lizw: photo of Zoe and Malc from Firefly (comrades)
[personal profile] lizw
I have just resigned from the Lib Dems. The initial trigger for this is as described in this post: the Welfare Reform Act has crossed one of my red lines, and I need to hold myself to the same standards I previously advocated to people considering voting Labour. But I want to explain my thinking in a bit more detail.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time wrestling with the question of whether I could still do more good by opposing the party’s current direction from the inside than I could do outside. There were certainly some indications coming out of Spring Conference and its aftermath that perhaps I could: conference reps’ willingness to vote against the leadership line on the NHS; the encouragement that seems to have given to the MPs who rebelled on the Health and Social Care Bill on Tuesday; and the fact that George Potter’s attempt to get the report of the House of Commons Parliamentary Party rejected over the WRA seems to have failed at least in part because the report was submitted before the crucial vote, leaving open at least some possibility of doing something about it at Autumn Conference. I also hesitated because I’ve been proud to be a member of LGBT+ Lib Dems, which needs to increase its membership to 250 by Autumn Conference to keep its SAO status. (If you’re a Lib Dem and in sympathy with the LGBT+ Lib Dem campaigns, you can sign up here.)

But in the end, I’ve reluctantly concluded that I can’t be effective in the Lib Dems, at least at the moment. A number of things have contributed to that decision. On Friday, I found myself seriously considering ways of bringing a legal challenge against the way in which the WRA was passed – not a step I should have to contemplate against a Government that includes my own party, and a pretty clear sign that I don’t belong there any more. I have less time, energy and money to devote to this fight than it would take. The dissent I’ve seen on benefits has been on a relatively small scale, and my guess is that there won’t actually be a huge appetite for changing course by the time Autumn Conference comes round. I’ve become alienated from the leadership by the language Nick has been using about people who disagree with him, and by the tactics that were used to try to stage manage the NHS issue at this Conference - which seem to have resulted in utter confusion even amongst activists who were there about what Conference now wants our MPs to do. I have always been on the extreme left of the party, but the bitter internal divisions and name-calling that have surfaced in the wake of the NHS debate have for the first time made that a painful place to be; I no longer feel that our passionate belief in civil liberties is enough to unite us.

And the real clincher for me, in the end, was this: I voted for the Coalition Agreement at Special Conference in part because it promised there would be protection from the cuts for people on low incomes. If it had said that we were going to change ESA in the ways the Welfare Reform Act is doing, I would not have voted for it. It also promised no top-down reorganisation of the NHS, and what is happening now seems to be the very definition of top-down. I have no confidence that the rest of the Agreement will be adhered to, either; I find myself wondering what bit of it will go next, and I feel betrayed. Like James Graham, I have essentially lost my faith, even if in my case there were rather more specific policy triggers than there were for James.

I also share James’s concerns about the wider political culture in this country, so part of the time I spent considering my decision over the past few weeks was devoted to looking into ways of campaigning for the kind of society I want outside the party system. Unlike James, though, I have concluded that I do at this stage still feel an obligation to engage through party politics. It follows from the logic that led me to join the Lib Dems in the first place. People come into politics for different reasons, and I did it to help keep the authoritarian right wing (in which I include New Labour) out of power. The more disaffected and alienated from the Westminster bubble people become, the greater the risk that they will vote in numbers for authoritarians who claim to have their interests at heart. Many people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 as a protest against social exclusion are not going to vote for them again in 2015, because the Lib Dems are going to look like part of the Establishment that excludes them. I knew it was inevitable when we voted to go into Coalition that we would lose a lot of votes on that basis (although there will now be more than I feared because we've handled benefits and the NHS reforms so badly); but I thought it was still the right choice, because to choose to remain outside Government as a party of permanent protest when we had the opportunity to have Cabinet ministers implementing Lib Dem policies would been hopelessly defeatist. We had moved past that point in our life cycle, and as a party of government, we could at least hope to gain some votes from people who are natural liberals, but wouldn’t vote Lib Dem before because they felt it would be a wasted ballot. I still think we made the right choice, given the information we had at the time and the commitments that were being asked of us; it's what we've conceded since that is the problem.

