if savings could be found in public spending (and nobody doubted that they could be), then the money should be used for tax cuts (as the leadership wanted) or to fund alternative spending priorities (as the party had long argued).  It was a fairly small issue, but for people like then MPs Paul Holmes and Evan Harris who proposed a challenge to the leadership, it was a crucial one about the direction of the party.  Looking back, I see it as a dog-whistle debate on how to position the party in debates on the role of government.  In the New Statesman and Compass pieces I argued that this could be seen as representing progress for a certain type of small-state centre-right liberalism, whose supporters have a simple (if problematic) media label of ‘Orange Bookers’, after the Orange Book of 2004.

We lost the debate, but out of that came the Social Liberal Forum (SLF) which initially positioned itself as a group which would try to take back the party from a leadership which was unrepresentative of the broad membership (SLF has acted more as a critical friend of the coalition since 2010, having supported its formation, although there are signs of change.).  I was, in its early days, the chair of the SLF Executive, but gave that up due to being elected a Vice-Chair of the party’s Federal Policy Committee (FPC), which was both time-consuming and possibly a conflict of interest.

Jump forward to 2010 and the SLF had been successful at getting people elected to key party committees, and in having an impact on policy.  In particular, behind the scenes we had decisively defeated a leadership attempt to drop our policy on scrapping tuition fees.  So the pledge to scrap fees went into the manifesto, and we thought we had helped the leadership speak for it by not going public about how they had not supported it.  I suppose we should have been fully aware that it would be dropped by leaders who did not support it as soon as they got a chance in coalition negotiations, but hindsight is easy and we trusted them.

One issue not at stake in internal negotiations on the manifesto was economic policy.  I was part of the FPC sub-group which drafted the document and there was never any debate about an alternative course.  Indeed, my most vivid memory of discussions with people like Vince Cable and Danny Alexander is that they thought it helpful to be saying similar things to Labour on the scale and timing of cuts (even if we were clearer than Labour on what the cuts could be).  That meant we were critical of the Conservatives on their economic plans saying that they were too harsh, would damage the UK economy, and would hinder not help recovery. 

Standing as a parliamentary candidate in 2010 for the second time in Hemel Hempstead (moving from a poor third to second place) the economy was the issue which came up most consistently during the campaign.  Having been involved closely in drafting the manifesto, I had every confidence that the leadership meant what it said about the economy and that we would have no truck with Conservative plans.  How different things were to turn out as Liberal Democrat ministers, supported by the party, did not simply do along with Conservative plans, but adopted a marginally harsher programme.  How many candidates feel, I wonder, that they misled the electorate on this crucial issue?

A centre-left party being led from the centre-right

What now seems to be the case is that the natural tendency in the party leadership to opt for small-state centre-right policies was able to seek its fullest expression in the deal with the Conservatives, with contempt for what the party at said at the election, and based on some tenuous fears about the UK becoming Greece.  But, the party endorsed this approach, wholeheartedly in fact, with massive majorities for the leadership in relevant committees and a special conference.  That’s party democracy, but what does a party member do if they are unhappy about this?  Well, leaving is one option and many have done, thousands in fact.  However, I was surprised at my own sense of tribalism about the party.  I felt, as I know others did, that I had joined the party long before people Nick Clegg and David Laws did (that’s not to do with age – they are both a little older than me), and that I was not prepared to leave it to be dominated by a type of liberalism which I felt to be a minority view within the party (though clearly one that had its place within a broad liberal party).

So, I spoke out publicly, mainly through newspaper articles, many of which were on the Guardian ‘Comment is Free’ pages.  One paragraph in a piece in late June 2010 set out what was to become my line in later writing and in media interviews:

The Liberal Democrat leadership believed in “savage cuts” long before they entered government. Instead of arguing the case for a progressive enabling state, the coalition rests on a shared belief that the state is often the problem. Most of the public will not engage in arguments about the size of the state, but public sector workers (who did not cause the current crisis) will feel its effects. It now falls to Liberal Democrat leaders to persuade the public of the necessity of cuts for which they have no electoral mandate and VAT increases they opposed. Meanwhile, Liberal Democrats may soon realise that a centre-left party is being led from the centre-right.

