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Why I am leaving the Liberal Democrats

By Sara Scarlett
December 27th, 2014 at 12:00 pm | 17 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

After over six years of strongly identifying as a LibDem – I can no longer do so in good conscience.

Certain issues have dominated my thoughts on the issue since August this year and this is not a decision I have taken lightly. However, the conclusion I have come to is that I would like to start the new year disassociated from the Liberal Democrats. Over the years, my direct debit to the party hasn’t always been perfectly constant – especially when I was living in America – but I’ve always thought that if I were to be a member of any UK political party I would still be a LibDem. For the following reasons that is no longer the case…

There is one predominant issue that I feel I can no longer overlook on the grounds of pure morality and humanity. Over the past two years the LibDems were tested and, in my humble opinion, they failed that test.

Liberalism is fundamentally a discussion about power.  When it came to light that an individual who had been given power by the Liberal Democrats had egregiously aggregated and then abused that power – the response was and continues to be breathtakingly disappointing. Too many questions remain unresolved. Why was this individual allowed to aggregate so much power? Why were there no checks on this individual’s power? Why was this individual both an employee of the party and an employer in the party? Why were the Liberal Democrats so reliant on one individual? Who were the individuals complicit in this individuals behaviour?

It’s not a surprise that this individual has got off scott free. He wrote the rule book for himself. However, now that the rule book has been found to be wanting  – what of the efforts to move forward and rewrite that rule book? For four months I have sat in hope that something positive will come of this. For all the talk amongst some of the more clued up members still nothing appears to have come about. The valiant efforts of the reformers remain unheeded but I am flabberghasted that some – even actual parliamentarians – don’t even think the rules or the party needs to change. This speaks volumes and says that this is not just the small matter of a single rouge individual. This speaks of a truly toxic, immoral and un-reformable culture within the party.

The main reason I am leaving the Liberal Democrats is because when it came to the big question of Liberalism – the uses and abuses of power at the heart of the party – they failed and continue to fail to come down on the right side.

The second big reason I feel compelled to disassociate myself with the LibDems, which is not unrelated to the first, is that volunteers are undervalued and sometimes mistreated in an organisation that relies almost entirely on volunteers.

I found myself stuffing leaflets through doors in the summer days of 2009 in Richmond Park. I was an unpaid intern and even paid my own expenses to get to work for the party at the same time the party were expressing their outrage at unpaid internships. My boss was an incompetent manchild and at no point did I feel valued, respected or was ever thanked for my time and effort. That is until a week after I’d resigned when my former manager left a begrudging voicemail on my phone with a handful of words which finally included ‘thanks for all your help.’ Too little; too late. No wonder that seat was lost…

The promise of proximity to power is a strong motivation for volunteers to stick at it in Labour and the Tories. Considering the Liberal Democrats don’t have that you’d think they’d be more careful, polite and grateful etc. but no…

The lack of value placed on volunteers is exposed perfectly whenever anyone defects. Someone on some blog somewhere will utter the textbook response – well, deep down they were always Labour/Green/Tory Scum anyway. But often I have seen people defect because they were maltreated, bullied, harassed or passed over for promotion on the whim of an inadequate superior. Now, most parties will trot out the “well, deep down they were always Labour/Green/Tory Scum anyway” line in public. Naturally. But behind the scenes the other parties do at the least pay some lip service to cutting the cancer out. They’ll ask themselves – hey, maybe that person shouldn’t have been maltreated, bullied, harassed or passed over for promotion on the whim of an inadequate superior? This lack of self-examination is especially unforgivable when we know now that party processes to deal with this type of behaviour have been woefully inadequate. The LibDems don’t cut the cancer out. Not even when the individuals are visible public servants.

Were Mike Hancock MP a Labour or Tory MP – ask yourself – would he be sitting on the front benches? Of course not.

Other minor gripes I have with the way the party works:

– The way the LibDems make policy isn’t remotely democratic. It’s decided by a small cabal at conference.  Why not use digital voting to reach all party members?

– Policy made in this way creates tension between the MPs, the voting delegates and the wider party members. Ministers seem to make up what policies they want anyway so why the charade at conferences anyway? There’s Vince Cable banging on about a Mansion Tax and there was me thinking the favoured form of property/land tax in the LibDems was LVT. What’s the point of voting if parliamentarians are going to make it up?

– The LibDems often have a complete lack of policy self-awareness and will happily hold two contradicting policies at once. E.g “Smoking is bad for you and should be banned.” And. “To prohibit marijuana is paternalistic and this legislation should be overturned immediately.” How one holds both these policy positions at the same time, I will never know, and yet many LibDem parliamentarians do. These contradictions matter to everyone these issues matter to and sooner or later supporters are alienated bit by bit.

– The LibDems are fundamentally small ‘c’ conservative in the way they run the party. Tony Blair let red blood flow to remake the Labour party into New Labour. The discipline showed by the Tories when David Cameron went about decontaminating the Tory brand was impressive. Were a moderniser to come along in the LibDems, I doubt he or she would get very far. I think most of the recent LibDem presidential elections prove that. The blood that needs to be let is never let and there’s a lot of bad blood.

Of course I was never a ‘typical’ LibDem and I understand that many will be happy to see the back of me. I have a folder on my desktop full of threatening emails, ad hominem attacks off LDV and screencaps of bullying comments, Tweets and Facebook posts to attest to that. But I thought for years that the LibDems would be the best vehicle for espousing these views. Now, I don’t think the party is a good vehicle for espousing f*ck all. All I have to show from my time as a LibDem is six years of disappointment and an awkward but interesting phone call from the Metropolitan Police.

However, I will say that my disassociation from the party is not down to anything ideological or any particular policy. I am, always have been and will remain a Classical Liberal/Contemporary Libertarian. My personal values have changed a great deal in the time I’ve been a Liberal Democrat, that’s simply the difference between 20 year old and 27 year old me, but my policy conclusions have not. Contemporary Libertarianism has no comfortable home in any political party. It exists as an intellectual and moral movement and often intellectual and moral movements influence public policy so I am an optimist. The general trend is towards freedom and progress and I am certain my talents and resources can forward these aims elsewhere.

I’m resigning from the LibDems because of the toxic internal party culture and the fact that there is seemingly no meaningful effort to reform said toxic party culture from where the change needs to come from. Indeed, great swathes of our parliamentarians have shown themselves to be either cowardly, immoral, chronically out of date or wedded to a regime that never worked. The functionality of the party has never been great, but now for the party to have  so spectacularly failed on the issue of the abuse of power is an unforgivable sin.