Liberal Democrats: 25 years and out…

by Charlie_East_West on September 21, 2013


By guest blogger – Jock of the North
Former Liberal Democrat activist and Parliamentary Candidate.

I am not renewing my membership of the Liberal Democrats next month. Some have commented that this must have been a difficult decision. Despite 25 years of involvement, despite the fun had, despite thousands of hours invested and goodness knows how much money spent, despite the many, many friends made across the country and the continued ineptitude and wrongness of the other parties – I will not renew. It was an easy decision – horrifyingly easy.

My agenda has changed little – the financial cost of serious involvement has long been an issue however if the inclination was there it could be overcome. My ability to spend the time required has not altered. I had never staked my future on being elected, joining when the party was at 3% in the polls – that was not on my agenda. I never tarted myself around for a target seat professing my fake undying interest in the rolling hills or city streets of that constituency. I achieved the heights of my dreams when I stood for the Scottish Parliament.

My involvement in the party was driven by wanting to help make a difference – to make things better for fellow human beings near and far. By the hope that things can improve, an understanding that this could only be via the political process and a willingness to have a go. Individuals will never be a member of a party they completely agree with, the best anyone can do is look to the one they disagree with the least. Over the last 25 years I have agreed more and more with the party I joined in 1988. On a number of issues my view has altered – as my knowledge and experience grew – to be more in line with the party I joined back then. However the Liberal Democrats of 2013 are not the same party I joined.

I know all too well that the world is a different place now. But I understand that the foundations of liberal thought and liberal principals have rightly not shifted from the same ground. The key strength of the centre is that no solutions are off the table all answers to any question can be given, investigated and debated. Politics is unique in that for many it ‘self limits’ the tools available to get things done – centre politics should not be so limited.

My departure from the Liberal Democrats of today was a decision based on the harsh realities of where the party is now.

Leadership – a term I use to make clear who I mean, rather than to in any way to associate them with the normal use and meaning of the word – the leadership has long lost the plot. The inner circle is massively disconnected from what was the party mainstream, and are frankly eons away from its core voters, thus the writing has long been on the electoral wall. For that relationship to be more fractured now than when Blair knew Ashdown was standing down before even Paddy’s senior Parliamentary colleagues did, is one hell of an achievement.

Strategy – If there is an overall strategy, it has long not been readily identifiable. If as Nick Clegg said in his Conference speech its PR tactics in a FPTP environment – there is only one comment that needs to be made. Nick et al should really have noticed that electoral modernisation/reform didn’t happen and they OF ALL PEOPLE should know why. We continue to operate in a 19th century political system and to expect anything more than 20th century politics is both foolish and wildly optimistic. To set out your stall as if in a 21st century political environment redefines the term preposterous.

Tactics – As regards tactics – to achieve a strategy they appear to be seen as a low calorie breath freshener best used before announcing another Conservative plan…Not enough people ‘get it’.

Which leads onto my most concerning point for the future of the Lib Dems and thus a properly functioning democracy in the UK…

The Party – Membership of the party has plummeted, in many places, this is the key to progress; local parties are being wound up. Many cleverer, more talented and more electable people than I have already left the party they have given so much to and often made great personal sacrifices for. They have walked away with heavy hearts knowing what could have been done and achieved was fumbled. That the road away from being anything other than an irrelevant laughing stock will be long and tough. Especially as it’s a route back that the party is nonchalantly sauntering away from rather than dragging itself towards.

What has surprised me so much is the ease with which I decided I could not to continue. It was easy to see that my efforts whether doubled or quadrupled would do nothing to alter the death spiral the party is in. The real concern I have is that the key actors don’t see the virtual destruction of the Liberal Democrats as more important that their career and ego.

Where does the buck stop? Who is to blame for is this position I hear you ask. In any hierarchical system the buck stops near the top and in one where the boss has surrounded himself with his people it lies with the man at the top. The duty of a leader is to be the custodian of a party not its executioner.


Jock joined the Lib Dems in 1988; his membership runs out at the end of the month. He has stood several times for Westminster or Holyrood and in Council elections. He held a range of Liberal Democrat positions in Scotland and through the local party. Like other ATL contributors (Ray North, Bobby West and Charlie East-West) he worked for the party in Westminster. He still bears the scar of a leafleting injury on his left index finger.


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