Lib Dem associations must act against backdoor Tories

Picture of Edward Davey, a white man in a dark grey suit with a blue tieLast week it was reported that the Lib Dem party conference had condemned the government’s plan for “secret courts” (as the BBC describes it, “some civil proceedings held in private for fear of damaging national security”), and yesterday the Scottish Lib Dem conference had also condemned the proposals. The parliamentary party’s support for the Tory proposals (which would, most likely, also be supported by Labour) also led to three high-profile resignations from the party. I am not sure resigning is the answer, however: for people who are in the party, the right way to proceed is to fight to unseat MPs who have betrayed their principles and those who voted for them.

There are two years to go before a new general election, and in that time the party should consider whether they want to go into an election with a set of MPs who have comprehensively betrayed those who voted for them to keep a Tory candidate out, often because Labour were weak in their constituency. They also had a reputation as a strong defender of civil liberties against heavy-handed security measures proposed by both New Labour and Tory governments. In 2010, the Tories were presenting themselves as compassionate Conservatives with their “big society” and “equality” rhetoric, but since then have shown their true colours as a party of selfish, wealthy know-nothings like George Osborne and sanctimonious moralisers like Iain Duncan Smith who do not care for poor or disabled people and want to destroy the welfare state. Most people who voted Tory, let alone Lib Dem, last time did not sign up for that. Furthermore, the Tory press are to the right of the party itself, steering voters towards attitudes sympathetic to right-wing Tories and UKIP.

At the next election, the Tories will be competing for votes with UKIP, but the evidence shows that so will Labour. The Lib Dems should know that, while they may keep some of their strongholds such as Eastleigh and Yeovil, they will lose enough votes in other constituencies, possibly including mine (Kingston and Surbiton) to tip the balance in favour of the Tories. This is because former Labour voters will reason that if a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for the Tories, they might as well just vote Labour or Green as the Tories are going to win anyway. The people with the most power to prevent this are those in the local associations, who can hold a selection and vote for a candidate who is not tained by association with the present government. This would not only renew the confidence of some voters, but also energise activists who might have felt betrayed by the MP they campaigned for in 2010 as a Lib Dem supporting the Tories, or reluctant to look voters in the eye again in 2015.

A better course of action than resigning, or ceasing activism or letting your membership lapse in disgust, is to stay in and work to get a new candidate. Activists also should not be put off by rhetoric about the tough decisions of “office” versus the “comfort and irrelevance of opposition”. The people who have most benefited from the Lib Dems being in the present government are the MPs who have briefly enjoyed the privileges of ministerial office, such as an elevated salary and a limo, and the Tories and their supporters. There is no point in being disciplined in the service of your party if the party will not deliver what they stood for, or what you want or what you thought they stood for. This goes for the Lib Dems as for the Labour party (which routinely expels members for suggesting that people vote for other than a Labour candidate). This was not a case of a government that had come to power talking about welfare or infrastructure improvements and found there was a war to fight; the Lib Dems compromised for the illusion of power. The people responsible must be thrown out if the party is to avoid almost total collapse in 2015.

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