A huge election had been settled – but not with the outcome that I wanted. Not with the people I voted for. And not with the change I had hoped for.
But this year is different. This time, there is hope, there is a base, there are signs of greater things…
And this is it…
…over half the residents of Cheshire chose Lib Dem for their first or second choice.
Yes, that is a remarkable result.
I believe that more people voted Lib Dem across Cheshire than any other party – it is just that they didn’t have the confidence to place us as their first choice.
Again and again, we saw and received reports of a ‘landslide’ of second preference votes.
I’m delighted. There *is* a liberal beating heart across Cheshire – and it beats soundly. It beats for moderate politics, for people centric policy. It beats for independent thinking and evidenced based decision making. It beats for tolerance and understanding too.
I hear that heart beat when I think about what we, together, achieved in the Cheshire Police & Crime Commissioner election.
And, I want to ask you this question – what do you want to happen next time? What would be the right result? What sort of town and county do we want to become?
If, like me a year ago, you believe that there is hope, then do what I did and join.
Join me and together let’s make that liberal heart beat resoundingly through our streets, across our towns and over our county & country.
Some things are too important to leave to someone else. And that is why I’m asking you to join me in the Liberal Democrats www.libdems.org.uk/join
I joined the Lib Dems back in 2010 because I wanted to put pro-European, pro-equality, anti-establishment values into the heart of government.
I am still a Lib Dem because I have seen up close what a different our values of community make to the people we seek to represent – whether it is carrying out casework or fighting campaigns to protect local amenities, the Lib Dems improve and shape the communities they work in.
I joined the Lib Dems because of the merger with the SDP. However, if I was looking to join now what would convince me is the preamble to the constitution.
I’ve always wanted to influence the environment I am in. At university I was involved in the Student Union and my JCR but couldn’t find the right party – there was always something I agreed with but equally something I disagreed with. That was because I am a Liberal Democrat and, rather fortunately, there is a political party that is filled with Liberal Democrats.
In the hard times, people occasionally consider leaving but would never think of going to another party.
Read the preamble to the constitution. That is what I am and what I believe. There is only one party for me!
Why join the Lib Dems?
Because we are the only party on God’s Earth willing to stand up and fight for the freedom of the individual, against the tyranny of power however it manifests itself, for a better tomorrow for all.
The most important thing about being a Liberal Democrat today is that it is not a spectator sport. Liberalism is under threat from the politics of blame, fear and isolationism. Everyone who believes in freedom, social justice and the need to look after our planet needs to roll up their sleeves and live those values in every aspect of their lives. We need to find ever more creative and effective ways of countering the forces that threaten liberty, scapegoat groups of people and perpetuate inequality.
At the core of our belief, uniquely, is respect for the individual. Enforced or even encouraged conformity makes us weep. Our optimistic view of humanity drives us to create the conditions for all to thrive. While education is the cornerstone of human development, we understand it’s difficult to learn without food and shelter. We will stand up for the rights of those who don’t conform to society’s norms and will challenge attitudes which impose an oppressive expectation of behaviour. Unless it harms others, let it be.
A key focus in that must be an acknowledgement that even in affluent parts of the world, women, who make up more than half the population, do not have equal rights. Whether it’s challenging the idea that only thin women who conform to a very narrow standard of beauty are worthwhile to championing the rights of women to control all aspects of their own destiny, from choice of life partner to the number of children they have to their career path, we recognise that the fight for gender equality has a long way to go and must be at the heart of all aspects of our work.
We do not accept that people should be confined by the circumstances of their birth. Success should be about the most talented people being rewarded for their contribution to society, not being held back by something as arbitrary as their postcode. While we’re on about success, we don’t define that as purely amassing vast amounts of money. It’s about what you give to the world to make it a better place. It might be growing a vast company and employing lots of people, but it might just as easily be a song or a painting or a lifetime of service to your community or risking your life in a foreign field hospital.
Breaking down barriers for people is what we do. That means we need to challenge the establishment, whether that be government or corporate. We will always stand on the side of the powerless. We are there to protect people from the excessive abuse of power in all circumstances. Where political systems don’t deliver that, we strive to change them. We are at our heart a radical movement which constantly challenges those who hold power. We must never let those who rule us feel that they are entitled to that privilege or to feel that it’s OK for them to intrude into our lives without very good reason.
