Recently I was supporting James Duguid’s campaign in the Chandlers Ford by-election. Whilst there, I met one member who hadn’t canvassed since 2010 due to feeling embarrassed about the parties decision to form a coalition, but more so out of personal protest against Nick Clegg. Now, challenging somebody for not canvassing is not my prerogative, but when someone tells me they’re ashamed of the party, I get a little frustrated.
The reasons why a coalition was formed needs little introduction, but simply it was because the electorate failed to elect a majority government. Since I became a member, I devoted myself fully to the party, knocking on doors, working for the party organising campaigns both internal and external and delivering thousands of leaflets. But for what? To be told that becoming a governing party was the wrong thing to do or to be told that we ‘sold out’.
Of course not, almost the complete opposite. The Liberal Democrats choosing to form a coalition with the Conservatives was the most selfless, liberal and brave act our party has ever done and will ever do. When someone tells me they’re ashamed of the party I take it very personally, after all it is the one thing I have consistently put endless hours into growing.
By saying you’re ashamed of the party, you’re saying you’re ashamed that the Liberal Democrats provided a tax cut to over 26 million people, you’re ashamed that the Liberal Democrats created over 2 million apprenticeships of which 50% went to woman, you’re ashamed that since 2010, more than £5.5bn has gone to schools in England to benefit the most disadvantaged children, you’re ashamed that nearly 2 million families across the UK can benefit from tax-free childcare. What you’re saying is you’re ashamed that, for once, your party mattered enough to make a tangible difference to people’s lives. That in itself is pretty shameful.
I was out knocking doors in Portsmouth and I found myself talking to someone who had historically voted Liberal Democrat but would no longer do so due to our poor handling over tuition fees. Although I didn’t, I found myself wanting to tell them how wrong they are and how coalition governments don’t allow the smaller party to get what they want all the time. The thing Nick Clegg didn’t talk about enough about as his time as Deputy Prime Minister is how hung parliaments work and why compromise is necessary. That same night I was on the door speaking to a single mother who couldn’t stop praising the coalition and the work the Liberal Democrats had done to help her get into work – so swings and roundabouts I suppose.
But what’s the point of setting ourselves up as a credible political party if when the opportunity to govern comes, we turn it down? We are Liberals, we’re always pissing against the wind when it comes to election results and its very rare that a situation will arise for us to ever govern again, so we should not be ashamed of the work we did in the coalition. We got over 70% of our manifesto into the coalition agreement, that’s the biggest success in over 80 years. We should grasp every opportunity we have to make a change. We should be proud of what we have done and shout it as loud as we can.
I hear lots of members, activists and voters say, “we’re dead”, “we’re a spent penny”, “we’ll never rebuild!” and all the other depressive slurs that have been passed around, to them I say I don’t care.
I don’t care for one second because as Nick Clegg said in his resignation speech: “If our losses today are part payment for every family that is more secure because of a job we helped to create, every person with depression who is treated with a compassion they deserve, every child who does a little better in school, every apprentice with a long and rewarding career to look forward to, every gay couple who know that their love is worth no less than anyone else’s and every pensioner with a little more freedom and dignity in retirement then I hope at least our losses can be endured with a little selfless dignity”.