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I have just resigned from the Lib Dems. The initial trigger for this is as described in this post: the Welfare Reform Act has crossed one of my red lines, and I need to hold myself to the same standards I previously advocated to people considering voting Labour. But I want to explain my thinking in a bit more detail.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time wrestling with the question of whether I could still do more good by opposing the party’s current direction from the inside than I could do outside. There were certainly some indications coming out of Spring Conference and its aftermath that perhaps I could: conference reps’ willingness to vote against the leadership line on the NHS; the encouragement that seems to have given to the MPs who rebelled on the Health and Social Care Bill on Tuesday; and the fact that George Potter’s attempt to get the report of the House of Commons Parliamentary Party rejected over the WRA seems to have failed at least in part because the report was submitted before the crucial vote, leaving open at least some possibility of doing something about it at Autumn Conference. I also hesitated because I’ve been proud to be a member of LGBT+ Lib Dems, which needs to increase its membership to 250 by Autumn Conference to keep its SAO status. (If you’re a Lib Dem and in sympathy with the LGBT+ Lib Dem campaigns, you can sign up here.)

But in the end, I’ve reluctantly concluded that I can’t be effective in the Lib Dems, at least at the moment. A number of things have contributed to that decision. On Friday, I found myself seriously considering ways of bringing a legal challenge against the way in which the WRA was passed – not a step I should have to contemplate against a Government that includes my own party, and a pretty clear sign that I don’t belong there any more. I have less time, energy and money to devote to this fight than it would take. The dissent I’ve seen on benefits has been on a relatively small scale, and my guess is that there won’t actually be a huge appetite for changing course by the time Autumn Conference comes round. I’ve become alienated from the leadership by the language Nick has been using about people who disagree with him, and by the tactics that were used to try to stage manage the NHS issue at this Conference - which seem to have resulted in utter confusion even amongst activists who were there about what Conference now wants our MPs to do. I have always been on the extreme left of the party, but the bitter internal divisions and name-calling that have surfaced in the wake of the NHS debate have for the first time made that a painful place to be; I no longer feel that our passionate belief in civil liberties is enough to unite us.

And the real clincher for me, in the end, was this: I voted for the Coalition Agreement at Special Conference in part because it promised there would be protection from the cuts for people on low incomes. If it had said that we were going to change ESA in the ways the Welfare Reform Act is doing, I would not have voted for it. It also promised no top-down reorganisation of the NHS, and what is happening now seems to be the very definition of top-down. I have no confidence that the rest of the Agreement will be adhered to, either; I find myself wondering what bit of it will go next, and I feel betrayed. Like James Graham, I have essentially lost my faith, even if in my case there were rather more specific policy triggers than there were for James.

I also share James’s concerns about the wider political culture in this country, so part of the time I spent considering my decision over the past few weeks was devoted to looking into ways of campaigning for the kind of society I want outside the party system. Unlike James, though, I have concluded that I do at this stage still feel an obligation to engage through party politics. It follows from the logic that led me to join the Lib Dems in the first place. People come into politics for different reasons, and I did it to help keep the authoritarian right wing (in which I include New Labour) out of power. The more disaffected and alienated from the Westminster bubble people become, the greater the risk that they will vote in numbers for authoritarians who claim to have their interests at heart. Many people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 as a protest against social exclusion are not going to vote for them again in 2015, because the Lib Dems are going to look like part of the Establishment that excludes them. I knew it was inevitable when we voted to go into Coalition that we would lose a lot of votes on that basis (although there will now be more than I feared because we've handled benefits and the NHS reforms so badly); but I thought it was still the right choice, because to choose to remain outside Government as a party of permanent protest when we had the opportunity to have Cabinet ministers implementing Lib Dem policies would been hopelessly defeatist. We had moved past that point in our life cycle, and as a party of government, we could at least hope to gain some votes from people who are natural liberals, but wouldn’t vote Lib Dem before because they felt it would be a wasted ballot. I still think we made the right choice, given the information we had at the time and the commitments that were being asked of us; it's what we've conceded since that is the problem.

But if Lib Dem strategy now has to be focused on voters who wouldn't consider us before because we didn't look like a party of government, then someone else needs to give the protest voters an alternative that isn’t right wing - so I think my best course now is to join a party that will help give them that alternative. It's not that I want to be in perpetual opposition, but I do believe that opposition is an important and honourable role, so I'll take it as the next best choice if Government isn't an option I can reconcile with my convictions.

When I was weighing up in 2005 which party to join, I quickly decided the choice had to be between the Lib Dems and the Greens. The Greens have developed their policy platform considerably since then, and there are even a number of issues – immigration, health, benefits – where their policies are closer to my own views than Lib Dem policy is. I can't be 100% sure that they're right for me, because I know there's more to a party than its written policies - but I’ve also learned from my time in the Lib Dems that it’s impossible to understand a party fully from the outside, so I will be joining the Greens immediately and will stay at least long enough to understand how they work.

My political beliefs have not changed; whichever banner I fight under, I will still consider myself a liberal (but also a social democrat, because to me the one has always followed from the other.) I remain tremendously proud of some of the things Lib Dems have achieved and are achieving in Government and in which I had a very small part: the ending of child immigration detention, shared parental leave, and equal marriage. I have made good friends in the party, with whom I hope to stay in touch, and no doubt even to fight side by side in many cross-party campaigns. In some sense, I'll probably always consider the Lib Dems part of my political family. But for now, I need to be putting my limited energies somewhere else.