But if Lib Dem strategy now has to be focused on voters who wouldn't consider us before because we didn't look like a party of government, then someone else needs to give the protest voters an alternative that isn’t right wing - so I think my best course now is to join a party that will help give them that alternative. It's not that I want to be in perpetual opposition, but I do believe that opposition is an important and honourable role, so I'll take it as the next best choice if Government isn't an option I can reconcile with my convictions.

When I was weighing up in 2005 which party to join, I quickly decided the choice had to be between the Lib Dems and the Greens. The Greens have developed their policy platform considerably since then, and there are even a number of issues – immigration, health, benefits – where their policies are closer to my own views than Lib Dem policy is. I can't be 100% sure that they're right for me, because I know there's more to a party than its written policies - but I’ve also learned from my time in the Lib Dems that it’s impossible to understand a party fully from the outside, so I will be joining the Greens immediately and will stay at least long enough to understand how they work.

My political beliefs have not changed; whichever banner I fight under, I will still consider myself a liberal (but also a social democrat, because to me the one has always followed from the other.) I remain tremendously proud of some of the things Lib Dems have achieved and are achieving in Government and in which I had a very small part: the ending of child immigration detention, shared parental leave, and equal marriage. I have made good friends in the party, with whom I hope to stay in touch, and no doubt even to fight side by side in many cross-party campaigns. In some sense, I'll probably always consider the Lib Dems part of my political family. But for now, I need to be putting my limited energies somewhere else.

Date: 15 Mar 2012 07:17 (UTC)
djm4: (Default)
From: [personal profile] djm4
I hope the decision works out well for you; I know this is something you've given huge amounts of thought to.

Agreed

Date: 15 Mar 2012 08:49 (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I feel the same - I handed in my resignation (and that's hard for a former council leader) this morning shortly before reading this article. It's reassuring to know I'm not alone, despite what the PR machines are putting out.

Date: 15 Mar 2012 09:29 (UTC)
From: [personal profile] rho
I'm a member of the Greens. And also a former member of the Lib Dems (though I grew disillusioned with them quite a while back). I'm not and never have been active in either of them, because I don't have the energy to be so, but I do believe that it's the right thing for me to at least support a party with my membership fees and also keep an eye on what they do internally if I plan on voting for them on a regular basis.

For me, personally, I find that the Greens are a better fit for me than the Lib Dems ever were. While there are elements of Green ideology that I don't always agree with, they seem (at a cursory glance) to be much narrower than the broad-church coalition that makes up the Lib Dems. Of course, how well that will work for you will largely depend on how well your political beliefs coincide with theirs.

Date: 15 Mar 2012 11:39 (UTC)
ephemera: celtic knotwork style sitting fox (Default)
From: [personal profile] ephemera
I really need to spend some time thinking about which party I can move my support to, because I cannot allow myself to laps into the 'fuck the lot of them' anger and disappointment and fear which is my current emotional reaction to national politics...

Go back to their constituencies...

Date: 15 Mar 2012 12:22 (UTC)
hairyears: (Woolly Monochrome sketch)
From: [personal profile] hairyears
If you want to stay involved in any kind of adult politics beyond mere leafletting and gestures, leaving the Lib Dems is a necessary step: the canard "Go back to your constituencies and prepare for oblivion" is going to bite, hard, in less than three years time.

I wouldn't worry about a minority party or a campaign group like the Greens being ineffectual: how could you, when the Lib Dems have achieved so little as coalition partners *in government*?

Get some perspective: the 'victories' in moderating abominable policies have been tiny - small crumbs of comfort for a few hard cases, in an avalanche of greed-fuelled evil which the Lib Dems could and should have stopped.

They have achieved less, as cabinet members and MPs on the Government side of the House, than a well-run media campaign. Slightly more, perhaps, than stamping around with placards and chanting ineffectual slogans with the SWP: but none of it will count at the election.

The electorate peceive the Lib Dems as ineffectual in their stated aim of moderating the Thatcherite fundamentalists, and they are right.

However, there are worse things that being useless, and your former party has lost far, far more than arguments and actions.

