The Secret MP #2 – The Road To Coalition

by The Secret MP on April 30, 2013

The Secret MPYou can call me Keith. Though that’s not my real name.
And I am a Liberal Democrat MP.

Parliament isn’t sitting today, so I thought I’d pen a musing for the lads at Allthatsleft.

People often ask me, ‘how on earth are you an MP?’ Indeed it’s a question that I often ask myself.

Perhaps never more so than on that fateful day on May 11th 2010, when I walked into Local Government House, Smith Square, for the meeting of the Parliamentary Party which was to decide whether we should go into coalition with the Tories or go back to negotiate with Labour.

As it happened, I walked into the meeting with the Captain. ‘Paddy,’ I asked ‘surely we’re not going to form a coalition with the Tories?’ He fixed me his, I could kill you with my bare hands, look and replied, ‘no, of course we’re fucking not.’

An hour or so later, both Paddy and myself, just like almost everyone else at the meeting (Charlie was the exception), thrust our hands skywards in support of the proposition, ‘shall we go into coaltion with the Tories?’
We had been impressed by the promise of ‘a change in the voting system that will change our politics forever.’
We had been won over by the argument that ‘we needed to show the voters that we were a serious party, not a party of protest.’
We were persuaded by the terrible news about the economy, and how, ‘we had to do what was best for the nation.’

I confess, for what it is worth, that even as I thrust my paw skyward, there was a voice in the back of my head that whispered that we were doing the wrong thing and that everything would turn out badly.

I think about that moment more and more these days, and I think about my journey from birth to that moment and my subsequent transformation into disaffected Lib-Dem MP: Weeble.

Well for me it all started in the early 1980s with the lessons of Mr Fullerton-Swaine, a rather strange teacher who taught English at my benign comprehensive in a rather nice part of the country. Mr Fullerton-Swaine was a local councilor, a three-times failed Liberal Parliamentary Candidate and a terrible English Teacher. He also suffered with his health, something that had grown more acute since the remedial class that some sadist had asked him to teach, discovered that a group of children emitting a low hum could induce him into having a fit.

But, in 1983, at the time of the general election, he declared that our English class was going to have a mock-election and that he wanted candidates to represent the three main parties.

Fiona Armitage, a rather austere teenage girl, became the Labour candidate, and Brian Williams, who later spent four years inside for importing cocaine, the Tory – there was, initially, no taker for the role of Liberal/SDP Alliance candidate.

Now at the time, my politics were taken mainly from my father who couldn’t decide if he hated Michael Foot more than Maggie Thatcher – and, as Mr Fullerton-Swaine tried to ignore the humming that had started up from the back of the class – I put my hand up and became the official Liberal SDP Alliance candidate. Oh, how history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.

There was a hustings. I remember it well. Fiona made an impassioned speech about black South Africans and the plight of the homeless; whilst Brian, who was quite funny, wore a Maggie Thatcher T-shirt and made an oration that seemed to mention ‘commies’ and ‘Argies’ quite a lot. By contrast, I made a proposal to renovate the boy’s toilets and expand the hours of the tuck-shop.

I came third. But I got six votes.

As we traipsed out of the class, Mr Fullerton-Swaine, took me aside, commended me on my speech as a good example of ‘old fashioned Liberal pavement politics’, advised me that it was better to say ‘the boy’s bogs are disgraceful’ than, ‘the boy’s bogs are in a state of disgrace,’ and handed me a copy of JS Mill’s On Liberty.

Now, I would be lying if I said that I went home and devoured it. But, I did eventually read it, and yes, I did get it – Mill preached the inherent right of freedom but not without the duty of responsibility towards ones fellow man. That resonated with me. It still does.

Fast forward a few years and I went to University where I became part of the Lib-Dem Youth and Student Movement. Again, there was a touch of fate about it – in Freshers week I visited the Labour Stall, where they had a big banner stating ‘Arm The Workers, Arm The Students.’ I didn’t fancy bearing arms much, so I lingered by the rather lonely Lib-Dem stall and discovered that they were laying on a free coach trip to a conference in Brighton, where, as it happens my girlfriend was studying – with this firmly in mind, I joined up and so started my life as a student activist, a heady mix of conferences and demonstrations; by-elections, leaflets, canvassing and standing for countless committees. I grant you some of the conferences where little more than drunken shag-fests and some of the dark arts employed during by-elections were, on reflection, a tad dodgy – but, I like to think that I did it all with the principles of JS Mill firmly in my mind and heart – freedom, but with responsibility.

Which is why I am not a Tory.

Which is why the voices in my head that caused me to be concerned about a coalition with Messrs Osborne, Cameron and co, have grown louder, because, although the Tories espouse choice and liberty and freedom, they seem to forget about the notion of the common good. It is why, alas, I have become a disaffected Lib-Dem MP and why my party appears to have left me.
Sigh.

We come back for the State Opening of Parliament on the 8th May, I’m not allowed to say what will be in the Queen’s Speech, not that I’ve been told anything, but what I can say, is that the next session of Parliament will be a vitally important one, and, who knows, we may see the Weebles wobble, then angrily roar. Which is metaphor that I’m sure Mr Fullerton Swaine would have had something to say about.

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