I got a lot of criticism for expressing those views, but I do believe that party members have a right to speak out when they disagree with their party on fundamental issues.  I then went on to argue that we should think about dialogue with those outside the Liberal Democrats with whom we shared views.  In particular, that meant engaging with Labour in a spirit of dialogue with regard to its policy review.  Out of that came a group called Liberal Left, which seeks to make it clear that the Liberal Democrats are a left-of-centre party and should work for a coalition of that nature.

How much difference have we made?  Those of us who took part in dialogue with Labour incurred the wrath of right-wing members of the party who seem to think that we should only talk to Conservatives, because only that relationship has been sanctioned by a vote at a party conference.  That is a curiously collectivist (one might even say Labourist) attitude which came largely from right-wing bloggers who many of us think just need to get out a bit more.  So we ignored them, and were consoled by the fact that although many had left the party before Liberal Left was formed, others told us that because we had formed and because we were saying what we were saying, they would stay within the Liberal Democrats and join the battle.  Liberal Left has done valuable work in that area and will continue to do so.  For many party members, Linda Jack’s regular comments as chair of Liberal Left are the only thing which persuades them that the party is still a viable centre-left force.

The party compromised

Among far too many members though, I see an attitude which I struggle to understand and which ultimately makes me feel unable to support the party.  Compromise in politics is important.  I want to see coalitions in which both sides make compromises.  That way, a broad range of views can be represented, there can be stable government, and we can learn from opponents.  But what I cannot accept is that so long as one achieves something in government, a few small things, anything, then any compromise is acceptable when it comes to the big issues. That way lies Vichy France. Instead of achieving compromise, one becomes compromised.

What I see far too often is party members being fobbed off by the Conservatives.  In some cases, that is just because some Conservatives are quite polite.  In the early days of the coalition, I would hear party members saying that they came back from a conference attended by Michael Gove and that although he hadn’t agreed with what they had said, he had listened politely.  Yes, of course he did.  That’s what many Conservatives do.  But then he went away and used Liberal Democrat MPs’ votes to launch an assault on many of the values which party members have long held dear.  Just the same has applied to policy on the NHS where Liberal Democrats have been satisfied by minor compromises. 

Then we have the ‘pupil premium’ heralded as a major Liberal Democrat gain in government.  That policy has its origins in a pamphlet I co-wrote with Nick Clegg in 2002.  But what we proposed, and what the party later developed and adopted, was meant to be money for disadvantaged children on top of existing budgets, not a replacement of funding which was being cut from budgets elsewhere.  So yes, it has made a difference, but just in the way that whitewash does, and at what price and what has been given away in return?  The price has been to surrender everything which the party told voters it would do on the central issue of the economy.

That willingness to be fobbed off with being told that they are making a difference, and that they are now playing a part in ‘grown-up’ politics means that the membership is likely to allow the leadership to get away with even more in future.  Nick Clegg’s recent announcement that the next party manifesto would include more rigid prioritisation of policies is in danger of being taken as some kind of admission that previous manifestos were in some way not serious and that the way in which policy is made needs to change.  That is nonsense.  Every recent manifesto has been properly costed, and has stood up to intense scrutiny in the media for being so.  The entire process involves facing up to what might be possible rather than simply desirable.  Blood on the floor has been the result of every internal manifesto discussion in my experience of the manifesto-writing (which covers in different ways 2001, 2005 and 2010).  All the policies included in the 2010 document of which Nick Clegg is now so critical were practical and possible – given the political desire to even try to implement them. 

