Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Do I have as much at stake as some other Lib Dems?

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Something has been preying on my mind in the the last few weeks/months and I thought it was about time I shared it.

I will be 36 years old this Friday (no it's not an incipient mid-life crisis!) and I have been pretty much obsessed with politics since I was a teenager. However I only joined the Lib Dems a little over two years ago. I had helped them out a bit before and had also got involved with some electoral reform stuff but I have only been a fully paid up member of the party since June 2008.

I spent many years reading political articles, opinion pieces, memoirs etc. and watching all the TV programmes but always convincing myself that I was better off as an observer/bystander rather than an active participant. As time went on and I got more and more interested in the processes and policies as well as the debates that position became less and less tenable for me and eventually I succumbed to the charms of the Lib Dems. For a number of years it had been becoming more and more clear to me that it was the party that most closely matched my political instincts. I have not been disappointed since I joined. I now know many like minded people and although I don't always agree with everything that every other Lib Dem says, to use the old cliche, I really do feel that there is more that unites us than divides us.

Bully for me you might think. I finally found a political home and I have been making the most of it, blogging furiously for the last couple of years, popping up on the radio (latterly quite frequently) to give my views as well as co-hosting a political podcast where I do the same. I get linked to from across the blogosphere and have also written numerous posts for other blogs too. I have had things I have written on my blog quoted by Lib Dem MPs in the House of Commons, by a Labour government minister on BBC's Question Time and regularly linked to by the mainstream media.

In short I have been getting about a bit and my views on various issues have had a fair bit of coverage.

On 11th May I wrote a blogpost entitled "Lib Dems should take the Tory Deal" in which I suggested that going into coalition with the Conservatives was for various reasons really the only game left in town. This was widely linked to and garnered nearly 10,000 hits on that day making it my most read blogpost ever. It was held up on the BBC News Channel by Rory Cellan-Jones (who was running the channel's digital election coverage) as an example of what the grass-roots of the party were thinking. When I published the post in the morning it still looked possible that the party leadership might do a deal with Labour. By that evening, the coalition had been formed.

I am not for one minute suggesting that my blogpost affected the coalition negotiations. Indeed from what I can tell, by the previous evening the Lib Dem negotiating team had pretty much decided that a deal with Labour would never work.

What I am suggesting though is that my views got very widespread coverage on that day.

Since the election I have been pretty supportive of the coalition. I have not agreed with everything it does but both on this blog and in other media I have generally argued the positive case for what the party is doing in government and why it is doing it. I very much believe that the party had no choice and is doing the right thing.

And this brings me to the crux of this particular blogpost. I have my views and they do (sometimes) get fairly wide coverage. But I have only been a member of the party for two years. There are others blogging who have been members for far, far longer than me. In many cases their service to the cause can be marked in decades rather than years.

We are in an unprecedented political situation at the moment. Nobody knows for sure how things are gong to pan out for the new government and particularly the Lib Dems within it. As members and activists we all have our views but the thing that has been concerning me is whether I have the right to be as outspoken as I have been about my view that the party is doing the right thing.

If this all goes horribly wrong for the party and in a few years time our parliamentary numbers are hugely reduced as the electorate takes revenge for a perceived betrayal, and/or if horror upon horrors the party sinks into oblivion following that I will be devastated. But for me I will only have been involved for a few years. Those who have dedicated the majority of their lives to the cause will surely feel the loss more keenly than I? Those who have knocked on more doors and delivered more leaflets than I will ever be able to surely have a greater stake in this than me?

I should point out that not a single person in the party has ever suggested to me that my views should not count as much as anyone else's in the party. Indeed it would be considered pretty illiberal of anyone to do so I expect! This is just something that has been gnawing away at me deep inside.

I am not really sure how to end this blogpost as I am not sure there is an answer. I certainly intend to carry on the way I have been going and over the years as I have more time in the party under my belt, perhaps this feeling will subside.

Until then I will just have to suppress that inner voice that niggles away telling me that I have no right to be commentating on any of this.

Unless anyone wants to step forward and agree with the voice of course....


NoetiCat said...

If it's any help, our local constituency, apart from being grudgeful that our Lib Dem PPC lost out to our new Tory MP (who stood as Lib Dem in another ward last time!), the sentiment is quite similar to yours.

dazmando said...

I think your going mad Mark. Many people have alot invested in this party but it is not your fault that people read your opinions and this includes peole who have been members for years and years. They still support this risk but they know like I do that one day you have to step up because this moment was going tocome one day. Otherwise we will never move beyond this point and I think most members know this. Good luck to us

marksany said...

Don't sweat it, you are one voice among many (very many)
Say what you like, it's a free(ish) country.

Anonymous said...

Firstly Happy Birthday for Friday...
Secondly, Whereas in some ways I think you are right, part of me (the positive side) says that, with you and your peers holding on to Liberal Democratic views, the identity of the Party will survive and the question you pose will not arise and LD's will go from strength to strength.
p.s I am coming from the view from the sideline you describe as being in for years...

Anonymous said...

Firstly Happy Birthday for Friday...
Secondly, Whereas in some ways I think you are right, part of me (the positive side) says that, with you and your peers holding on to Liberal Democratic views, the identity of the Party will survive and the question you pose will not arise and LD's will go from strength to strength.
p.s I am coming from the view from the sideline you describe as being in for years...

Jennie Rigg said...

Mark, the reason you get picked up so much by the media is that you are doing a very good job of making yourself into the Lib Dem Iain Dale - commenting on news, being a human aggregator for the generality of Lib Dem opinion, and pimping yourself out as much as possible. This is a niche that needs filling, and I'd rather you filled it than any number of other people, because you are a genuinely nice guy. Your style of blogging is not something I could do, so I'm glad you're there to do it, because otherwise someone I find much more annoying might leap to fill that niche.