We know that achieving all these things means that there has to be a powerful state to make sure that society functions in a way that enables everyone to contribute their best. We recognise that ‘markets’ are not focused on social justice, yet an oppressive, one-size-fits-all collectivist monolith with an ‘any colour as long as it’s black’ attitude is just as harmful. We want a state that ensures everyone has enough to eat and somewhere to live and access to health care, that individuals have a right of redress against abuse of power and which at its heart enables people to use all of their talents, and is flexible enough to meet a variety of needs.
A decent state costs money and to us ‘tax’ is not a dirty word. We know that you get the public services you pay for. We need to advance the argument that a vibrant, responsive, enabling state investing in the infrastructure that is in the interests of all citizens and not of any corporation is the best way to ensure freedom, justice and fairness in our society.
We must stand with liberals across the globe against the sort of pernicious nationalism which suggests that only people born in a particular corner of the map have value. That path will always lead to disaster and conflict. Liberal Democrats recognise the bonds which unite us as human beings and have as much empathy with those fleeing war and tyranny in other parts of the world as we do with those facing poverty and hardship within our national borders. We take our responsibilities of stewarding the planet seriously and know that it is only by working with others that we secure its future. We can’t tackle climate change or human trafficking or international trade alone. We must work with others to ensure that everyone across the world has the same opportunities that we would like for ourselves. Food, clean water, sanitation, healthcare, human rights all matter as much to people in South Sudan as they do in South Shields and it is in our interest as human beings to ensure that the world’s resources and opportunities are shared fairly.
We want decisions to be taken as close to the people they affect as is sensible. That means that it’s your local government, not mandarins in Whitehall, who should decide when your bin collections take place, but it makes sense for countries across Europe to work together on international trade and global human rights.
Being liberals, we will each find our own way of letting our liberal voices be heard. It is more important than it has been at any point in living memory for us to stand up and be counted, as rich and powerful people with vested interests fuel the advance of the forces of nationalism and small-statism. The future of our planet depends on our success in holding them back.
Those pesky Lib Dems. Why won’t they curl up and die? They’re up against a distorted voting system, a hostile press, and all our money. We’ve stolen their messages, their campaigning techniques, their votes and now most of their seats. Whenever they’ve threatened to break through, we’ve knocked them back. Thatcher beat their predecessors by letting Argentina invade the Falklands. Under Major we got people to stand against them as Literal Democrats. Blair and Brown promised electoral reform. We used the coalition to pretend to be Liberal Conservatives, while getting our friends in the press to smear their leaders, and unleashing the threat of English and Scottish nationalism. Now we’ve bullied the BBC into giving them far less airtime than any other party. Even the Daily Mail gets more panellists on Question Time. They should give up now.
We wiped them out in 2015. During the coalition we kept the Lib Dems busy rescuing the economy, protecting schools and hospitals, promoting renewable energy, breaking down barriers for minorities, and making our taxes fairer – in the face of opposition from our right-wingers. We just sat back and claimed the credit. We targeted their seats ruthlessly with scare stories about foreigners, Labour, the SNP and even UKIP. We got our friends in the polling agencies and the media to make it look like Labour might win. We fudged all the big issues like Europe and airports, and how we were really planning to cut the cost of welfare benefits, while parroting Lib Dem proposals on mental health, school meals and housing.
We refused to debate national issues with them unless UKIP, the Greens and two sets of nationalists were there too. And we distracted Lib Dem voters, through phoney ‘Labour’ or ‘Green’ leaflets attacking them for compromising their principles – by putting public before party and going into coalition with us!
But still they keep coming back – like yellow cockroaches, banging on about fairness and freedom, the environment, transparency, civil rights and democracy. As if we don’t care about all that crap too. Or at least we say we do.
And it’s frightening how quickly they can come back. It’s not just tens of thousands of new members, they’ve started winning council by-elections against us, sometimes with huge swings. They’ve won against Labour too and they’ve even beaten our SNP friends. They keep delivering their damned leaflets and their canvassers can open doors where Tories or Labour would be sent packing. By 2020 none of our safe seats can be regarded as safe. Just look at what happened in Canada where their sister party came back to win from third place.
So what’s their secret? They champion unpopular causes. They won’t scapegoat minorities. They won’t be bribed. They won’t flip-flop over policies. They’re not ambitious for themselves. They just want to build a fair, free and open society, in which nobody is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. And they really seem to mean it. They put their community and the environment and international cooperation ahead of selfish vested interests. They enrage our hardliners by preaching moderation, tolerance and proportionality. They challenge tyranny, but without wanting to replace it with a tyranny of their own. They seek power not for its own sake, or as a means to an end, but so they can give it away. They reject the easy career option of joining the Tories or Labour and just doing as they’re told.
