Everywhere I look at the moment good Lib Dems are leaving the Party. They feel as though the Lib Dems aren’t what they once were. Once we were a peaceful tribe living off the land but giving back to the land. We’d plant seeds and nurture our seedlings until they blossomed into vegetation and then we’d eat it and we’d go again. We’d frolic gayly through the meadows wearing only leaves over our private parts and make love to fellow Lib Dems we’d meet. It was a beautiful time and we were happy. Then suddenly everything changed.
We left our peaceful retreat where gay love was as loved as homosexual love. Our island that we called home was not to be called home any more. We were offered the chance to leave the island of peace and love and go to the bigger island where we could help spread the word of peace and love. We thought our lives and our vision of the future should be shared. We had heard people talk about the new way – the liberal way not with scorn but with genuinely intrigue and a touch of excitement.
So we got on our ships and we sailed over to the bigger island. We expected to be welcomed with open arms. Sadly little did we know that the bigger island had two tribes and they were at war. One they called the Labour Party and the other they called the Conservative Party. We had heard whispers that the two tribes didn’t get along but we had only been invited over by the slightly bigger tribe. They knew they needed some support to dominate the island and had said they would listen to us and we could help govern.
The slightly smaller tribe then forgot about their long standing rivalry with the Conservative tribe. They had a new enemy to slay. The old ways of those two tribes being in total domination were over and they didn’t like it one bit. They decided that all members of the new tribe were to be slain. It didn’t matter who they were they had to go and the new tribe were at fault for everything that would happen from here on out until they were vanquished from the island.
The new peaceful tribe known as the Lib Dems were staggered by the vitriol that greeted them and many yearned to jump back on their ship and return to their world of peace and love and more importantly their liberal ideologies. Without them they were nothing and upon arrival on the new islands the bigger tribe immediately put them to the test.
The Lib Dem tribe had wanted free university education for all but on the bigger island the Labour tribe had taken their eyes off the financial sector and all the money was gone. Therefore university education could not be free because their wasn’t enough money for it. This went against the wishes of the Lib Dem tribe but they couldn’t go back because the future of the economy was on extremely dodgy ground and should the Lib Dems leave the island then the bigger island would collapse under the weight of no leadership and all the people on the bigger island would suffer.
This wasn’t in the philosophy of the Lib Dem tribe so they were forced to find a way forward. They decided that no-one has to pay up front for university but if they were successful and earned over £21k a year then they would start paying the money back. This was an increase from the £15k threshold that was currently in place. Sadly though the money students would have to pay back would be considerably more but again this would only be the case should they get good jobs and good wages.
It was a compromise that the people on the bigger island did not like. Not only that but the people in the lib Dem tribe were more than uneasy with the new tuition fees situation. They didn’t get what they wanted and didn’t get what they believed they stood for. Therefore they felt a mixture of shame and guilt believing they had sold their principles and what they stood for down the river. Once more they yearned for the old days where they didn’t have to make the hard decisions and could live in blissful ignorance knowing that reality and idealism did not have to meet.
The people of the bigger island grew to dislike the new dwellers and wanted them to go. They had heard of their ways and were interested to see them but now they saw them close-up they wanted them subjugated and driven off the island. They had a chance to let the newcomers know what they felt around a year later in what they called ‘the local elections’ and many of the newcomers were voted out of office at a local level. The public had spoken. They thought that the newcomers were evil and just propping up the larger tribe.
The newcomers were not liked by either the larger or the smaller of the two main tribes. One of them didn’t like not being able to do everything that they wanted and the other said they were making no effect on how the island was governed. Both tribes were steadfast in saying they were correct but the reality of the case was the two opinions were mutually exclusive. One tribes had to be wrong. As the new tribe had to be either doing nothing or doing something.
Then the larger tribe decided they needed to pick up the pace of reform. Ideologically they were fine with treating people who they perceived were not as not as them with disdain. However they knew that the smaller tribe they shared power with were not of that ilk. They decided they needed to reform how health was handled on the island. They had said they wouldn’t change a thing and people liked this. No-one wanted any change to the health system because they believed it to be the best in the world. The big boss of the world said it wasn’t but that wasn’t the best.
The big boss had been to all the islands and said that the island of the Labour and Conservative tribes had put together the 18th best health system around being France, Italy, San Marino, Andorra, Malta, Singapore, Spain, Oman, Austria, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Monaco, Greece, Iceland, Luxembourg and a place they called the Netherlands. It lay waste to the perceived notion of the greatness of the NHS as it was called locally.
Of course this didn’t mean the NHS wasn’t good. It was. It was one of the finest thing either of the two tribes had done in the past hundred years but maybe evolution was needed. The Lib Dem tribe looked uneasy and the tribe by this point were not speaking in one voice. There were two distinct voices and those voices were tearing away at the fabric of all they stood for. There were those that believed that evolution was needed and if they could have as much influence as possible then that would be a good thing. On the other hand there were those that thought you can’t mess with the NHS and the bill should be totally scraped.