What did fail last time was communication.  Nick Clegg disappointed on three grounds here.  First, he gave the strong impression that he supported a manifesto policy (scrapping tuition fees) which he was always likely to drop in a coalition negotiation, certainly one with the Conservatives, even though it played a major part in the party’s electoral messages.  Second, he and the party compounded that by signing a pledge to vote against any rise in tuition fees in the next Parliament.  Remember, it was that pledge, not the manifesto policy, which gained the party so much student support, and then it was acting against such a very specific pledge to the electorate which caused so much anger.  Third, all this was made worse by the holier-than-thou ‘broken promises’ party election broadcast which tried to position the party as somehow the only people who would not break promises.  Far from being policy-makers who did not face up to ‘grown-up’ politics, it was the leadership and the communications experts who did not seem able to think through the possible implications of such a broadcast.  Did they really hold the party and its chances in such disregard at that point that they thought it had no chance of being involved in a coalition?

It’s possible that they did.  For many years now I have also felt anger about an element of the elite of the party who treat much of the rank-and-file with contempt.  Simon Titley, of Liberator magazine, recently articulated the problem eloquently in a blog at the end of June 2013.  I first saw this problem during the latter stages of the Ashdown leadership, in the mid-1990s, and I know that many saw it well before that, so it is not new.  But it has perhaps risen to new heights under the current leadership.  As Titley writes:

Clegg … can no longer disguise his contempt for his own party. The problem is more acute with Clegg than his predecessors because he’s never assimilated. He joined the party only in 1997, became an MEP in 1999, an MP in 2005 and leader in 2007 – little wonder he’s never really understood the party’s culture. This problem is evident not only in the repeated slurs against activists but also the crass insensitivity on issues such as secret courts and immigration.

This approach has manifested itself most recently with Clegg’s attacks on those in the party who are criticising him, whom he sets up as ‘hankering for the comfort blanket of national opposition’.  As both Jonathan Calder and Gareth Epps have pointed out in their blogs (though I am sure that both will disagree with a lot else I have to say here), this is a curious criticism to make given that many critics of the leadership are those who have held power for many years in local councils but have now lost it because of the coalition.  Indeed, many are more experienced in power than the party’s MPs.  Nevertheless, it has become easier for the leadership to blame activists and the policy process for parts of the mess that the party is currently in, when in reality, those who supposedly understand the big picture of politics at a national level, who are supposedly skilled at dealing with the media, need to look at themselves.

The future

So, communication and prioritisation certainly does need to be examined as part of the manifesto process, in order that the public does understand that there are certain policies on which the party will never compromise.  However, for the leadership to try to blame their communication failings on the policy process is utterly wrong.  It will result in the current leadership foisting on the party a very timid set of goals, promising small and delivering small, which are shaped more by a judgement of what other parties will allow rather than what the Liberal Democrats know to be right.

Such constant fudging will do nothing to lift the party from the electoral doldrums.  It will do nothing to stop hardworking councillors losing their seats in large numbers.  These are the people who built the party from nothing and were in the party when it was on 3% in the polls, long before some of the current leadership ever thought of joining.  Doubtless, some of these ex-councillors will still be out delivering Focus leaflets long after ex-ministers who have lost their seats are doing the cushy boardroom or international jobs which will inevitably come their way.

Some might say that such ex-councillors are the true heart of the party, and that they should be supported.  There is much in that, but one wonders why they haven’t done more to speak out on issues which directly affect local democracy, such as the centralising and dogmatic policy of council tax capping at below inflation.  Meanwhile, for myself, I have become distant from the party and its councillors/ex-councillors since 2010.  I told my local party in July 2010 that I would not seek re-selection as their parliamentary candidate, partly because I could not defend the coalition as they would need me to do, but also for personal reasons – it’s hard to be the parent I want to be and be out campaigning many evenings and much of the weekend all year round as required for a candidate in second place.  I’ve been to the occasional conference in connection with Liberal Left, but otherwise done very little, and the sense of distance created means that I have looked at the party from outside.  I have begun in my darkest moments to see it in ways which once horrified me when I met voters who said things such as ‘politicians are all the same once they get elected’.

