I have decided to leave the Lib Dems.
This is something that has probably been creeping up for a while. There have been a number of things that the party has done in government that I have not been happy with, although it is not really any one of those things that has triggered this.
I should probably start by saying what this is not. It is not a flounce off where I have a massive go at the party. It has been and will continue to be extraordinarily difficult being in government for a minor party and this would be equally true if the coalition was with Labour. The Lib Dems get a huge amount of blame. Their poll ratings have dropped by two thirds. Much of the criticism they endure is of the tenor of “HOW COULD THEY DO THIS IT IS A BETRAYAL?!” which usually fails to even recognise that coalition is always a compromise. I very rarely however hear any criticism that focuses on how the person attacking them thinks they have made the wrong compromises, it is almost always the fact they have made any compromises at all. Such attacks seem to want things to go back to the “good old days” of Red vs Blue with the Yellows on the side lines being ignored and/or laughed at. I do not envy the task that the party has faced and I am far from sure I could have done any better were I in Clegg’s (or any other minister’s) shoes. Indeed I expect I would have done worse. There are political traps everywhere laid by those who want binary politics back.
And actually the above paragraph is really where my disillusionment has come from. Of course I wasn’t happy with secret courts, in fact I was furious. The removal of the spare room subsidy is just mean spirited and ultimately self-defeating. Tuition fees were an absolute mess. Cutting the 50p rate may have been economically sensible but was politically idiotic. I could probably come up with dozens more things that I have not supported. But it is not really any of these, as I said government is tough and there is plenty from the Lib Dem manifesto that has ended up in government.
The impetus for me to leave is really because politics is broken. The Westminster Village is obsessed with who managed to shout the best for 5 minutes and get their friends to jeer and point at the other side just after midday on a Wednesday. They genuinely seem to think it matters. I very rarely even bother watching PMQs any more. They insist on speaking in sound bites and clichés and point-blank refuse to answer questions thinking that their “clever” evasions can’t be seen for precisely what they are. The tribal nature of much of what goes on drives me nuts. Labour have been the worst for this in recent years castigating the current government for doing things that they would almost certainly have done themselves and in a number of cases were actively planning to. But none of the main parties are free from this sort of thing. It reduces politics to a bunch of silly games where tiny nuances are picked up on and there are a million hidden rules that only highly experienced practitioners of the “art” of politics are aware of. That’s one of the reason so many of them are now former SpAds. It is only by immersing yourself in this culture for decades that you can learn these rules. People who may have spent most of their lives doing something else much more worthwhile aren’t aware of them and thus struggle to become part of the inner circles of real power being seen as ingénues who have little to offer. Sarah Woolaston, a woman who spent most of her life as a doctor is an excellent example of this.
None of this is specifically the fault of the Lib Dems. But they are complicit in it. They have 57 MPs. They are part of the government. They have tried to change some of this but on the constitutional and political reform front they have utterly failed. Again I am not blaming them particularly. The forces of conservatism in Labour and the Tories closed ranks to ensure AV (what would have been a very minor, positive change) was a failure and they killed Lords reform too. Those who sneer that the Lib Dems are to blame themselves for all of this fail to recognise just how far the status quo will go to preserve itself.
I joined the Lib Dems over 5 years ago in the hope that I could be part of something that would advance electoral reform, move the government’s drugs policy in a positive direction and improve civil liberties. On the first two we are further away than we were when I joined*. The third one has been a case of two steps forward in some areas (e.g. ID cards) but two steps back in others (e.g. secret courts).
I have become convinced that real change needs to come from outside of the three main parties now. I’m not calling for a Brand-esque revolution or telling people they shouldn’t vote. That was totally irresponsible. I will certainly be voting at the next election and I may well vote for the Lib Dems. I have been interested in some of what the Green Party has to say although some of their more statist policies turn me off. I am also interested in the nascent Pirate Party philosophy. But the truth is I have had enough of being a member of a party for now. I only joined at the age of 34 having spent the previous two decades as a highly politically engaged lone wolf. Perhaps that is my natural state.
I think that love them or loathe them groups like 38 Degrees and the TPA have shown how much outside groups can influence things. The power of political parties is waning. The financial crisis has shown the limits of business as usual and yet nothing his really changed yet. We have a political system that was designed hundreds of years ago and it is utterly unfit for the world we now live in. But I see and hear very few people agitating for the sort of fundamental change we need. And I include myself in that criticism. I have on occasion bemoaned one or other aspect of it but being a member of one of the main parties, attending the conferences, speaking on the media as a member, posting leaflets, canvassing for them and generally doing all that a good party member should has made it difficult for me to say what I really think and has ultimately become untenable for me.
When the Occupy movement started a couple of years ago I was absolutely disgusted at the response of most people involved in politics at all levels. Although the movement was somewhat incoherent it was raising incredibly important questions. But all I seemed to hear was how they were disturbing people’s peace and USING IPHONES THE HYPOCRITCAL IDIOTS!!!!!11111 Occupy didn’t have all the answers but they were an example of just how disillusioned people have become.
I don’t know how politics will look in 30 or 50 years time but I feel sure that with technological change and the mistrust that we now see in almost all of our institutions it will ultimately be radically different. I desperately want to see a more responsive, representative, evidence based and tolerant politics. I have just reluctantly come to the conclusion that remaining a member of one of the main parties will not help us get there.
I will miss attending the conferences and being part of a strong movement with very deep roots. I have made some good friends in the party and I hope to keep in touch with them all. I expect some will be disappointed that I have not chosen to continue to fight the good fight from inside but I hope they will understand my reasons.
I intend to keep blogging on here, writing in other places (if they’ll still have me) and podcasting. I also intend to keep popping up on the media as and when I can although I expect I’ll be less of a draw now I’m not in one of the main camps.
But most of all I fully intend to try and help nudge us towards the better sort of politics that I fervently believe we as a country deserve.
*This is not to denigrate the excellent work done by Ewan Hoyle and others within Lib Dems for Drug Policy Reform. The party's policy on drugs is very good, it's just that almost none of it has ended up in a change to government policy.
Friday, 15 November 2013
I have decided to leave the Lib Dems.