Those of us who have been around being spiky and offensive for years do not begrudge you your success, nor your right to comment your opinions. But we do reserve the right to shout at you from time to time (especially if you're being inadvertently sexist ;)) and call you Captain Obvious on occasion.

Remember the old adage: whenever three Lib Dems are in a room together, you will find at least five points of view, endless argument, and a falling out over whether Doctor Who is more important than Land Value Tax. We LIKE people with strong opinions who aren't afraid to voice them in this party ;)

JohnM said...

mid (parliamentary) life blogging crisis :-)

You won't get arrested for offering an opinion in this party - you'll be appreciated always!

paul barker said...

I have been involved in politics, on & off for more than 40 years, mostly on the wrong side. One of the good things about making so many mistakes is that I can feel very sure that what we are doing now is right.
A lot of us are nervous but I am certain that our present course will make our Party stronger in the long run. Keep calm & carry on ? It worked against The Nazis.

Anonymous said...

I think the answer to your worry is that there is no party line. I'm tempted to add "in this day and age," but I'm not sure I need to. Mine is an American perspective, so I could be wrong, but the parties trade and borrow each others' ideas and "values" at regular intervals. In the US, and probably in the UK, there are party wings, which proves, to me, that party alliance is generally compromise (or projection).

So, your fear looks like a fear of offending (or harming) tribal leaders--which isn't necessarily wrong (they are your friends and political allies). But I think you would disparage party tribalism in others, so you should be assuaged on those grounds.

Bernard Salmon said...

Although I'm just a few years older than you, Mark, I've been a Lib Dem member since the party was formed in 1988, so I have some experience of the ups and downs the party's been through. For me, what counts is not how long people have been involved but whether they are truly committed to the values the party stands for. Having read your blog consistently over the last couple of years, I can say that you're certainly as committed to those values as I am. So don't let that feeling gnaw at you - after all, it's something you're continuing to address every day you're a member of the party.

Jason said...

There are many people who have similar feelings to what Mark has expressed, I truly feel that we're feeling the strain under a fragmented and disengaged democracy. Your voice is very welcomed and above all needed I truly feel.

I remember the article you mention Mark. At the time, the Lib Dems were in an impossible position. The general public had promised so much this election, and then tactical voting came into play, the election became about "who you DIDN'T want in" as opposed to who we wished to see elected. It got crazy quickly.

Once the votes were in and the lib dems were left with a choice, there was one real option if the promise and ideals were to be upheld of "national interest". One side offered little apart from a party interest voting reform, the other side laid out real options. There was only one way really. It was always going to be unpopular, but it shows something of the bigger picture that the LIb Dems went that way. It was inevitable that party politics were to come into play, and this is why I feel we are left reeling from a democracy that is unrequited. Many say that Lib Dems are naive, I feel they are believers in what SHOULD be, not of what could be. We now except, to a certain extent, that we have to put up with a certain level of media sway, lobbying, and party interests. I guess I'm a dreamer to think that it doesn't have to be that way, and it's still a democratic duty to push for the "usual channels" and the old institution to go by the way side and a genuine new politics to begin.

The UK, in pretty much every sense, has become antiquated, and you can see that starting at the very top. Is it really right in this day and age to have a parliament that has two sides of battle lines? Two benches that oppose each other? This will sound like anarchy but the house of commons needs to be addressed I feel; should a open forum not be a necessity in in 2010?

Anyway, happy birthday and keep up the very fine work.

Unknown said...


Firstly Happy Birthday - that's 3 Lib Dem bloggers with birthdays this week, you, me and Mark Pack. Although you are the youngest........

The great thing about this party is that you can throw yourself into it using the skills you're best at. You are fantastic at writing and you come across so well in the media that you are a real asset to us, whatever might happen in the future.

I've been involved in this party (and its predecessor SDP) since 1983. I've seen the Alliance get a quarter of the vote in that election and, 7 years later, I've seen us in the margin of error of zero in the opinion polls. From there we've risen steadily over the last 20 or so years.

This coalition is a huge risk, but one we had no choice but to take. Yes,

Unknown said...

Sorry - published half a comment there....

Yes, there are probably going to be some electoral/polling wobbles along the way, but we do need to keep calm and carry on.

We don't count our relevance or right to comment in this party by length of service. You are a great representative of the party on the blog and in the media, which we really need at the moment. Sure, I'll disagree with you at times, but please don't doubt either your right to do this or your ability.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,

In my experience most veteran LD's have been very quiet since election day. My family have been Liberal campaigners for nearly half a century now, slowly we've all come to the view that Nick sold us out.

The coalition exposed the differences within the party in high contrast. I've always thought that getting along with Orange Bookers was a virtue, and there was strength in our unity - now I see that it was foolish to ever think that we could get along together, we're just too different.

Right-wing libertarians and social liberals are very different people; in recent years I've been shocked by the number of LD's proposing tax cuts, smaller state, freedom to do anything, etc. Now, to me, those people have risen to power and we have a government that typifies the views of people like Charlotte Gore. I think by the end of this we'll have less of pretty much everything apart from crime, social fragmentation and the poverty gap.

Nobody should worry about expressing their opinions, but there are lots of people in the party I respect because they know when to keep quiet too.

Klio said...

For what it's worth, I find this post extremely inspiring for new members such as myself who really want to get involved properly.

There is always that nagging question whether it is OK to voice one's ideas and opinions when there are people who have been knocking on doors through good times and bad times for so long!

Thanks for sharing your own doubts.