When I started this blog in 2014, it was because I was feeling apathetic about UK politics but didn’t want to disengage from it completely. Writing about politics was my way of ensuring I would continue to pay attention to news and current affairs, so that I’d at least go out to the polling station on an election day of uninspiring choices.
In May 2015, the party manifesto and national agenda that appealed to me most was that of the Liberal Democrats, but the local candidate who appealed to me most was from the Greens and my constituency was in a Labour-Conservative marginal. With one vote, it was impossible for me to express who I wanted to be Prime Minister, who I wanted to be my local MP and which party’s manifesto I would like to see become law.
Process of elimination time. The Conservatives were the first to be ruled out. Their manifesto had a lot of policies I found misguided at best and dangerous at worst; particularly with regards to reducing help for and increasing demands on under-25s, the anti-immigration tack to the right to head off UKIP, and ending investment in renewable energy. Labour were next. Although Ed Miliband actually came across well in person, Labour also hopped on the anti-immigration bandwagon and their local candidate had all the charm of the worst kind of estate agent. The Liberal Democrats were only able to stand a paper candidate in my constituency, whereas I warmed to the Green parliamentary candidate at local hustings. Decision made.
Then the results came in, and I watched as a lot of very decent and hard-working politicians lost their seats. The Liberal Democrats were severely punished, losing their deposits in constituencies such as mine where they polled at under 5%, adding financial insult to significant political injury. As Nick Clegg gave his dignified resignation speech, I reflected on the things the Lib Dems had pushed forward during the coalition government (including the equal marriage bill introduced by Lynne Featherstone) and the things they would soon be fighting for (including making the positive case for EU membership) and thought: this party does not deserve to die.
I joined the Liberal Democrats a few days after the general election and about ten days before the death of Charles Kennedy. That was a real shock. His family have suffered the greatest loss, but Charles is undoubtedly sorely missed in the world of politics. I had expected him to come back fighting again in 2016, besting his way through panel shows and taking a leading role in promoting Europeanism. It still hasn’t quite sunk in that he won’t be there for any of it.
Although I’d already signed up as a member, it was Kennedy’s death that really drove me to get actively involved in the party. I attended a leadership hustings held in London and watched as Tim Farron and Norman Lamb set out their intentions. Farron had voted against the rise in tuition fees in 2010 and in person he came across as a dynamic campaigner who had (in my opinion) learned the right lessons from the party’s electoral drubbing. I voted for Farron and was pleased to see him elected as leader, but even more significant was the mature and positive nature in which the debates were conducted and votes cast. It stood in contrast to Labour’s infighting, with the parliamentary party at odds with the wider membership, and UKIP’s amateurism, with Nigel Farage’s bizarre un-resignation. At a local level, I have so far found the Lib Dems to be an intellectual and (as the name implies) liberal party. Its members are intelligent and friendly, they think through their decisions carefully and generate (largely!) healthy and interesting debate. Both the local and national party have just emerged from near-death experiences, yet the mood is determined and optimistic.
So looking back over the past year, I have moved from long-standing disillusionment and apathy to identifying with political liberalism in general and the Liberal Democrats in particular. As this is my first time being a member of any political party, I have nothing to directly compare it with, but find it refreshing that debate is actively encouraged and there is no requirement to think along pre-defined party lines. It feels like home, but my aim is to continue this blog in 2016 with as much objectivity as possible. It would be a mistake to replace apathy with complacency, and so the plan is for scrutiny to continue and hopefully my two political spheres of blogging and Lib Dem activism will not clash too frequently.
Please feel free to use the comments section to challenge any of the above, give your two cents’ worth and/or reflect on how your political involvement has changed throughout the year. And a very happy 2016 to you all!