My partner and I have just returned from a week in Berlin, while there we met up with a friend that I haven’t seen since I lived in Brussels. I met this friend at university where I had the nickname ‘Tory Tim’ and she was eager to hear why I had left the party I called home for 10 years and joined the Liberal Democrats. Last Thursday I celebrated a year as a member of the Liberal Democrats so I thought now would be an appropriate time to reflect on why I joined and how I feel a year on.
The two main events that led to me leaving the Conservatives were my time in Brussels working for the European Parliament and becoming a Christian at the age of 23. Before I went to Brussels I was an ardent Thatcherite and Eurosceptic, however, my experience of the institution changed that – I witnessed first hand the key role the European Union plays in maintaining peace and prosperity throughout Europe. I returned to the UK with a new found respect for the EU, but I still felt I was a Conservative so I remained within the party. The next big change in my life was that I became a Christian and my perspective on everything was altered, however, it took a while for me to realise that it was Christ changing my world view.
It dawned on me that I was no longer a Conservative after I attended the 2015 party conference in Manchester. This was a few months after Cameron’s surprise majority victory (that majority didn’t last long) and the Tories were finally free of their pesky coalition partners. The mood was triumphant, champagne was flowing and Cameron received a 5 minute standing ovation, but for me the tone had changed and it no longer felt like the party I had joined as a youth member at 15, or campaigned for throughout the numerous elections in those 10 years. Considering that Corbyn had just been elected Labour leader, the Lib Dems had been wiped out and the SNP dominated Scotland, I had expected the Conservatives would cement their position in the centre ground of politics continuing the pragmatic politics of the coalition government. How wrong I was.
That party conference represented the moment the Tories lunged to the right; it could be seen from the shambolic changes proposed to working tax credits, the disgraceful cuts to disability living allowance to the anti-immigration speech delivered by the then Home Secretary, now Prime Minister Theresa May. I came home disillusioned, resigned my party membership and spent the next few months in a party-less wilderness. It’s funny that I didn’t immediately join the Liberal Democrats, perhaps I didn’t think it worth it considering the smashing they had just received in 2015 general election. Instead, I joined Labour for around 2 weeks, the worse 2 weeks of my political life. I joined because I wanted to campaign to remain in the European Union and be part of a progressive party. What I got was a party that is apathetic to the EU, bitterly divided, horrendously tribal and suspicious of anyone with a different political background – they lost us the EU referendum and are doing nothing to prevent a hard Brexit.
I left as quickly as I joined and remained without a political home until the week following the Brexit vote. I was annoyed that my experience with the ‘Labour In’ campaign had put me off taking a more active role in the EU referendum, and determined not to allow Britain to descend further into political madness without a fight I joined the Liberal Democrats. I became a member for two main reasons; first their steadfast commitment to keeping Britain in Europe, and secondly, the realisation that all the policies I supported from the coalition were Lib Dem policies (the tax threshold increase, pupil premium and fairer voting to name a few).
So where are we now, unfortunately the political madness hasn’t ended, if anything it’s got worse – the Tories are in bed with the DUP (don’t even get me started on them) and Corbyn has solidified his control over Labour thanks to a youth vote that doesn’t seem to understand that he is as anti-EU as May’s Conservatives. Despite the Lib Dem gaining seats, the surge we were hoping for did not happen, and while I respect those who voted for Labour, in an attempt to oust May and end years of austerity. Labour voters need to recognise that the biggest threat to our future is leaving the single market and the disaster of a hard Brexit – which Labour are doing nothing to stop, and are actually helping the Conservatives. Just before the election the Economist gave its support to the Liberal Democrats as the only party offering a credible centre ground approach that is so desperately needed in Britain.
At the beginning of this blog I talked about how I have just got back from Berlin, there is a city that understands more than most the dangers of nationalism and populism. In Europe with the recent election of Macron in France, there is a renewed sense of optimism in the European dream of liberalism and progressive integration. Britain is at threat of being left behind as some crackpot country in the north, governed by extremes of left and right, bitterly divided between old and young, rich and poor, different religions and race. Now more than ever we need a strong liberal presence in our politics, and a year on I still feel that the Liberal Democrats offer that hope – that’s why I will be seeking to become a parliamentary candidate for the Lib Dems at the next general election (whenever that might be). Britain has a proud liberal history; we created the first welfare state, destroyed fascism in Europe, co-authored the Convention of Human Rights, helped bring down the Iron Curtain and Westminster is the mother of parliaments. All this is under threat from both left and right, and I am determined to stand in the middle fighting for a liberal, open and tolerant Britain, in Europe not out of it.