I am quite open about my voting record. To my eternal shame I voted Conservative in 1979. As a student of Economics and dismissive of some Marxist sociologists in particular I was a thoroughgoing all round liberal. I was an Economic Liberal, and the Conservatives had become Economic Liberals. I didn't last long. The analysis soon shifted, that closing down inefficient plant and equipment did not mean opening efficient plant and equipment, and it did mean dumping people at a critical period in their lives in terms of gaining employment experience. Not being attracted to the (inadequate) collectivities of the Labour Party I moved to the Liberals and the Liberal end of the Alliance with Social Democrats. For a very short period while at the University of Essex I did some actual politicking, helping to dislodge the Liberal Party from the Broad Left and attaching it to the Social Democrats. But then I left. From time to time I went along with a Unitarian friend to promote the new Liberal Democrats.
However, in 1997 in a straight fight constituency between Labour and the Conservatives I voted for Blair's Labour to shift out the Tories. But from then on I was back with the Liberal Democrats. In 2010 I faced a resurgent straight fight where the Tory might win, but I couldn't bring myself to vote Labour.
All this time the Liberal Democrats had worked on their identity problem by creating a left of centre position, and indeed it was to the left of Labour on many issues and more likely to defend the Welfare State. Gordon Brown was as much a privatiser as Tony Blair, despite a change of emphasis, and all of them regarded the unemployed as little more than rubbish to be wrung through their system of Noddy training and work, with all the talk of 'Hard Working Families'. Work shall make you free, they say.
In 2010 the Liberal Democrats seemed to have a capable leader, even if he had run out of steam at the end of the campaign. They were likely to be robbed again by the electoral system, but in the lottery of the election the failure of the Conservatives to win brought the Liberal Democrats to partial power.
What I missed in this was the ease at which the 'Orange Book' Liberal Democrats in its leadership melded in with the Tories. But over and over again this happiness of agreement has led to a betrayal of the former identity of the party built over recent decades particularly under Ashdown and Kennedy.
The first and major problem was the direct lie involved in the election over Higher Education Fees. There was the party talking about honesty (remember the adverts spreading litter?) and the Liberal Democrats would be different - honest. Yet, all the time, the policy of removing fees for university students was an easy negotiable for a coalition. It wasn't that they dumped the policy for a trebling of fees instead: but that they never intended to keep it in the first place.
The 'no top down NHS reforms' (said the Tories) has become top down reforms that have even included the Liberal Democrats. It was not in the Coalition Agreement and should not have been any part of government policy with their participation.
We've had a full on squeeze of the economy, and the so called Work Programme is all programme and no work. I should know - I've seen it. It is being run as cheaply as possible and involves nothing more than the recycling of literacy, numeracy, can you write a letter, have you done a CV, basis of activity. It is the appearance of action. Most of the so-called Apprenticeships are nothing of the sort, and indeed they are ways for the government to meet some large employers' wages bills at the unskilled end of employment in a recycling of the unemployed off the register.
The Liberal Democrats have been nothing but a wooden leg for the Conservatives. But what is really going to finish it is the proposal to be able to sweep email and online messaging without proper judicial oversight, and then we have this government's plan to introduce secret courts. This was a government that rightly tackled Labour's loss of insight into civil liberties. To me, George Galloway's win in Bradford was as much a message to the Liberal Democrats as it was to Labour - the three cheeks of the current political bottom.
It doesn't affect me, does it? Well, that's how civil liberties get chipped away. It is as if parties get into power and the bureaucrats (and the Americans) that want secrecy go to work on the governing parties. If any of this legislation goes through on either email sweeps (Clegg in favour) or secret courts (Clegg apparently against - but his position on the NHS hardly is a good marker) then any point whatsoever of voting Liberal Democrat is swept away.
I've not been a Green voter. There are aspects of the pure Green agenda that I don't like, and that I think are costly. Much of it I do think would be beneficial: like if we really could value, improve and subsidise community welfare, such as transport systems. I'm sure that Green approaches to unemployment would be far better than under the three parties seen so far. The Greens need to build a broader coalition, building a political humanism, and of course now is their chance given the betrayal by the Liberal Democrats.
A minimum position for me to vote Liberal Democrat in the future in a General Election has been the ending of Nick Clegg as leader (and not replaced by others equally orange). He ought to go early, out by the coalition's end, as Ashdown went too early (but he did go, and always better when a leader sees himself as dispensable). But if this party votes for this online sweep and secret courts then I'm afraid I'm off, and probably for good. In fact I can't understand why anyone would want to be a member of this political party the way it is going.
They party is going to be clobbered at the next election, and it deserves it. It has deceived people who gave their trust at the last election. But if it just becomes, really, no more than the Conservatives' wooden leg, full of illiberal woodworm, then it ought to be destroyed. The party is becoming a disgrace and I am looking around for alternatives.
Richard Ashby’s reflections: Canterbury, Chichester & Rochester 27-29th Oct 2015 - The shared (originally facilitated) conversations were one of the recommendations of the ‘Pilling Report’ on Human Sexuality published in November 2013. Th...