The Welfare Reform Bill proved beyond doubt that the Liberal Democrats are, as a Parliamentary party, neither liberal nor democratic; and their conduct showed a dismaying betrayal of principles.

But the Health Bill demonstrated that the leadership of the party has no principles left to betray. The tiny, sad concessions mean nothing: this is a victory for the darkness at the heart of modern Conservatism, and the Lib Dems have collaborated in it.

It flies against Parliamentary principle: what MP or Lord, of any party, is obliged to vote against a clearly stated manifesto commitment? And who would be such a fool as to do so when the bill is electorally toxic in the constituencies? Who would walk through the division lobbies alongside smirking men and women who are so brazenly open in the personal profit they gain, and the money they receive from the financial beneficiaries of their vote - as if there are no consequences to unbridled greed, conflicts of interest, or even to outright corruption?

Which brings us to the issue at the heart of it: right and wrong still matter, somewhere, outside Westminster, and the actions of the Liberal Democrats are quite clearly wrong.

Immoral, even. There: I've said it.

The party has lost the moral high ground. The leadership have not merely lost it: they have no claim upon it and it dismays me that they do not care about that. They haven't just sold out: they have sold their souls and become Cameron supporters, a species of Conservative far darker and more damaging than monetarists, Thatcherites, and even the thuggery of Norman Tebbitt.

They are known for what they are, and gestures of repentance in the run-up to the next election will count for nothing as the toll of destitution, disease and death mounts up among the poor, the disabled and the sick.

It remains to be seen how far their moral decay has penetrated into the Parliamentary Party: but why bother asking, when there won't BE a Parliamentary Party after the election?

What then, of your colleagues in the active party - conference delegates, speakers, contributors to policy, constituency organisers?

Some have been turned, and are eager with an explanation of the benefits of the 'reforms'. Some are willingly duped by worthless concessions -"The Secretary of State for Health shall have a duty to promote", over-eager to use meaningless figleaves to cover their embarrassment. Some exist in a state of uneasy acquiescence. Some are in complete denial. Many are resentful, but won't "Make a fuss": how terribly, terribly English.

Far, far too many have allowed instinctive loyalty to override grave misgivings; down that road lies damnation for they, too, are overriding their principles and becoming just another species of Conservative.

Some are drifting away, no longer active at election time, and will let their membership lapse: they are the final fact of the party, whatever the final act may be.

And some, like you, have kept to principle. Fair enough: if you have no principles, you're not a Liberal Democrat. And if you do have principles, you cannot in all conscience continue in your membership of a party which is acting in government against all principles of liberality, democracy, decency and the pursuit of a better society.



Good luck with the Greens. I fear that you will be disappointed: but there are worse things to be.

Re: Go back to their constituencies...

Date: 15 Mar 2012 16:23 (UTC)
miss_s_b: (Default)
From: [personal profile] miss_s_b
"And if you do have principles, you cannot in all conscience continue in your membership of a party which is acting in government against all principles of liberality, democracy, decency and the pursuit of a better society."

Because, obviously, if all the people of principle leave, that will really help stop the party turning into Tory-lite?

I'm sorry, I just find this level of bile totally unhelpful, both to Liz and to those of us who have wrestled and come to a different conclusion. The mixture of triumphalism at the fall of the Lib Dems and mock sorrow is frankly nauseating, and you do nothing to help either Liberality or Democracy by sneering from your high horse like this.

Liz, I'm sorry, but I couldn't let this go. But even in LEAVING you get this lecture? Ugh.

Re: Go back to their constituencies...

Date: 15 Mar 2012 17:35 (UTC)
miss_s_b: (Default)
From: [personal profile] miss_s_b
For some reason I just got John Cleese popping into my head shouting "someone has been rubbing Linseed oil into the school cormorant again"...

* snuggle *

I think sewing class today made my brain go funny.

Re: Go back to their constituencies...

Date: 15 Mar 2012 18:55 (UTC)
miss_s_b: (Default)
From: [personal profile] miss_s_b
Did you rub linseed oil into it? Also, are you wearing the requisite flowers in your hair?