I still believe that most politicians go into politics for the best of reasons, and that many have made a difference.  But I cannot support the endless concessions on major issues, in return for trifling returns, which so many in the party seem to be able to do.  Indeed, such an approach seems to have become the culture of the party.  Putting such compromises into perspective, if we all went that way, and accepted that very little can be achieved because of the constraints on parties (even when in a single-party government) then the Labour government of 1997-2010 doesn’t actually look that bad compared to the current government.  That should give Liberal Democrats pause for thought given that they argued that it did so much that was clearly either wrong or timid.

Alternatives

What’s the alternative to membership of the Liberal Democrats?  Doesn’t it feel like I am giving up?  No, to the second question.  Bad things happen when good people do nothing.  But for me, what feels like ‘doing nothing’ is staying in the party and accepting the unacceptable.  There are plenty of ways to make a difference in the world without being in a political party.  I already do a lot of those in my local area and more widely, though this is not the place to go into them.  Meanwhile, Compass offers an obvious political home – indeed, I’ve been a member for some time already.

In terms of a wider alternative, I am clear that ultimately, only political parties can have a major sustained influence on policy.  They set the budgets and legal frameworks for so much that can only be tackled by an approach which combines and coordinates many different aspects of public policy.  Looking around, I shall vote either Labour or Green at the next election, and I don’t rule out joining another party at some point. 

Labour under Ed Miliband has already changed significantly, though of course it still has some work to do on developing a full programme for government, based on the leader’s new direction rather than occasional instincts to take to the right on some issues.  I will await the results of the policy review with interest, particularly to see how far it offers an alternative to neo-liberal economics.  There is a huge groundswell of opinion against the current failed economic system, and plenty of practical alternatives on offer.  As Paul Addison argued in his classic The Road to 1945 (1975), Attlee was first able to win and then to bring about major change because he seized the enthusiasm there was for ideas which had been developed over the previous two decades.  Those ideas came, yes, from socialists, but also from those outside the Labour Party including Liberals and a new generation of Conservatives whom we now tend to think of under the label ‘One Nation’.  Can Labour do that in 2015? 

The Green Party also has an opportunity in the next few years to show that it can offer a rounded package of policies to tackle the huge problems of sustainability (or a lack of it) in current public policy.  That said, there is a huge question as to whether there is any electoral space for the party in much of the country under the current electoral system. 

Either way, the sad conclusion I have come to is that I have more faith in Labour and the Greens, than I do in the Liberal Democrats to put forward a package of policies which former Liberal Democrat voters can support.  It is very much that – sad – to have reached the conclusions that I have about the Liberal Democrats.  I do feel that if people like me who have been involved in the Liberal Democrats at many different levels for 25 years, have come to such views, as many have already done, then there are some serious problems for the party.  I no longer know where the party’s real heart is and have serious doubts as to how far it could be effective in another coalition, with Labour even, let alone how far it could survive another with the Conservatives.  However, I also feel a personal sense of liberation, at no longer having to feel that I need to have any sense of allegiance to the party, when I feel so utterly appalled by the way it has behaved since 2010. 

Farewell

I know that there are some people in the party who will be glad to see the back of any critic of the current leadership.  By being willing to appear in the media (though I should say I have probably turned down more offers than I have taken up) as a Liberal Democrat ‘dissident’ criticising the leadership, I have probably allowed the media to suggest more internal dissent in the party than there has actually been.  All I can say to people who haven’t liked this is: that’s the media and that’s politics – get used to the real world.  But I would then wish them, and the rest of the party, a fond farewell with thanks for all the good times.

Prof. Richard Grayson was the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for his home town of Hemel Hempstead in 2002-10, fighting two general elections and moving into second place.  He worked full-time for the party in 1999-2004 as its national Director of Policy.  In 2008-10 he was a Vice-Chair of the party’s Federal Policy Committee.  He is currently Head of History at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he has worked since 2004, specialising in Ireland and the First World War.