This entry was cross-posted from Dreamwidth, where there are currently comment count unavailable comment(s). View DW comment(s).


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 15th, 2012 07:23 am (UTC)
Welcome. I have to admit I'm pleased, though I know this has been a difficult process and decision for you.

I received an email this week saying the London Greens are having a special meeting on 26 March to discuss and vote on whether to put Ken as second preference in the mayoral ballot. Actually, I'll just copy the email, in case it interests you:

"Notice of special meeting: Ken Livingstone and second preferences

Monday 26th March 7.30-9.30pm Development House, 56-64 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4LT

In the London mayoral elections voters have a first and second choice on the ballot for mayor. Our Elections Strategy commits us to giving members a say on whether we should recommend a candidate for a second preference vote, or simply leave voters to make up their own minds. We have carried out a policy analysis of the two front-running candidates, Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson to see how they match up to the Green Party's own vision for London.

A "mayoral scorecard" has been produced by Darren Johnson and Tom Chance, comparing the policy positions of Ken and Boris to those of the Green Party's Jenny Jones. On the mayoral scorecard, Ken Livingstone gets 5/10 and Boris Johnson gets 1/10. Clearly, Ken Livingstone gets a more favourable score than Boris Johnson but still falls well short of where the Green Party stands on issues like roadbuilding, ethical finance, pay inequality and air pollution. Accordingly, Ken Livingstone is coming along to a special meeting of the London Federation on the evening of 26th March at Development House.

Members will have the opportunity to put questions to Ken Livingstone for one hour and to try and secure commitments from him on his areas of weakness. The second part of the meeting (without Ken Livingstone present) will then give London members the opportunity to have a lively debate on the pros and cons of recommending a second preference, followed by a formal vote at the end. Any London Member will be entitled to take part and vote.

Whatever your views on the issue do come along and have your say. The decision on whether to recommend Ken Livingstone for a second preference vote will be taken by the members present at this special meeting."

I think I'd be really interested in going, not least to see if Ken inches green-ward!
Mar. 15th, 2012 07:27 am (UTC)
Thank you. Sadly, I can't do Mondays, but I'll look out for the result with interest. I would still put Brian Paddick way above either Ken or Boris, though, whether it makes sense in terms of tactical voting or not.
Mar. 15th, 2012 07:30 am (UTC)
I'm very sorry indeed to hear this (mostly because it's so sad for you) but can understand your rationale and can't disagree with your strategy, although like James I have made a different choice.

I don't know whether this makes things better or worse, but I still don't believe this has to happen. I do still believe that it's possible to be in power and not act like all the other people in power. But it's very hard.

I can't get the link to him to work, btw.
Mar. 15th, 2012 07:40 am (UTC)
Hum, yes, Dreamwidth seems to have had a bit of a stutter there. Should be fixed now.
Mar. 15th, 2012 07:55 am (UTC)
Thank you.
Mar. 15th, 2012 07:50 am (UTC)
I'm sorry you've been pushed into this.

I hope that you find the Greens welcoming.

I look forward to your posts about them - they intrigue me, but I have a perception of their policies as being unworkable. Hopefully you can help dispel that.
Mar. 15th, 2012 08:53 am (UTC)
I will always support whatever decisions you make.

I'm very curious to see what your analysis of the Green's policies is - especially their economic policy, which has always seemed (on my admittedly limited reading of it) to be unworkable and hopelessly unrealistic. Also, their policies with regard to science and technology, in particular evidence-based public health policy.

I almost invariably look forward to our debates and I suspect this will prove to be more than usually the case here.
Mar. 15th, 2012 01:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you, darling. Your support always means a great deal to me, and I'll look forward to that discussion too.
Mar. 15th, 2012 08:59 am (UTC)
I'm sorry that you're in this sad position (and even sorrier about the way the coalition is working out, though I was afraid it would go this way). But it's never easy to take the decision to walk away.

By the way, the link to the other post is broken - there's a bit of stray html in it. Never mind, you've fixed it.

Edited at 2012-03-15 09:01 am (UTC)
Mar. 15th, 2012 02:48 pm (UTC)
Sorry to see you go!
Dear Liz,

I'm so sorry to read that you now feel that you must leave a Party for which you have done so much. I do understand how you must be feeling. I have been on the brink of leaving for more than a year but have held on in the hopes of seeing it "Getting Better".

The thing is knowing when to stop and to leave, even if it carries regrets.

We will all miss you both in the Party itself and in LGBT+ Lib Dems.

I do wish you well, as do many of us, and I hope you find a happy political home somewhere.

Take care,

Mar. 15th, 2012 05:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Sorry to see you go!
Thanks, Rebekah.
Mar. 16th, 2012 05:28 am (UTC)
unfortunately, I don't know anything about UK politics but I imagine this was a difficult decision for you. I hope you've found peace with this and can explore new opportunities
Natalie Bennett
Mar. 25th, 2012 11:04 am (UTC)
Hi Liz,

Welcome to the Green Party! I'm chair of Green Party Women and of Camden Green Party. Any questions please drop me a line.

Mar. 25th, 2012 05:03 pm (UTC)
Re: Welcome!
Thank you!
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )


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Liz Williams

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