Who do these selfless individuals think they are? Mandela, Gandhi, the Buddha, Jesus Christ, Aung San Suu Kyi? Don’t they understand the realities of privilege, of patronage, of power? These people and their liberal ideas are dangerous. They must be crushed.
What does it mean to be a Liberal Democrat today?
(It’s About People)
To be a liberal is to champion people. Championing people is the eternal and universal truth that is the core of liberal values.
We exist to protect the rights of all people, regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality, ability or background against injustice from the state, private institutions or other individuals. To champion not only the human and civil rights of the people but also their workplace and consumer rights. Too many have fallen through holes in the social safety net.
Radical change is required not just to recast the net but to build the ladders to help people climb from poverty to prosperity. By championing people we seek to remove the barriers that stand in their way. Championing by giving a supporting hand to those with physical and mental ill-health; tackling poor education, discrimination and unemployment; safeguarding their independence with ownership of quality housing in safe and environmentally clean neighbourhoods connected with good public transport.
We exist to give people the power to shape their destinies and communities. We believe that when people are given opportunity they will shine, and that when each individual can shine society prospers most. Only when we are able to shine a light of hope for those that have none will this be achieved.
Knowledge is the greatest tool we have to improve our lives. Education should not end at school or university but should continue throughout life; this is essential not only to enhance self-enlightenment but also to build a workforce able to adapt quickly to the changing needs of society and technological innovation.
The internet has brought more life-changing knowledge to people’s fingertips than ever before. However the routes available to certifying that knowledge have not kept pace. With more jobs asking for qualifications unnecessary for the role, doors are closing when quicker, less costly paths should be opening, especially for those for whom family responsibilities or financial limitations make further education more difficult. To be a liberal is to champion people. This eternal truth was as evident for ‘The People’s William’, Gladstone, as it was for David Lloyd George as he delivered the ‘People’s Budget’ in 1909, and for those who voted for them. Liberalism flourished most when it was closest to its roots of championing people.
Our history sounds a message that rings as true for Liberal Democrats today as it will a thousand years from now. We exist to build a better future for people. During our country’s darkest hours William Beveridge had a vision for a brighter future that put the welfare and health of the people first. As liberals we dream big. Our dreams are radical. Every day we pave the way to make the dreams of a better future a reality. Our fast-changing world demands that we be pioneers of future solutions. As we look to tackle the problems of today we must be dynamic and adaptable to solutions and problems offered by emerging science and technology. It is unacceptable if short-sighted policies delay life-saving scientific breakthroughs or fail to plan for accessible retraining for those whose work is made redundant by new technologies. We recognise that the issues of the future need addressing together with today’s problems before it’s too late, whether that be averting ecological disaster, providing care to an ageing population or showing the fiscal responsibility to ensure the next generation is not saddled with our public debts.
To be a liberal is to champion people. This universal truth is evident as liberal values have resonated most around the world, from the declaration of the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to countless victories of people over oppression. For the Liberal Democrats, championing people has no boundaries; it transcends oceans and borders.
We believe humanity is strongest when it celebrates its differences and is united in pursuit of common goals: tackling international crime and terrorism; halting potential pandemics; global warming and the defending of human rights as laid down by the UN. We believe that nations are better trading freely and fairly than they are trading blows.
As democrats we seek not to hand power to the mega-rich and giant multinationals. Nor do we seek to hand power to the state or to unions. We seek to hand power to the people. We stand for an open democratic system that is representative, focuses powers as close to the hands of the people as it can and is accountable at all levels from international organisations to local councils.
For too long politics has been broken. For too long millions of voices have gone unheard because they reside in the rotten constituencies of safe seats; for too long people have been tired of not being heard.
Until the political system is changed to become truly representative of the hearts and minds of the people it is not truly democratic.
We stand opposed to those that would deny freedom of speech. Censoring rather than challenging distasteful views allows prejudice, intolerance and hate to fester under the carpet. Only through constructive discussion can enlightenment be achieved.
Westminster isn’t the only place that can make Britain more liberal. Every day people champion one another through charity, volunteering and campaigning. As a party we must support those actively pursuing liberal values and seek them out to help their causes. For when people know we are on their side, they may yet realise that they too are a Liberal Democrat.
We are the party of the people, working to give power to the people, to create a better world and future for the people.
This is what it means to be a Liberal Democrat today.
[What does it mean to be a Liberal Democrat today?] Or tomorrow, for this must be about lasting values.
