By now the emails will have gone out and news of my resignation as co-chair of Liberal Reform will have hit the Twittersphere. What will perhaps be more of a surprise is my confirmation here that yes, I am resigning my Lib Dem party membership too. I’ve already sent the email, in fact, my original membership card and renewal certificate have already gone in the paper recycling; hard to escape, this Lib Demmery! It’s been an interesting three years, in which my innate classical liberalism and membership of a political party have found themselves often at odds, but I’ve mostly chosen the latter over the former. Well, no more. There actually are a variety of reasons for leaving, far too many to explore in depth – some ideological, some practical, some local, and some national. It eventually came with simple clarity, however: I wanted the party to be something it wasn’t, and in the natural arrogance that so quickly comes to the political, tried to change the party so that it reflected my image. That didn’t happen, of course – I may have stepped aside from the nannies, the interveners, the statists, but by continuing my membership and support of the same party I may as well have been one. And my beliefs became secondary to fitting in with the system, and my beliefs thus became devalued. So my attempt to push my particular political rock uphill became pointless, always frustrated, never achieving anything, yet I didn’t see it and kept pushing.
It’s hard to be an individual in the Lib Dems, you see. You easily get sucked into the party mindset, the cultlike little rituals and celebrations, the us-vs-them point of view that so readily undermines the claimed plurality, and instead focuses inwards. There’s always been something about party politics, however, which makes for a particularly unchristian eagerness to seek for and rejoice in the downfall of your opponents, for whatever reason. And the Lib Dems are no more immune than the good folk of, say, Political Scrapbook, even if LDs are generally less crass about it. I say generally – examples are always around, from Graham Watson’s silliness to Guy Verhofstadt comparing David Cameron to a suicide bomber in a HuffPost article. There’s nothing against liberalism or democracy to seek to control the EU budget, and with his disdainful tweet Watson showed he put his own party’s good above that of everyone else. And I stopped and wondered just what I really had in common with such people…
Here’s a theory I’ve been working on: political parties are cults. They should be clubs for the like-minded, but instead become repulsive repositories that make the people inside more similar, not less, and farther away from the general public, not closer. They encourage closed minds, adoration of party leaders, disbelief of crimes committed, putting the good of the cult above the good of other people – in this case the country! Look at the way canvassers go from door to door, enquiring about votes, the currency of the cult, rather than ideology. We don’t want to change the minds of the electorate, we want them to support our particular cult getting into power instead of that other one, and ideally joining the cult and helping spread the membership. What’s the difference between cults? Some claim to ideology, sure, some sure-to-be-broken promise of action, but when it comes down to it, often nothing more than colour or logo. Political people see themselves as above the apolitical, that they are more intelligent than them, or care more. It’s an automatic expectation, when they speak to you, that all you will care about is the surface, the shallow – not in-depth questions with such import that only the political can answer them. And if you disagree, woe betide you, then nine times out of ten you’ve simply been brainwashed by the wicked meedja, whether left or right.
Zooming in a little, Lib Dems should be about liberalism and democracy, wherever it is found. Instead, they are about the Lib Dems, a self-electing machine that wants power for the sake of power and then, when it has it, prefers to keep hold of the previously-won power rather than institute liberalism or democracy. Yes, yes, the Lib Dems have achieved some decent things in government, but they aren’t ruled by these principles, these ideas that individuals should rule themselves as far as possible, and so we get spectacles like Jeremy Browne, one of the party right’s few ideological champions, banning legal highs. What price liberalism now?
And after various such cases, I decided that I’d had enough of that, and realised that a far simpler, more elegant solution to this struggle, this rock in my path, was to stop pushing against it. It’s easy, you see, to set a group up, to find like-minded individuals and carve out a little niche for yourselves so that your opponents are not the only ones organised. The Lib Dems certainly has no shortage of liberal-minded individuals, who together could form a wonderful nucleus of a new movement. But the rock they’re pushing against is too large, in my view, the distance removed from the particular ideal too great, and the steps needed to get it there too far. No doubt some will think ’tis nobler to continue, to keep pushing the rock up this particularly impossible hill, but I decided simply to stop. All of the various, buzzing, insistent little whispers that were easy to swat away individually came together and spoke with a clear voice, and it was clear what I had to do.
So, I have resigned from Liberal Reform, and from the first and only political party I’ve ever been a member of. I’m proud I joined, back when I did, and I’m proud that I had the idea of an economic liberal grouping, and helped to gather pebbles together to start the slow and arduous process of pushing the rock uphill. But it’s time others took over, those fresher, with more enthusiasm and a better idea of how to push than me. Perhaps levers will be involved, perhaps there’s some sort of magical pulley system that will make the job much easier. You never know, perhaps I’ll rejoin and start pushing again one day. For the moment, however, my place is best elsewhere. I might still push, of course, in a different way, trying to get the same rock up the same hill, but without having to struggle so hard. And that doesn’t mean I’m off to join another political party, that I believe others are better at pushing rocks up hills – no other mainstream party offers a more compelling ideological set-up, above all else, and I can’t see myself being comfortable in the ones that are even superficially similar. It just means I’m still quite certain that I chose the right hill, but am certain I was misguided in my choice of rock.
I’ll miss certain things, but less than I thought. I’m glad that membership of the Lib Dems led me to meet so many interesting, fun people, that I hope remain friends even now – not least of whom is my girlfriend, Emma. But when you strip away the vainglorious angst and emotion, the hype wrapped around the central deceit that operates this political party, you find mere emptiness, the same ‘I am right and you are wrong’ nanny-state social democratic thinking that is the centre ground of British politics today. Will classical liberalism make a comeback? Perhaps. But not through the Liberal Democrats, certainly not in this decade. And I’ve had enough of chasing the dream, of pushing the rock uphill, of trying to convince myself that vaguely ‘liberal’-tinged centrism is the same thing as my political beliefs. So, I’ve shrugged.