Maybe I’ll get in trouble for this entry – but then this is my blog and my views, so here goes.
Today I am angry. It’s our conference and I am angry. What is the reason for my anger?
Here in Sittingbourne and Sheppey we have a small local party. Like many of our local parties we are extremely short of resources, of money, of manpower. We have an entrenched solid Conservative council to fight and the local Tory and Labour parties have wealth we can only dream of. We have very few council seats. We have a referendum to work for in which our MP has said he would vigorously campaign against us. These are indeed difficult times. So I am trying to involve and increase our membership and profile across the constituency.
This week I was informed that two of our long-standing members, both former councillors for many years and well-known locally, both experienced campaigners, exactly the sort of chaps we want out knocking on doors and running for council, have both decided to quit the party. Why? They are unhappy with the coalition – so they have chosen to withdraw any help. I believe this scenario has been repeated around the country.
Sometimes you really want to get hold of people and give them a good slapping – it makes you so angry. OK, many of us are not happy with some of what the coalition is doing – so as a result you want to punish the local party and bring us closer to extinction? You want by your actions to help strengthen a Tory council which you are supposedly against? We criticise the media and the Labour party because they lack the maturity to accept the concept of coalitions which is the norm in most of Europe (and Wales), and indeed in many councils. Yet we find this same sort of immaturity within our own party.
It seems the fact of power has made many of our members run for the hills – scared stiff at the responsibility and of the possibility we might become unpopular. They much prefer sitting in opposition with clean consciences, or leaving the party so they can smugly cleanse themselves and watch the local party struggle. It seems with many Lib Dems, when the going gets tough, the weak go running.
The election result meant we did not have the numbers to do a deal with Labour (and did we really want to keep Gordon Brown in Number 10?) so the only alternative to the coalition was a minority Tory government which would result in another election.
We have no money left, so with Labour in disarray, the Tories would have an open field and romp home with a big majority – then there would be no Lib Dems in government, no referendum on the voting system, no reform of the House of Lords, no tax cuts for the lower paid, no freedom bill or local enterprise partnerships, no banking levy etc. But there would still be high VAT and spending cuts.
Let’s get some things clear – none of us are happy with the 20% VAT rise, none of us are happy with the spending cuts programme, I wasn’t happy with the daft immigration policy we adopted at the election, or the equally daft ‘free’ schools or ‘big society’ policies that are now in place. But you don’t just walk off in a sulk. What’s that going to achieve? In our case, a very difficult local campaign becomes even more difficult.
Instead you stay, you fight and you campaign within the party. For this I congratulate our MPs Charles Kennedy, Bob Russell and our excellent deputy Simon Hughes. They have made it clear there are aspects of the coalition they are not happy with – but I know that if they lived in Sittingbourne and Sheppey they would be out campaigning with us for Liberal Democrat votes.
The coalition won’t last for ever – and if, one day, we get fair votes than coalitions might become the norm here too. We might find ourselves in a coalition with Labour – I wonder how many people we would lose then?
I congratulate and thank all the members who have stuck with us and are showing great maturity in difficult times. I urge them to keep battling, keep campaigning, both locally and nationally, for Liberal Democratic principles of social justice and fairness in society. If necessary we will campaign against our own government but we should certainly campaign against Tories (and Labour) wherever they may be.
If our weaker members want to run away then so be it – but let the rest of us keep up the good work and, at every level, let’s fight hard for every vote.