We’ve always been a broad church.
One of the hallmarks of liberal politics is that if offers space for disagreement, without letting that disagreement define us. Liberal Democrats not only tolerate but champion the rights of people who hold different views to our own. And that’s no bad thing.
But there has to be some solid foundation to that tolerance. There must be some meta-politics that the party can coalesce around. I joined the Lib Dems because I believe it stands for a fundamental truth; that everyone has the right to “freedom, dignity and wellbeing”. I mean, that is what our constitution says.
Yet our newest MP has, in the past, acted in ways which appear contrary that most core belief. As a Conservative MP, Dr Philip Lee sought to legislate to prevent immigration by people with HIV or Hepatitis*; hardly a figurehead for the liberal society we all want to build.
So the decision to admit Dr Lee to the party is deeply concerning. It suggests that a single issue (Brexit) is more important that our fundamental values; that a single news cycle, and an extra member of the parliamentary group (who may only sit with the Lib Dems for a month or so), is worth more than the commitment of the many activists dismayed by this new Liberal Democrat MP’s historic positions.
Despite all that, I remain a Lib Dem. Because our party is not defined by one MP, but by the thousands of activists and members who call themselves Lib Dems. It is defined by the activists who travelled across the country to ensure the election of our other new MP, Jane Dodds. It is defined by colleagues in local parties across the country speaking up for their communities. It is defined by those liberals who no longer feel they can remain in this party, but who have devoted immeasurable time and energy to making our country and our world a more liberal place.
I’ve always believed that everyone should have the chance for redemption, and that nobody should be defined by their worst failures. I hope that Dr Lee will be able to serve as a truly liberal MP. I hope that the Liberal Democrats can continue to build a world where everyone can enjoy freedom, dignity and wellbeing. And I hope that those former members who have left us today, feel able to return some time soon. You are welcome in our party. But I can’t begrudge your decision to leave. After all, I’m a liberal.
*Dr Lee argues that the aim of the amendment was to identify carriers, so that risk and demand for care could be managed, however the text of the amendment would have had the effect of blocking immigration altoegther.