Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday 15 November 2013

Why I am leaving the Lib Dems - AKA This is not a Flounce

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.


David Boyle said...

Mark, that was a very thoughtful and telling blogpost. I'm very sorry you're leaving but glad you;re going to carry on blogging.

Jax Blunt said...

Excellent post, and really good to hear someone talking about the fundamental issues in politics, not just government. At the moment we've a political class utterly remote from the majority of the country they pretend to represent, and until we get some drastic changes (hopefully technologically based) I can't see any improvements on the horizon.

Unknown said...

You can afford to distance yourself from the main political parties. Most people don't have that privilege.
Many people are losing not just short term help but also longer term in the case of education.
Stop being so self-centred.

Anonymous said...

I find the ethics scandals one of the more dispiriting aspects of modern politics. None of the political parties have reacted well or with high integrity in regards to the bad behaviour of some of their senior representatives.

Whether pertaining to vote rigging, sexual harassment, expenses, abuse of children, or even doing anything when cover-ups are exposed - the attitude is one of smug contempt and 'what can we get away with' not a desire to do the right thing.

Anonymous said...

Statist Policies? Check again!

Eddie Sammon said...

I must say I agree with your complaints of the cynical attitude of Westminster. The idea that they can just manipulate figures and mislead people over the reasons for war and people won't notice is ridiculous and why I am currently not voting Lib Dem.

What we are doing is not a flounce, it is a message to say that the status quo is not acceptable.

Simon Fawthrop said...

Having followed your blog almost from the start and House of Comments for most of its life, missing the resurrection for a while, I can't say I'm surprised.

You've always been honest that two of your man motivators were drugs policy and voting reform and the LibDems were closest to your views on these issues. On both of them you were always on a loser in the grand scheme of things.

That's not to say you don't have other liberal tendencies; you do as your stand on Secret Courts showed and as Emma has often prodded, that always looked like the last straw, you just needed to see it.

I've have a lot of sympathy for Nick Clegg. Ever since the Liberals became the respectable wing of the Labour Party and changed their name to LibDems he was never going to make a coalition with the Tories work. But as you said in recent podcast, he isn't a natural liberal, and that's where he got himself in to a lot of trouble with his party base from what I could see.

"I desperately want to see a more responsive, representative, evidence based and tolerant politics"

That is the biggest problem in modern politics, especially when it comes to economic policy. None of them want to study what the evidence shows us, especially the trade offs that are always embedded in any policy. Tories on immigration are a classic example, but Labour are equally bad when it comes to things like Ed's price freeze policy, but I digress.

Having been involved with a nascent political party, and still carrying the scars nearly three years later, you are right to want to stay clear. I haven't been a member of a large party, but from what I've seen from the outside the backstabbing and fractious splitting into cabals in small serious parties, as opposed to single issue groups, is far worse.

John Moss said...

The problem with politics is that politicians have too much power. Most people I speak to agree with that, then, whenever there is a problem, they cry, "The Government should do something about it!"

Then, when the Government does and it is crap, they moan further.

We really do need a "liberal" revolution in the UK. One which strips much of what has become "Government" (ie, ANOther taxpayer) responsibility and restores it to personal, individual responsibility. That has to start with lower taxes, radical liberalisation of welfare with insurance being the norm, rather than entitlement and the ending of the ridiculous idea that somebody else will pay for your home, pension, food etc etc.

Anonymous said...

"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 understand this point of view but for me what is very clear is that the Lib Dems made the wrong choices with their 'brownie points' from being in coalition. Instead of going for electoral reform and using up the brownie points on this (and being stitched up by the Tories anyway) they should have focussed on things that really matter- they could have blocked the 'no top down organisation of the NHS", same with free schools. Also they needed to be defending the very poor on things like bedroom tax. These issues are not just unfair but they are costly and waste vast amounts of time on resources on an ideological change.
I knew they would not have much say on general economic policies and rightly so and I knew there were going to be big limits on implementing LD policy but within their framework I feel they have let down the poorest in society who needed that protection.

Mark Wadsworth said...

You're welcome to join Young People's party YPP.

Unknown said...

We'll miss you, Mark. We've been lucky to have your insight over the last few years, particularly on drugs and electoral reform. I hope you'll feel able to come back to us one day.

clive trussell said...

I read some of the post- but I have better things to do than listen to all the moans and groans from the "isn't it all a mess"; I don't like what's happening"; "Don't vote" cop-outs.
Why don't you join the people that are trying to do something about IT!!

Featheronawire Sally Bramald said...

There was only one reason the Libdems got all those seats and that was the university fees. If they had stuck to just that one thing and caved in on the rest they might, just might have had some respect. But they targeted all the major university towns, went after the new voters and betrayed them. Most of those will never be involved again.

I am saddened by this most of all, a generation turned off from politics.

The manipulation of the population by the press and politicians to put the blame to those on benefits or immigrants disgusts me. Why are is there no cry for the bankers and super rich to pay for their sins?
I too am turned off by it all.

Chris Smith said...

Hi Mark,
Excellent post. I am full of sympathy. I have been in the party longer than you but at every turn it gets more difficult. Written this today on my blog and the fact that my reader stats are off the scale (for my blog) after a few hours shows how important a topic this is:

. said...

Only just read this, very well written. Political sniping aside, the last few years can't have been easy for yourself and no doubt other Lib Dem members. I take some comfort in the fact you're spurning party politics but not politics, change and the process itself.