END

[i] The reason I can lapse is because of how I pay my membership. Liberal Democrat local parties are encouraged to persuade as many members as possible to pay by direct debit.  That can help to ensure a steady income flow through the year, and it removes any need for the party to chase those who do not renew their membership.  Non-renewal happens far more often with people who have to send a payment annually because such renewals rely on the member doing something.  Quite often they don’t because they: a) forget; b) are no longer as enthused as they once were and just don’t bother; or c) disagree with the party so much that they decide not to re-commit.  In all these cases, inertia encourages people not to renew, whereas with direct debits, inertia encourages people to remain because even if b) or c) above apply, they have to do something to resign.  For years and years, I paid by direct debit.  However, a year or so after the coalition was formed I decided to cancel my direct debit to Liberal Democrat News, which had just become a mouthpiece for the leadership.  It had never been editorially independent of the party, and one would not expect it to be, but there was at least some debate on its pages prior to 2010.  After that, debate steadily and the pages were filled with nauseating propaganda, often in favour of Conservative policies.  So I wrote to Party HQ and cancelled my direct debit for the newspaper, but they cancelled the wrong one and closed the one for my membership.  I had already paid enough for the year’s membership so my membership was still valid and it was only some months on, when I received a renewal notice through the post that I realised what had happened.  I decided at that point that I would renew by cheque, joking with friends in the party that at least that way I had the option of lapsing my membership.  That is how I got to being able to lapse.

Share this post

Comments

Leave a comment

We take no responsibility for the content of the comments posted on this website, which represent the views of their authors alone.

  1. Posted by Andrew Emmerson

    What a completely self indulgent rant. It’s hard to pick through the cliches and tired rhetoric, to pick out a few key faults.

    However, the ones I do see – include the idea that people opposed the formation of Liberal Left because we should only talk to the conservatives. This is a complete strawman.

    I opposed it, and didn’t welcome it, because it made it clear at the time it was not a place for generation of ideas, it was not there to be helpful and offer constructive advice and help the party (unlike SLF, which although on the opposite wing to the party – I support) It was there to agitate for a coalition of a mythological progressive majority. Labour or bust.

    This was also a silly idea, and as I stated when I blogged, not because I wouldn’t want to do coalition with Labour – it’s that I don’t want coalition with anyone to a specific goal. We should stand firmly in the middle and not favour either party.

    Secondly, you repeat the Titleys rather disenfranchising ageist claim that because Nick has only been a member for 15 years – he can’t possibly know the culture of the party.

    Is this what the lefts idea really is now – length of membership (or for most purposes age) is key to authority and voice? I’ll have to tell that to my colleagues at Liberal Youth and we’ll pack up and go home. As well as the raft of new members post 2010.

    Regards

    Andrew E
    Member 3 years.

    Reply
  2. Posted by Laura Davies

    I’m in the same boat, though I have not cancelled my direct debt as yet yet. But what makes me sad / scared is not only losing faith in the party I’ve supported for 16 years, but finding that there is no political home for someone with my principles in the UK. Neither the Greens nor New Labour have a liberal philosophical underpinning. Even if voting for them would be tempting, I wouldn’t trust either in government to pursue a liberal-left policy agenda. Generally speaking, the idea of establishing a new political party in the UK that would have any hope of becoming anything other than a fringe movement would seem futile. But with people like Richard Grayson, Jo Shaw and others also homeless, IS there potential?

    Reply
  3. Posted by Graeme Cowie

    You’re entitled to your own opinion but you’re not entitled to your own facts.

    The Coalitiob’s austerity programme is virtually the same as the Darling plan in terms of what it has impemented and at what pace and is much shallower than the level of cuts proposed at that election by the Tories.