Many within the tribe did not know which way to look. One half of the tribe was saying one thing and the other half were saying another. If you said you supported one side of the argument then you were perceived as evil by the other half of the tribe. As a tribe they had become like the other tribes – at war with each other and not a harmonised voice that could lead to effectual change.
Some within the tribe decided that they didn’t want to be a member of the tribe any more. They believed that they could never return to the days where liberal ideology united the tribe to a sustainable degree. They believed the leader of the tribe – one Nick Clegg – had betrayed them and moved them away from where they wanted to be in the political spectrum. Some even doubted his liberal credentials. They even said he was a Tory in Lib Dem clothing – repeating a line that the Labour tribe had long been shouting from the rooftops.
When Lib Dems are believing Labour over who or what their own leader stands for then it is clear that a problem has arisen. Divisions amongst the tribe was nothing new but whatever divisions these were they were underpinned by a sense of doing right and the liberal agenda. Some now believed this had given way to a lust for power and a lack of foresight. They believed that they alone could not make a substantial difference to national policy and therefore they didn’t want to be a part of the tribe any more.
They chose to walk away believing that the big picture was the only picture worth caring about. The majority remained though seeing that the big picture is also made up of many smaller pictures. At local level it was possible to make lives better for people. It would not be easy but many good people remained and these good people still believed in the liberal ideology and whilst local politics isn’t the same as national politics it still had the power to influence lives.
These people worked hard and still believed in the basic principles and ideology on which the tribe was first formed. They believed in helping those who needed help. They believed in people taking responsibility for their own lives and not be told what to think and how to act by others. They believed that the state should ensure everybody has the same basic level of education, health care, the right to feel safe, the opportunities to make more money and live in a society that rewards those who work hard but doesn’t necessarily penalise those who do not. They believed in caring for the ill, infirm and venerable. These people thought that they could help bring about a greener environment and provide more services and amenities for the local who relied on them. They believed that the people that needed the most help should receive it first and foremost.
These are the members of the tribe who have stayed behind. Those that have left the tribe haven’t changed their ideologies and nor have the party. The political party with always have the same anchor. The people who make up the party are the people that people see every day on the doorstep and in town halls up and down the land. If the tribes leadership has moved away from its grass-roots then that is another issue but this member of the tribe recanting this tale does not believe this is the case.
Being in power is difficult because ideology is put to the test in the real world. Being in power when their is an economic climate that is more unstable than it has been in a generation is not the best time to be in power. The economy is A1 – front and centre – of why this coalition was formed. The liberal ideology is alas second and it has to be. It can be talked about and progress can be made but this government first and foremost is about ensuring this economy not only grows but also diversifies instead of being largely dependent on one sector. That is the most important thing at the national level.
If we can prove to do that then the future of the tribe isn’t as bad as everyone believes. The members of the tribe have to face the question of how they want to be perceived. Do they want to be perceived as ineffective? Do they want to be perceived as grown-up? Do they want to be perceived as populist but ineffective? Or do they want to be perceived as a party who’ll put the country first?
They are the options and until everyone answers that then no unity will ever be found at a national level.
What is more important, the liberal ideology or the economy of the island? That was the question we faced in 2010 and that is still the question we face now – so what has changed for so many of the tribe to either think about taking a step-back or in fact take two step-backs only to jump off the island and attempt to swim back to the past?
Three years is a long long time in politics and we don’t always get our own way. This isn’t how we wanted it to be but this is how it is. We stepped in when the country needed us to form stable government. We did our duty whilst perhaps sacrificing some of what we hold dear but in the greater scheme of things had the country gone down the tank then everyone would be effected and to a far greater degree than the Tuition Fees Bill, the Welfare Reform Act and the NHS reorganisation.
We did the right thing then and we are doing the right thing now. We aren’t there to just prop up a Tory government but to help it govern. Liberal policies and ideologies are going through. Reform of the House of Lords, Marriage for same-sex couples, the Pupil Premium, the raising of the Income Tax threshold to take lower earners out of paying any Income Tax. We can point to things we are doing that is fundamental to our core beliefs. It might not be as much as we’d like but we are the smallest of the three main tribes so we can’t expect to have everything.
If we push forward our liberal agenda – even only by a few steps over the course of this parliament – and we stabilise and diversify the economy to ensure its growth for all the inhabitants of the island – not just the members of the tribes – then we’ll have done a pretty good job considering the circumstances that we found ourselves in following the collapse of the World’s economy.
The Liberal Democrats haven’t changed. The people haven’t changed. The leadership haven’t changed. The only change has been in the perception of the party by the masses and that is something we are going to have to work even harder to change.
It won’t be easy but the party still has a future at both the local and national level. I firmly believe that and I hope others do too.
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