The party needs to elect a leader who can help redefine it, says one of its former parliamentary candidatesby Robin McGhee / July 16, 2015 / Leave a comment
The 2015 general election was not a happy one for British liberalism, as Nick Clegg identified in his resignation speech in the wake of the Liberal Democrats’ election wipeout. His party had made little mention of Liberalism in its election campaign. Instead, it tried to define itself in opposition to its opponents—adding a “heart” to the Tories and a “brain” to Labour—without saying what it offered in itself. For activists like me, it was obvious how this would play out. Our hopes were sustained by polls indicating that MPs’ personal support could help the party achieve a respectable result. In the end, these turned out to be wrong. Voters mainly went for one or the other of the big parties or didn’t vote at all, and the Liberal Democrats were crushed. The horror of seeing the exit poll showing the party’s near-extermination will be a memory I, like so many others, will never forget.
The party is now engaged in an extended process of self-examination, and that means reminding itself what the Liberal Democrats actually stand for. Tim Farron and Norman Lamb, the candidates in the post-apocalyptic leadership election, keenly portrayed themselves as diehard liberals. Lamb’s campaign has emphasised his ambition is to “give power to people” through a “liberal progressive movement for change”, while Farron has said that liberalism “is needed now more than ever”.
It’s easy to see why both candidates have been keen to emphasise their ideological credentials. Members like me were drawn to the party by its concern for social justice, political reform, internationalism and the environment, based on a respect for individual rights and personal freedom. Those are the same values that first encouraged me to join the party as a teenager, and the same values which even during the bleakest years of the coalition encouraged me to stand as a candidate. Before the election the leadership candidates loyally went along with the party line of middle-way centrism. Now, they are seeking to return the party to its ideological comfort zone.
But it is important to remember that while…