    Reply
  4. Posted by Nich Starling

    I might be more impressed had you not seen that this was going to happen. Were you vocal in your opposition to the coalition back in 2010 ? This was always going to happen and was always going to go down this route, and suddenly people are surprised.

    Back in 2010 I was furious about the coalition, and whilst thousands of Lib Dems whooped with joy at the thought of implementing Tory policies (and as a teacher, I can tell you that Gove has wrecked much of what was good in education), it was the likes of me and a tiny handful of others to raise concerns and fears about what we were being drawn in to,

    When no-one else was prepared to decry or condemn Clegg, little old me, a District Councillor from Broadland was having to go on Radio 4 and Radio 5 to put across the other side of the argument.

    Where were you ?

    Look me up on the BBC website, see what i was prepared to say in May 2010. Where were you ?

    I stayed in the party for two reasons.

    1) I looked at the other parties, and particularly their personnel locally and decided that I had more in common with Lib Dems still than any other group.

    2) I knew that if I held true to my principles, even if other abandoned theirs, when it came around to to reclaiming the party in its true form, i would be there to help with that, long after Clegg and Alexander have lost their seats.

    Now with just 22 months to go until we reclaim this party, you leave.

    What great timing. Cheers for the help and support.

    Now why don’t you just toddle off in to your self indulgent self pity and examine what your silence on the coalition back in 2010 did to allow the party to get to the state it is in now.

    Reply
  5. Posted by Richard Grayson

    Nich – really surprised you have not been aware of what I said against the coalition from very early stages in 2010. Just look at some of the links in the piece above, not least a long piece by Compass in July 2010 which was also in the New Statesman, and all the many radio and TV pieces since then. I even wrote a critical piece in the Guardian while the coalition talks we still happening. So I am afraid that where Inwas in 2010 was exactly where you think I wasn’t. A very odd claim for you to make, I have to say.

    Reply
  6. Posted by Richard Grayson

    Nich – now at a PC and able to see one piece from you on 15th May 2010. Well done! No doubt that tahre are lots of radio pieces. But I wondered if you had actually read my article above because if you had you’d have seen the consistent opposition to the colaition since May 2010? Indeed, in a piece on 9th May 2010 co-written with Neal Lawson, I said, ‘If the Liberal Democrats enter a formal coalition with the Conservatives or prop up a minority Conservative government then they will lose for a generation and probably forever the right to call themselves a party of progress.’ I then kept up that approach in a very large number of radio and TV pieces over coming years, as well as all the written items I’ve linked to. Where was I in 2010? Actually, I was being critical of a deal with the Tories about a week before you were. I don’t think you should be quite so high and mighty.

    Reply
  7. Posted by Mike Turner

    Laura Davies puts her finger on it. There is no other political home for LibDems to go where they have any chance of being more effective that they would be by staying in the party & continuing to argue & fight for what they believe in. Quitting is not an effective protest – just a cop out. It is easy being in a perpetual state of protest – rather rougher when you have actually got to take a decision. The party leadership has made some schoolboy howlers and not fought hard enough over some unpleasant issues but we have also pushed through measures that are consistent with our principles & are of benefit to those other than the rich & powerful. The Tory rank and file are vastly more upset at our successful constraints on them than we are by our frustration. All we do by quitting is make it easier for those whose policies we really hate to get the chance to implement them.

    Reply
  8. Posted by Lev Eakins

    Dear Richard,

    Thanks for spelling out so clearly, and thoroughly, your reasons for not renewing your membership. Unlike Mr Emmerson, I think would be grossly unfair to characterise what is clearly an unemotive and intellectually robust account of your reasons, as a “rant”.

    Although I occupy a different political space (the Radical Centre, rather than the Centre Left) I am sad to see you leave as you seem to played such a formidable role within the party for so long.

    You’ve eloquently outlined many points of principle which you’ve observed being crossed by leadership, the most vivid example being the breaking of the tuition fees pledge, which will surely resonate with many who are, or were, in the party.