Re: Go back to their constituencies...

Date: 17 Mar 2012 02:02 (UTC)
miss_s_b: (Default)
From: [personal profile] miss_s_b
I won't tell John Cleese if you don't ;)

Date: 15 Mar 2012 16:54 (UTC)
From: [personal profile] robert_jones
how could you, when the Lib Dems have achieved so little as coalition partners *in government*

That can't stand. Liz has mentioned in her post three areas where the Lib Dems have had a significant positive impact on policy: I don't see how you can think that either the detention of child migrants or equal marriage is an insignificant issue. Off the top of my head, they've also secured the scrapping of national identity cards, the end of control orders and an increase in the personal allowance for Income Tax. It seems very possible that they'll also succeed in introducing a 'mansion' tax. When it was put to Eric Pickles on Question Time recently that the Lib Dems had more influence over the budget than he did, he notably failed to deny it.

It flies against Parliamentary principle: what MP or Lord, of any party, is obliged to vote against a clearly stated manifesto commitment? And who would be such a fool as to do so when the bill is electorally toxic in the constituencies?

Surely the answer is that they've done it because they believe it is right. Probably they don't believe that it is the best possible bill, but they recognise that reform is necessary, and that this bill is better than no bill. Clearly you disagree, but can you really not understand that the contrary position can be taken in good conscience?

Similarly, I respect Liz's judgement that the things which are wrong with the Welfare Reform Act are so wrong as to be insupportable, but I don't think (or understand Liz to be saying) that everyone is bound to reach the same conclusion. Rather I understand her to be saying that as someone on the left-wing of a centrist party in coalition with right-wing party, she no longer feels at home there.

In general, your comment seems horribly defeatist. You clearly despise the Lib Dems and the Conservatives. I don't imagine you feel any more warmly about Labour, and you trash the SWP and the Greens in passing, so I can only conclude that you think UK politics is a lost cause. You're hardly alone there, but I note that, in this narrative, we've now had over 3 decades of appalling government, and yet we're better off in more or less every way than we were in 1979.

Date: 18 Mar 2012 15:59 (UTC)
gwenhwyfaer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] gwenhwyfaer
Imagine how much better off we'd be if we didn't have a government at all... ;)

(In fact, we aren't any better off than we were in 1979. We owe much more on a personal level, and the nice stuff we bought with that tick makes us feel wealthier, but the maths just don't support it - every drop of GDP increase in the last 3 years has been siphoned off the top of the economy by the ultra-rich... who, by a remarkable coincidence, have also become astoundingly good at persuading vast numbers of people to stop trusting their neighbours at all, and to believe entirely ridiculous, impossible things like "everyone is entirely responsible for their own level of success" and "numbers on a hard disk in a Zurich skyscraper are more real than plates of food right in front of me".)

Date: 18 Mar 2012 17:07 (UTC)
gwenhwyfaer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] gwenhwyfaer
And somehow I missed this:

"detention of child migrants"

Still happening. They're kept in nicer prisons now, that's all. (As I said previously, that's the point on which I shredded my membership card. It's a sore point with me, and to use your own words, spinning on that subject "can't stand".)

"equal marriage"

Not happened yet. Bet you a tenner it never does.

"the scrapping of national identity cards"

Wasn't that Tory policy anyway? And wasn't the real problem the database backing those cards - how's that coming?

"the end of control orders"

Ooh, spinnage! Control orders haven't been ended. They've been softened a teeny weeny bit and renamed.

"an increase in the personal allowance for Income Tax"

which is of no benefit whatsoever to those who are too poor to pay it, and only worth about a tenner a week to those who derive the fullest benefit from it. A regressive, ineffective policy that only looks good in a headline. No wonder the Tories were so keen to co-opt it... and even less that the price of that adoption looks set to be the 50p tax rate that really does bring progressive results.

Re: Go back to their constituencies...

Date: 15 Mar 2012 17:27 (UTC)
djm4: (Default)
From: [personal profile] djm4
As someone still in the party, I don't recognise myself in your description. But then, I suppose I Would Say That, Wouldn't I?

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