In March I joined the Liberal Democrats. I was optimistic about the path the party was taking, with increased membership, and a position on Brexit which not only set us apart from Labour and the Conservatives, but also spoke to wider liberal values. I felt that, with hard work and a good media operation we could make some real progress. We could focus on showing the country the value of truly Liberal philosophy in a changing world; a world where the biggest threats do not respect borders, where our enemies are fuelled by intolerance, where the old party allegiances are increasingly meaningless.
Then Theresa May called an election.
Initially I was optimistic. The party membership reached a historic high. I thought our message could cut through.
It is clear now, that I was wrong. We haven’t seen a poll surge, fuelled by people who hold liberal values close to their heart. The local election results were at best mediocre. The two main party leaders declined to take part in leader’s debates, meaning that our only hope would be to be the best of the ‘minor’ parties. And, because of the chocolate fireguard of an electoral system which is First Past the Post, Theresa May has been able to shape the election as a choice between herself and Jeremy Corbyn.
Increasingly, I think this election could not have come at a worse time for us. Had it followed straight on the back of the referendum, we could have made far more of opposing Brexit, which now feels, to most people, a foregone conclusion. Conversely, had the election been a few years later (following the fixed term parliament act), we would have had the benefit of a more substantial break from the coalition, which still undermines potential centre-left support, alongside evidence of just how bad Brexit will actually be.
So what now?
We plug away. We build on our increasingly professional media operation, and make the most of any airtime we can get. We throw everything at key seats, and we hope that, come June the 9th, we are not worse off. I’ll be pleased if we make it in to the 20s at this point – if we lose seats we are in real trouble. But regardless, I increasingly see this election as a battle for survival, because we simply don’t have the bandwidth to do more. We are short on time, we are squeezed out of the competition by Labour and the Tories.
Once we are through the next few weeks, the real work will begin.
For too long, our cultural discourse has been high-jacked by illiberal voices, so that we have almost lost sight of what we are missing. The Liberal Democrats must step up and show the word that we can achieve more if we value differences of experience and culture, rather than seeking to impose conformity. That we people should be supported to pursue their own vision of a good life, through excellent education, through real electoral choice, through the freedom to love without consequence. That we can still work with people of different views. That any society relies on the contributions of all its parts, and cannot afford to demonise those who are rich, poor or not from round here. That our greatest challenges do not respect national boundaries.
The world needs Liberalism. Its our job to help it realise this.