Right, first of all a quick video response to recent events:
Last night (and this morning) was the most bitter political experience of my life. It was made worse by the fact that I, like most Lib Dems, thought I was braced and prepared for the worst. At 10pm, when the exit poll was broadcast, it turned out I wasn’t – and then it turned out that was only the beginning of something even worse than that. Yes, it was truly the worst of the worst of the worst.
The loss of Julian Huppert in Cambridge is the single most devastating indictment of UK representational politics that I can remember. Never can any constituency have rejected such an intelligent, hard-working, passionate and most of all effective Member of Parliament. The list of achievements Julian has racked up in five short years is nothing less than astounding, and reflective of his boundless energy, his unquenchable curiosity and his genuine compassion and care for constituents.
Perhaps I’m biased, as I used to work for the man. But then he treated me, as one of his staff, with the same remarkable care as that he gave to all constituents. So I’m more than happy to be biased.
Julian’s narrow defeat was only one of many kicks in the teeth. At times it felt like the blows were coming in so fast they were more like an avalanche, burying hope beneath an endless cascade of lost deposits and overturned majorities. Just listing the likes of Vince Cable, David Laws, Jo Swinson, Lynne Featherstone, Simon Hughes, Adrian Sanders, and many more…
It’s not fair. It didn’t have to be like this. But we can’t blame anyone but ourselves.
The temptation is to turn inwards in denial and acrimony: pointing fingers, extracting pounds of flesh, demanding apologies. No doubt some will want to do so. But that is not the right response.
The right response is what has been firmly, if forlornly, advanced by some of our remaining MPs and by the likes of Paddy Ashdown. A Conservative majority was not foreseen. But it now exists, and must be met with a liberal opposition. The UK, too, is on the verge of splintering, of turning inwards, and becoming a more dangerous and authoritarian place. Theresa May is set to continue in Marsham Street, happily proposing ever more mad ideas that will limit our liberty and do little for our security. Iain Duncan Smith will soon be given the task of finding the £12 billion of welfare cuts that the Tories wouldn’t give us answers on before polling day. George Osborne will be sizing up other spending cuts in key areas like further education.
We cannot leave it to others to do what the Liberal Democrats still exist to do. There is no one else around to do it: to provide a different, better way forward. One based on liberty, equality and community, on internationalism and openness; on the vital commitment to empower each person to live a life that is full of opportunity and creativity, free of poverty, ignorance and conformity.
I have been guilty of doing too little to safeguard that identity. The party, too, has been guilty of neglecting it and allowing government to turn us into nothing more than an often-overlooked rudder on a ship bound for the rocks.
Now is the time to accept what has happened – and our responsibility for it – and fight, and fight again, for the values that we are founded upon. I intend no longer to be a passive Liberal Democrat. Today marks the day when we begin the long process to turn the anger and pain of this general election into renewal: not just for ourselves, but for the society we still aim to serve.