    I hope your account will be read by those you criticise, so that any valid criticisms will be taken on board and worked on, but I also hope that one day we may be able to offer you the environment where you could re-join, as you clearly remain a liberal, and a formidable champion of centre-left policies.

    Whilst I am no great enthusiast of centre left policies, I believe our party should be wide enough, and democratic enough, to effectively translate our party policies into legislation from wherever they have come from. Clearly this did not happen with Tuition Fees, and it is sad to read the accounts of those who did not fight hard enough for what was a costed policy into the coalition agreement.

    I wish you well in the future, but hope that you may return one day.

    Kind regards,

    Lev Eakins
    Brighton – member for 13 years.

    Reply
  9. Posted by Simon McGrath

    If you believe the problems with the Lib Dem started when we decided to prioritise tax cuts for the poor over yet more public spending then you are probably right to decide the Lib Dems are not the party for you.

    Reply
  10. Posted by Bruce Roberts

    Richard, I’m afraid I see your decision as an admission of defeat. All the influential political parties are broad churches, they have to be, and as political animals we choose the best fit. Which party is the best fit is sometimes difficult to ascertain as the positioning of the parties within the political spectrum ebbs and flows. I have always found the Lib Dems the best fit for my views although, with notable exceptions, I quite liked Tony Blair’s Labour. The problem I have with your position is that the Lib Dems still seems to be the best fit for you (judging by your comments) but you don’t like where it currently sits. You are choosing to abandone the battle rather than move the party back to where you want it. This seems obvious from your lack of desire to join Labour, although you say you might vote for them. Labour is in a no-man’s land at the moment torn between the desire of activists to move to the Left and the strategists and leadership who know this would be suicide. Your decision therefore seems to be to opt out of party politics, which I guess we have all considered at some point, but most of us conclude that for all it’s flaws the Lib Dems still offer the best hope for sensible centrist government.

    Reply
  11. Posted by Linda Jack

    I am personally very sad to see Richard leave, but I do understand how hard it is to battle on in a party where the leadership seem to have almost completely abandoned all the values I thought we shared and that are beautifully summed up in the preamble to our constitution. Nich, as Richard has said, it is not fair to say he hasn’t consistently spoken out since the formation of the coalition and on FPC we found ourselves as the only ones of that view. I well remember your much appreciated support for that position. It is a difficult line between staying and fighting for what you believe in and reaching the point of feeling compromised by being part of a party which no longer adheres to what it claims is its reason d’etre.

    Reply
  12. Posted by Richard Grayson

    Linda – thank you!
    Simon – and if you think that a little more money in poor people’s pockets is always better than public spending as a way of tackling the problems they face, discounting entirely the possibility that people can do that together through democracy, then I would have once questioned whether the Lib Dems are the party for you. But that fact that I don’t ask that question now tells you how the party has changed.
    Bruce – yes, fighting from within and all that I understand, but a fundamental aspect of party membership is to be able to go out and persuade people to vote for the party. Since I don’t intend to vote for it myself, how can I honestly do that? It would be utterly wrong for someone in that position to stay as a member. And for all that I am clear that parties are the only way of having a major sustained influence on policy, clearly people make a difference in society in all sorts of different ways.

    Reply
  13. Posted by Chris Burden

    For someone who has written an elegy about the lost spirit of the Liberal Democrats, Richard Grayson shows touching naivety about the Labour Party and, by extension, the Greens (– there are loads of ex-Labour types in the Green Party, with lots of baggage).
    For someone who’s been battling both Labour and the Tories for years, I can say they are, by LibDem standards, nasty and toxic, but in their own distinctive ways.

    Reply
  14. Posted by David Cox

    Sad to see you go Richard, thank you for all you did for the party. Like Laura Davie for me there is no other political home other than the Liberal Democrats. I’ll carry on the fight so that “no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”.

