Two weeks ago I joined the Liberal Democrats. I thought I’d explain my reasons.
Let’s start with today. Today was Theresa May’s first PMQs as Prime Minister. I understand the frustrations of those loyal to Jeremy Corbyn, that Prime Minister’s Questions is an embarrassment, having nothing to do with holding the Prime Minister to account, and everything to do with grandstanding, and getting memorable digs in that make the next day’s papers, and fill up Sky News’ political talking points. It makes me squirm any time a Conservative MP is laughing uncontrollably after a question from a struggling member of the public is read aloud. The lack of decorum is a shame on the prestige of the building and its history. It’s not how it should be, but it’s how it will continue to be until genuine Parliamentary reform is undertaken.
So, with the framework being as it is, an opposition leader needs to outsmart the Prime Minister in a battle of wits, before the serious topics can be put to her. The PM needs to be backed into a corner and not let out. Jeremy Corbyn does not do that. Today, he was slapped down, and his important questions got lost, only to be ressurrected online by his supporters who cannot find an audience, judging by today’s poll numbers showing the Tories on 40% and Labour way down on 29%. Corbyn’s inability to grasp the workings of PMQs allowed Theresa May to stand at the dispatch box and announce unchallenged how much she cares for the well being of the least privileged, how much she devotes her time to services like domestic violence. Both points are wholly and easily discredited by her actual appalling record. She should be easily challenged, but she wont be.
The Tory Party abandoned the centre-ground of British politics long ago. When its Chancellor alluded to the idea that the concept of welfare played a role in the Philpott murders – a grotesque use of psychopathic killings, for ideological nonsense. When the former Prime Minister aided the rise of Saudi Arabia to the head of the UN’s Human Rights Council and Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski is given the nickname the MP for Riyadh. When the current Foreign Secretary believes President Obama can only possibly support a Remain vote, because he hates the UK for ancestral reasons; the colour of the President’s skin falls under suspicion in a way that the colour of my skin never will. When theyworkforyou.com ranks Theresa May’s own voting record as “in general, voted against laws that promote equality and human rights”. When the line that properly funding services like mental health services would be to burden our children with higher taxes, as if burdening them with poor quality essential services and no housing is perfectly fine.
So there’s a gap in the centre. Similarly, The Labour Party abandoned the centre-left of British politics the moment it elected a leader who suffers from the Stop The War Coalition mentality, of supporting, defending, and excusing the most illiberal regimes on the planet, if those regimes happen to dislike the US or Israel. The Shadow Defence Secretary will eulogise Chavez as a working class hero despite Human Rights Watch criticising Chavez as an autocrat who violently censored criticism, and – ironically on the subject of justice – imprison judges who didn’t do as he demanded. Corbyn will refer to Hamas as “dedicated to peace and social justice and political justice” despite their goal of a far-right theocratic state that sacrifices all Palestinians who do not happen to be male, heterosexual, Islamists.
In short, whilst Corbyn is uncompromising in his socialist values, liberal values are quickly abandoned in order to stand in solidarity with illiberals. Conservatives are uncompromising in austerity politics over the past few years, whilst liberal values are quickly discarded for some sort of trade benefit with Saudi Arabia. Both of those do not sit well with me.
Liberal values, values that ensure we treat each other as individuals not to be conflated with ill-defined ‘groups’; values that ensure we are free to express thoughts, to criticise holy books that for centuries has been off-limits and can still end up with you being shot at the headquarters of a satirical magazine; values that ensure that ideas have no rights and remain open to criticism, scrutiny, dislike, support, and that censorship not only limits the right of the individual to express and inquire, but limits my right to hear; values that ensure no institutional privilege is granted based on wealth, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or belief, but all are given an equal right to participate; values that insist that education and health are rights not luxuries; values that promote the right to stand for election, to vote, to express discontent, to organise, to pursue our own goals without molestation, nor told what to say, think, dress, or believe at the point of a gun; values that ensure that my right to myself and my happiness and my life does not end, where someone else’s ideology or religion begins; values that do not condemn the most vulnerable as worthless scroungers but provides a caring and understanding springboard for those people to be what they want to be; And we must robustly defend these principles, we must be clear domestically that humanity progresses when society is open, and we must be clear in international affairs that we will not abandon our values to be spectators of great injustice for the sake of trade deals. We must defend liberal principles, and not be scared at any point to express the superiority of liberal, secular, democracy.
Indeed, we base our liberal principles not on ideology, but on the fundamental truth that no human being is born naturally attached to any man-made ideological framework of power, nor permitted natural privilege over fellow humans. We are free at birth, and so the burden is on those who seek to restrict our natural liberty to explain the benefit of doing so, rather than on us to explain why they shouldn’t. Our ideological moment begins when we seek to protect those natural liberties through civil rights, that others would seek to restrict or abuse. Across the World, we must seek as the objective, the removal of barriers to individual liberty where that liberty harms no one else. This includes condemning regimes that work toward the opposite.
I confess to being new to the area I now live in, and so local issues are somewhat alien to me at the moment. Echoing my newness to the area, I am new to the Liberal Democrats, and so whilst I have a rudimentary grasp on the history of the Liberal Party and the Social Democrats, I’m more interested in values and giving them an active, political voice. As such, the Liberal Democrat constitution confirmed to me that if I am to join a political party in the UK, to be politically active, to have any sort of say over its policies and ideas in a Parliamentary democracy that (rather regretfully) relies on parties, it must be the party that states in its opening declaration, that it exists to:
“… build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full.”
– So whilst a lot of new members to the Liberal Democrats seem to have been attracted as a response to the Brexit vote, for me it was more the case of seeing a real opportunity to fill the gap left by a cultural relativist regressive left that is paralysed and cannot scrutinise a government moving further to the right every day, and a market fundamentalist right that will simply erase the desperate pleas of the most vulnerable and replace them with false promises of a better future, and to strongly promote and defend liberal values when in the past few years, that voice has been severely lacking. This is why I joined the Liberal Democrats.