Being a member of a political party is slightly different to being just a supporter and a voter. It is that time of year where my membership of the Liberal Democrats is up for renewal and after a couple of years as a member it is always good to look at yourself and ask whether it is worth it.
I have decided that there are three reasons to be a member of a political party – National Issues, Local Issues and Personal Ideology. The big question is how many of those three do I (or anyone for that matter) have to be happy with to continue membership (or indeed join in the first place).
I’ll start with Personal Ideology.
Several weeks ago I was challenged to write about my Lib Dem Values. In a way it was also a way to see if my thoughts meshed well with that of the party. I am a liberal. I believe in liberal philosophy. I don’t really have to challenge myself on this at any level because I have always had a very similar viewpoint of the world and our place in it. No one person is born better or worse than the next person. Every person deserves the same chances and opportunities in life. If the Liberal Democrats still sit broadly in the liberal realm of the political spectrum then I can tick this box.
However National Issues is a harder thing to sit with.
I joined the party after the coalition was forced. Despite having always voted and leaned Lib Dem I never actually joined until March of 2011. So I was not a member of the party when solely in opposition so I do have a slightly different viewpoint to many others who have been members for far longer. The biggest difference between opposition and government is that sometimes principles and practicalities are mutually exclusive and something has to give way.
The question is at what point do principles become compromised unnecessarily? That is the problem the I personally wrestle with. Being part of a coalition does mean that we as a party will have to do things that we are not personally comfortable with. If we want to live in an isolated Utopian state and only do things that as a party we would be happy with then either win a General Election or be in opposition until the point where an outright victory occurs. Coalition will always mean two parties (or more) doing things that they are both comfortable and uncomfortable with. This is just the nature of the beast.
However when we see MP’s and the national party doing things that go against the will of the membership without getting an obvious trade back on another issue then it is immensely troubling. It can be said that the Tories have backed things they would have preferred not to during the past 35 months or so. It most certainly can be said that the Lib Dems have done just that and on multiple occasions.
People have left the party due to various issues since the formation of the coalition. Many leave strictly because of one principle gone too far and others because of an accumulation of principles they believed in being ignored and in some cases actively campaigned against by the upper echelons of the party.
It is hard to really back some of what is going on at Westminster. I like Nick Clegg. I like him a lot but unless he explains why he does some of the things he does and listens to the grass roots then it is hard to fully back him. We have gone past the point where we can believe in Nick Clegg and the national party with blind faith that they know what they are doing.
So this box I probably can’t tick so I’ll say it is an incomplete.
Lastly Local Issues.
I currently live in Southend. We have a Conservative run council (with a majority of one) and a rather interesting local political scene. The Lib Dems locally are good people (which is always a pretty decent start) and I think we can see some progress here. I wish the councillors would be better at talking about their achievements as it is rare to see them in the local paper talking about what they do – and some of them do excellent work and genuinely make a difference.
I do like to think that I live in the real world and the financial situation makes things very difficult for the Tory run council. Cuts do have to be made to make ends meet but there is always a question of what cuts and where. Do we cut along ideological lines or do we cut where those effected are those who can deal with being effected? This is where I struggle with what the Tories have done going into a voting pact with the Thorpe councillors (although now that pact isn’t needed) because Thorpe is the ward where people can deal with issues better than any other. So whilst those in Thorpe will be delighted at the reduction in car parking charges in the Broadway, that is money that is now not going into the coffers.
Also we have to work on what things are spent on – certainly the big projects. The Shoebury Youth Centre was a £2.9million building but it is hardly being used. Firstly we have to question why it was built in the first place but secondly we need to find a way for that building to become a viable part of the Shoebury community. There are issues like this all over the place and in general the local Lib Dems seem to be actively working on finding solutions to difficult situations and aren’t just sticking their heads in the sand and saying ‘those evil Tories are really evil’ etc…
So locally I think I can probably tick that I’m relatively content with what is going on. The local party are active and I do think that being part of it is worthwhile and it can benefit the local community if we continue to work hard and deliver on what we can do.
So two ticks and an incomplete. The National Party do concern me and do the pros outweigh the cons of being in coalition? I’m not sure. Are we losing our soul? Some may argue that and in all honesty I do not know the answer. However my ideology has not changed and being a member of the local party is I think worthwhile therefore it’ll be another year as a member for me…
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