    Reply
  15. Posted by Mark Senior

    Having joined the Liberal Party in 1966 and supported them since the Blackpool North by election in 1962 , the hope through all the following years both bad and good was that we should achieve power and use it to bring Liberal policies into effect . This we are doing despite being much outnumbered by our coalition partners and rather too successfully according to most posters on say Conservativehome .
    The fact that you think after a such a short period of membership should be believing that now Liberal policies can be achieved by a Labour Party simply shows that there is no fool like a young fool and you sir are a fool .

    Reply
  16. Posted by Ed Mander

    A well-written and heart-felt piece. The reasoning chimes with me and is exactly the same reason as I gave when I quit. I consider myself Liberal, and the LibDems are no longer Liberal. If anyone else is considering quitting, you can do worse than have a good look at http://www.liberal.org.uk…….all of the (supposedly) LibDem policies and principles which I believed in in 2010 when I campaigned and voted can be found there. Maybe there’s a political and philosophical home for us after all?

    Reply
  17. Posted by David

    @Ed Mander – the “continuing Liberal Party” is a one man and his dog outfit, and I’m not sure the dog is still around. Some of its tiny membership have very strange ideas – not a problem when diluted in a bigger party.

    Reply
  18. Posted by Simon Norton

    I am in a similar position to Richard except that it was Labour I lapsed from in 2005 when I felt that Blairism was pursuing environmentally disastrous policies. I still voted for them in the general election that year, but in 2010 I switched to the Lib Dems and hoped for a coalition between them and Labour which I felt would be better than either alone.

    At present I believe that the Lib Dem leadership has betrayed the country, and those politicians of their party who have retained their progressive orientation, by, for example, alienating potential tactical voters who support Labour. And Labour has betrayed the country by
    failing to try to offer a better coalition deal for Lib Dems. The Greens are the party closest to my heart, but especially with our electoral system they are an irrelevance in general and local elections.

    PR buffs have rightly said it’s an outrage that a party can dominate government because even though it gets a minority of votes it has a majority of seats. But what we have now is even more outrageous — the Tories are able to dominate our government without getting even a majority of seats because the Lib Dems have overcompromised. I’m sure that they could have got 90% of the manifesto for which I voted if they’d appealed to both main parties even handedly.

    Reply
  19. Posted by Robin Thorpe

    Very late to this discussion; thoughtful piece that I can, to an extent, sympathize with. I was never a member of the Liberal Democrats, as I felt that they didn’t quite represent my views, however up until 2010 I had only ever voted for them. I was hoping for a Lib-Lab coalition, as I thought that would bring out the best of both parties. Since 2010 I shall never vote for them again; but I also feel that I should take a more active interest in order that I can do my bit in facilitating a more ‘progressive’ political approach. Consequently I am now a member of the Co-operative Party. The Co-op party is affiliated, but not part of the Labour Party. I would suggest that anyone who is interested in trying to create a more equal society look into the Co-op Party as a means of both encouraging co-operation and personal responsibility. .

    Reply
  20. Posted by Stephen Struthers

    Thank you very much Richard for articulating far better than I my own views. Like you, I joined the party (or at least its predecessor) a long time ago – probably more than 25 years! – and have canvassed, leafleted, been a parliamentary election agent, an unsuccessful district election candidate and eventually a district councillor for seven years.

    The party is in my bones, but the way in which the leadership turned on its head and simply junked the policies I thought we had fought the election on, particularly the economic policy, was just too much for me. One can stay and fight, but as a foot-soldier nobody is really going to listen, and my erstwhile colleagues seemed far too keen to swallow Osbornomics and the lies about the causes of the financial crisis, to make me feel comfortable.

    My general outlook on life has not changed very much – as far as I am concerned, the party left me, I didnt leave the party.

    One problem for the party, however, if it eventually comes to its senses, is that the many people like myself who form its natural constituency, are simply never going to rejoin after the experience of the last few years .

    Reply