So, I quit the Liberal Democrats and joined Labour.
I’ve been disgruntled for some time. Every time I saw a Liberal Democrat minister or MP appear on television meekly defending the policies of the Coalition government, I cringed. A tinge of nausea followed whenever I recalled I was donating money to this farce. I tried to console myself with the thought that I wasn’t giving them much else: not my efforts, nor my time, nor my support. When I joined, I was already a square peg in a round hole: as time went on, this ill-fitting slot diminished then disappeared entirely. It felt as if the party was keen on my Direct Debit mandate; it didn’t seem they were all that interested in much else.
Nevertheless, I held back on quitting: there are many Liberal ideas which I hold dear. For example, I’m pro-Europe: it’s good that there is a party which wholeheartedly shares this increasingly unpopular view. Furthermore, civil liberties matter greatly to me: I am totally opposed to the “snoopers’ charter” and Edward Snowden’s recent revelations about the extent of surveillance going on in both the United States and United Kingdom are troubling. It’s important that some political force says “No more”.
Additionally, there are many good people in the Liberal Democrats. At the top of the party, there is Vince Cable, who seems to find coalition with the Tories as pleasant as a prolonged colonoscopy. There are many councillors and grassroots activists who find the Coalition as repellent as I do: however, they seem to be increasingly isolated and beleaguered.
I care about Liberal history: I think the ideas of Lloyd George, Keynes and Beveridge are worth preserving in their original wrappings. The Liberal voice which speaks to this tradition still has much to say: too bad it’s been smothered by Coalition. Worse, the combined legacies of Lloyd George, Keynes and Beveridge have been deliberately undermined by their heirs.
After a long period of reflection, what made me finally pull the trigger was the Chancellor’s Spending Review, which was absurd, cruel and anti-intellectual. It’s clear that Osborne is as unfamiliar with the idea of a good society as he is with the “The Paradox of Thrift”.
The Chancellor also doesn’t seem willing or able to address the enigma of companies which do billions of pounds worth of business in the United Kingdom, yet pay no income tax. Rather, he only attacks targets which have a limited ability to fight back: he intends to balance the nation’s books on the backs of the poor, the disabled, and the marginalised. I knew that once Osborne had finished his rancid précis that he would send out Danny Alexander to defend it. Alexander would swallow hard and take a beating in the name of policies which he probably finds dubious if not outright reprehensible. He has the government’s ledgers in his possession, he surely knows that Tory policies aren’t working. He must know also that austerity only works if somewhere else is prospering and willing to buy your country’s goods: this was how Canada was able to mount its sustained cuts programme. Because people wanted Canadian timber, oil and minerals, they could slash the budget: demand came from somewhere and the economy didn’t collapse. We are not Canada: when spending was slashed, confidence nosedived and growth flatlined. The budget cuts didn’t cut the deficit; rather, the automatic stabilisers of welfare payments kicked in, and thus caused the benefit bill to rise. Of course, if cutting the deficit is the main priority, the other option is to cut those payments, thus adversely affecting the poorest. This is the option that has apparently been taken.
I don’t have the trappings of state to keep me at a remove from these facts, nor am I lulled by talk of “governing in the national interest” nor is my conscience stilled by the occasional Pupil Premium. I live in Bradford; our council and public services were already under pressure due to cuts to local government. Our food banks are overextended: demand is such that it’s likely a new one will be set up in Otley. Grant Shapps’ breezy assumption that somehow one can take 10% more without too much bother is purest nonsense. Furthermore, I see Tory ministers who have been promoted far beyond their competence imposing their Manichean world view on British society: in their eyes, there are only “shirkers” and “strivers”. The Tories are doing their best to create conflict between these two segments in order to stay in power and prevent tough questions being asked of the wealthiest. Specifically, there is an elite in this country which is untouched by the cares that afflict the majority, and even seem relatively unbothered when they transgress the law. Why are there are no policies in train which will bring this aristocracy down to earth? And why, on the contrary, does their perch seem ever more lofty? Is it the consequence of bad policy or by design?
Rather than cry halt, the Liberal Democrats continue to prop up this intolerable state of affairs, albeit sometimes with palpable reluctance. Yes, it would probably be electoral suicide for them to walk away now, but an honourable defeat is preferable to sustaining a dishonourable compromise. Once the catharsis of getting an electoral savaging had passed, then perhaps the party could have rediscovered its purpose. I was not alone in feeling this way: I did not have enough compatriots who could make it happen. For my part, there was nothing to stop me from saying, “Sorry, no more. You’ve gone too far already; I can’t bear it any longer.” I wrote a letter saying farewell. Later, I took out my membership card, got a pair of trusty scissors, and cut it in two.
Having resolved to leave, it didn’t necessarily follow I’d join Labour. Yes, I’ve previously been involved in a trade union; I was even a chapter president for a time. Yes, much of my economic analysis dovetails nicely with what has been said by the Shadow Cabinet. I’d much rather see a Labour government than what we have currently. Watching Ken Loach’s “The Spirit of 45” recently made me wish I could vote for that pleasant Mr. Attlee. Nevertheless, another spirit, that of Tony Blair, still wanders the corridors of the Labour Party’s soul. My perception is that his shade is fading; once it dissipates for good, then perhaps the genuine idealism that Loach exposited so beautifully will make itself fully evident once more. For example, I can’t imagine Aneurin Bevan tolerating the failings of the Care Quality Commission; he would have been disgusted by the thought of people in the National Health Service simply not caring about patients as they should and being debauched by the ideology of the market. To him, public service was just that: a high and noble calling to work for the benefit of the people. He demanded the best of those who worked in those services; he also believed public services required proper funding, even if that meant that the wealthiest had to pay. The Labour Party, imperfect as it is, is the primary vessel of these ideas. It is also the most likely means by which this ethos will achieve realisation.
Nevertheless, when I filled out the form and set up the Direct Debit mandate, I was uncertain. I had been a member of the Liberal Democrats but not really “in” the party; I was sure that I would likely have disagreements regardless of whatever political party I joined. I am admittedly a cantankerous soul. Additionally, unlike before, would there be a chance to actually help? Would it be possible to make a difference in my community? I didn’t have to wait long for my answer: I’ve received a warm welcome. I’ve been more politically active and engaged in the past 24 hours than I have been in the past one and a half years.
In the centre of Bradford, there is a mural which celebrates the centenary of the founding of the Independent Labour Party in January 1893. It states, “there is no weal save commonweal”. This work of art celebrates the city’s crucial role in Labour’s formation: similarly, Labour is embedded in Bradford’s DNA. I’d like to think that before any political allegiance I hold, that I am a Bradfordian first. Given this, perhaps joining Labour was only natural.