Above all, to be a Liberal Democrat is to serve liberty. Some are satisfied liberty is won if the state does not interfere in their lives, no matter how much over-mighty corporations or bullying conformity may direct them. For some liberty is an absence of rules, so everyone is free to sail around the world, though many are sunk in poverty and illness. For some liberty is enjoyed by nations or corporate bodies collectively. For us a nation may be independent, but if its people are individually unfree, there is no freedom.
To us freedom is individual freedom. It does not matter who or what prevents you realising your potential: whatever it is, it makes you unfree. Ultimately, it’s pointless to categorise freedoms – economic freedom, social freedom, intellectual freedom. It all comes down to what you can do and what you’re prevented from doing for any reason. The measure is personal liberation.
But we are social animals, not units in a game called the Market. We achieve self-realisation through and with others – through love and community. Free communities, to membership of which no one is forced, are essential to Liberal Democracy. Their strength is everyone’s strength. Without them, democracy withers: people lack experience of democratic politics in small groups that can be applied more widely and when oppression threatens, lack links and loyalties that can stand against it.
We believe in community. Until the 19th century, outside conurbations, strong communities based on geography and faith were assumed to exist. But greater social and physical mobility, a greater role for the state and commercial pressures have changed that. Community politics attempts to reinvigorate and empower communities to control their own destinies. If it fails, the individual is less free because many battles cannot be won acting alone and political controversies, however local, cannot be settled by isolated individual choice in the way we purchase cars. Though individual choice is liberating, the attitude that public affairs (things that necessarily involve the common good and different priorities) can be evaluated purely in terms of personal gain, undermines community and thence democracy.
But increasingly, communities are not only based on locality. There have always been other kinds of community – for example, a community of friars, or of stonemasons, or the Jewish community of England.
While Liberal Democrats must strive to liberate and empower local communities, to bring power closer to the people and to revive free cooperation in common causes, we must recognise that many communities now are not local and these too are important to self-realisation. These too can be encouraged by a range of measures from favourable laws for voluntary organisations to stemming unwarranted government and corporate interference in the internet. Thus fast broadband, for example, is a Liberal cause not only because of its economic consequences but because it facilitates people meeting and cooperating online.
It has become fashionable to treat ‘politics’ as a dirty word. But Liberal Democrats celebrate it as the process by which communities and states resolve issues that affect many people but require a single solution – the vacant land or the tax revenue will be used for this or for that. We do not want to reduce politics, we want to make it more democratic and closer to the people. A society without politics is a society enslaved.
In state socialism, the individual is called a citizen but is treated like a passive recipient of services, except that (s)he is expected to pay taxes and vote. The state knows best and does good to the service user. Oddly, that is also much the approach of traditional, hierarchical, moderate conservatism.
In ‘neo-liberal’ new conservatism, the individual is seen almost entirely as a consumer. (S)he makes purchasing decisions where possible; and where this is not possible, (s)he is still treated as a customer, as the fashionable terms ‘customer-centred’ and ‘customer orientation’ show. Where benefits necessarily are shared – a playing field, for example – calculations can tell us how much benefit the individual gets in return for money or effort.
Neither of these are Liberal Democrat approaches. To us the individual interacting in society is above all a citizen. (S)he makes requests and has rights, but (s)he also has responsibilities. Citizens vote, complain, suggest, question and cooperate to the common good.
We speak of ‘liberty, equality and community’, but the preamble to the constitution of the old Liberal Party said Liberals ‘in all things, put freedom first’. Community can sometimes be a life-limiting force, but strong communities are essential to liberty and self-realisation. And equality? How does it support or limit liberty?
Clearly some programmes aimed at achieving more economic equality undermine liberty: if the government plans and disposes most things, it will be making decisions for people and communities that they could make for themselves. High levels of taxation do reduce the room individuals have to choose their own paths, though so does the collapse of necessary public services, and progressive taxation should impact most on those who already have plenty of choices. That all people are equally valuable, though, is fundamental; and there is no place in Liberal Democracy for deference, snobbery or contempt for ‘losers’. Liberals throughout their history have striven to spread and equalise power as far as possible and this stress on equality of power distinguishes us from conventional socialists; but just as an economically more equal society cannot be achieved without more equality of power, equality of power will always be undermined if there are huge differentials of wealth.
We talk about equality of opportunity, but if people start from vastly different positions in terms of wealth, family connections and the rest, there can be no equality of opportunity. Equally, communities will be weak and divided.
Believing in cooperation, equality and diversity worldwide, we must be internationalists and environmentalists. Without these values, the future of humanity is grim. With them, there is hope.