I am an unapologetic liberal. A liberal whose hair and soul are so orange, I sleep with The Orange Book at my bedside. But I no longer consider myself a Liberal Democrat.
The party of Clegg, Laws, and Alexander is no more. Ripped apart by our coalition partners in 2015, my beloved party’s fantastic work in reducing the deficit whilst watering down the Tories’ evil was a triumph for a nation that ‘doesn’t do coalitions’. Yet today I see nothing of this resolve. Whimsically held together by the evangelical illiberal Liberal Tim Farron, we whimpered across the finish line in 2017, praying to Tim’s God that gay sex was never mentioned whilst self-indulgently preaching about an ‘exit from Brexit’. We gained four seats. I suppose at least we should be grateful that we can now hire a minibus without it looking like an act of self-denial.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of our 2017 whimper was Layla Moran’s victory in Oxford West & Abingdon, with a 14.8 per cent swing to the Liberal Democrats. Yet this was a rare light of orange sunshine in an otherwise gloomy party. We appointed an uninspiring pensioner as our leader, with no one else willing to face the electoral and party-political headache involved with the Liberal Democrat leadership. Our former bedrock of support once came from students, who now sycophantically summon their inner Corbynistas at any point of asking: Cleggmania is a distant memory.
We seem to have appointed a Nokia as our leader when we needed the latest iPhone.
I am not writing this to muse over the coalition. I will forever defend my former party’s decision to go into government: it is what political parties exist for. Yet, today, our decrepit leader’s ties seem to attract more attention than anything else in the party. Vince Cable has been a brilliant statesman for the Liberal Democrats. He was an excellent business secretary and is widely recognised for foreseeing the housing bubble that contributed to the financial crash. But he is not a leader. Of course, the media may focus on him when he denounces ‘white nostalgia’, further marginalising leave voters, but his attempts at gathering support are no better than if a dying fish was in his place. Personal is not normally an issue within a party, but we seem to have appointed a Nokia as our leader when we needed the latest iPhone. Norman Lamb, Layla Moran, and Joe Swinson are all excellent future choices.
Yet the personal is not my main issue for my beloved party. My main issue is our illogical, self-indulgent venture for an “exit from Brexit”. I was told to by Tom Brake MP to use this slogan instead of “second referendum”, as if this supposedly catchy phrase will make all the difference, changing everyone’s mind on the matter. In truth, this is perhaps the single biggest piece of electoral castration Britain has witnessed.
If you hadn’t noticed, British politics became polarised after 2015. Labour has been drifting further to the left by the day, and the Conservatives are now the human face of UKIP. There has never been a greater need for a Liberal Centrist party: one that believes in Liberal Social policy whilst combining it with fiscal responsibility and an understanding of the devastation caused by austerity. Yet the Liberal Democrats’ molding of themselves as the party to stop Brexit is lunacy.
As we saw during 2011’s ill-fated AV referendum campaign, even with 56 MPs the Liberal Democrats did not have the political legs to carry public opinion. Therefore, it genuinely baffles me that this supposedly ‘recovering’ political party sees itself as the salvation of the nation. One could call it honourable, attempting to prevent something that they genuinely think will make this nation worse. Indeed, Nick Clegg wrote an excellent book entitled How to stop Brexit: and make Britain great again, but writing books is where it should have stopped. For a political party that prides itself on its pragmatism, the campaign for an exit from Brexit is remarkable naïvety. No longer are we the party of education, public sector employees, climate change and social mobility. We are the party of the minority which actively wants to prevent Brexit through a second referendum. Making this central to our ‘comeback’ when 26 out of the 57 Liberal Democrat seats of 2010 voted to leave is utterly idiotic. Even more so when we consider that the South West, our former heartland which once had 15 Liberal Democrat MPs, backed leave by 53 per cent. To make matters worse, the Labour party was the second largest party in 32 out of 55 seats in this region. If this isn’t a sign that our policy on Brexit is alienating many of our former voters, I don’t know what is.
Making Brexit our key issue when the political centre is in dire need of a voice is not only stupid, it’s dangerous.
Making Brexit our key issue when the political centre is in dire need of a voice is not only stupid, it’s dangerous. There is no voice tethering the Labour or Conservative parties to their senses because they have nothing to fear from their right or left in many seats. Could you honestly imagine, in seats like Yeovil, a nationalist conservative party ever winning against a Liberal Democrat party which accepts the result of the referendum? There are former voters of ours screaming for us to come to our senses, to become a force again. None more so, I might add, than Labour moderates, hoping we may help them dislodge their leader. A lack of a political centre creates a vacuum within our political sphere, allowing the Conservatives and Labour to have ill-thought through and economically dangerous manifestos like we saw in 2017. Yet worse still, it creates a lack of coherent liberal voices: whilst the conservatives peddle rivers of blood style social policy, the Labour party has become riddled with anti-Semitism — both issues unheard of in Britain since the 1960s. The complacently of our two main political parties is a direct consequence of incoherent liberal centrism.
Yet since the day after the referendum, the Liberal Democrats have spoken of Brexit and Brexit only. Of course, it is the issue of our generation, but in a political climate where voters pray for a centrist alternative to our cumbersome two main parties, it is a disgrace to the party of Ashdown, Kennedy, and Clegg that we have not provided it. We were the nice party, the friendly party, the party of intellectualism and acute political judgment over the Iraq war. We are now, and seemingly forever will be, the party of tuition fees, of lies, and of ignoring democracy.
I am letting my Liberal Democrat membership lapse because I can’t defend the party I love anymore. I can’t stare people in the face and tell them the Liberal Democrats represent moderate pragmatic Liberalism, when they actually represent ideological, irrational zelotism, under a deeply questionable democratic veil when there is such dire need for a centralist alternative. Through failing to convey our values and our beliefs on anything other than Brexit we’re not only failing ourselves, but we’re failing Britain, something I cannot tolerate any longer.