I doubt it needs to be said but... being a liberal, Folkestonian, unionist electoral reformer has not been a very pleasant or comfortable experience these last two days. But now the feelings of sadness, depression and disgust have calmed to a mere numbness, it's time to see where we go from here. (Note I may not actually suggest where we go from here and may just get distracted by ranting....)
What I'd hoped wouldn't happen has happened. The Liberal Democrats have been wiped off the council , and the only opposition to the triumphant Tory administration are two People First councillors (to 44 Tories). I won't doubt the commitment of those two councillors to represent their constituents well but that majority gives the Tories the ability to ignore campaigns against projects they support. Residents are now the people responsible for scrutinising the workings of Shepway district council.
We must not shy away from those responsibilities. From the small (such as my other halves quick call to the council to get some illegal "No Parking" cones removed from our streets yesterday) to the big (Fisherman's Wharf ring a bell? Public meeting attendance a must). We must hold them to account.
The Shepway Liberal Democrats are reeling right now, and many will sympathise with our own dear Sam's words on Newsnight last night I'm sure, but we must take heart that there was no "Labour breakthrough". We can, and must, come back fighting. I know the former councillors have a truly deep love for Shepway and whatever happens to the party, they won't just stop caring.
It was awful. There's no sugar coating our performance at the local English elections, the Scottish Parliament elections and at the Welsh Assembly. It was dire. I believe a "collapse" or a "disaster" might be overplaying it somewhat, we still got 17% of the vote at the local elections and got 1056 councillors elected. It was, however, a wake up call. The Tories didn't get punished for the Coalition because they didn't do anything that their supporters wouldn't expect of them! It's not because they've used Lib Dems as human shields. It's not because the Coalition policies are generally popular.
We as Lib Dems suffered such a dismal fallout because we haven't listened to voters, OUR voters, since the 2010 election. You don't get to air a video like this:
And then expect your supporters to swallow a love-in with the Tories, a reversal on tuition fees and etc. etc. I know, it's tough to say this, but things have got to change.
I'm not advocating a sulky withdrawal from the Coalition. I'm advocating what I've been advocating since last year... grown up politics! We must call a spade a spade, and be brutally honest with our coalition partners. It might already be too late. Nick Clegg may not be the man for the job (but I do hope he is!). Tough decisions lie ahead.
When the media try their "OMG coalition split" stupidity we must call them out on it, not pretend the divisions are minor and gloss over them. The divisions are real, and it's time we said so. We are DIVIDED and working together. It's not a contradiction. Next time the Tories ask us to vote for something our supporters do not want don't say "Sure okay we'll vote for it but cross our fingers whilst we do". We do not vote for it. We get bigger concessions. We fight for every drop of Tory blood. Excuses like "it's in the national interest" "we didn't win the election so we can't do everything we want" and the old "look at all the other pretty things we got" lines DO NOT WORK ON THE PUBLIC. They are not stupid. They feel betrayed. And quite honestly following an election ad like the one above, can you blame them?? In lots of cases our supporters did not switch sides, they just didn't bother turning up. Disaffected and miserable. We need to speak to them, apologise for getting carried away and sort ourselves out. Now. I truly wish our ministers would stop spinning and start listening.
But... we must stay strong as a party. We do not agree with each other on our future direction. We need to listen to each other and learn. We need to really work together and fight to recover our lost support (and more!) if we have any hope of securing a more liberal future for this country. We cannot split and I urge all members to stay and fight for the party they want. I've faltered these last few months, but I'm no longer going anywhere.
We have a duty to keep up the struggle, to protect our country from the excesses of the conservative and illiberal forces that too often get their hands on the reins of power. We must not let the Tories target minorities in this country like they have done in the past. We must not let Labour take away our rights "for our own good". We have to survive as a party to ensure someone is able to scream for justice and fight for freedom.
We must not continue on blind to the message the public have clearly sent to us. But we MUST continue on.
Heart. Broken. I don't think that quite covers it but the AV loss, expected though it was, was a bitter blow. The gloating from the No to AV side didn't help and the spinning from the Yes to AV side almost made me violent.
Clegg-hate was obviously a factor, but I think it is naive to blame everything on our leader. We need to learn from this referendum and really study what lay behind the No vote. Was it just to punish us? Or was it that the system wasn't liked? Or worse... do the British just not want electoral reform? These are the questions that lay before us. The answers will tell us what we do next, but they may not be what we want to hear. The public has spoken, and it's time to try and listen (although with any referendum it's next to impossible to really hear what's being said). I've been listening to colleagues who truly believe the system was just too complicated. That might confound election geeks and students of politics but I think this actually goes a long way to explaining the no vote. I think we may have lost the argument on my beloved STV already. Additional Members might be our best bet. :(
In the meantime, we must focus on achievable goals. House of Lords reform. That's what we need to get, and we need to do it properly.
The State Of The Union
Whilst I was lying battered and bruised on the floor following the election results somebody came up and stabbed me through the heart. The SNP's stunning victory in Scotland (managing to achieve a majority in a PR-lite system is no mean feat) puts the existence of our Union into question. A real question. That people will vote on. Seeing the stupidity on both sides of the AV debate (from the campaigns themselves I mean), and the downright misrepresentations they perpetuated I have grave concerns about the conduct of a referendum on such an emotive subject as Scottish independence. Whilst the polls don't suggest Scottish people back such a singularly final move, I worry greatly for what might happen if the debate is not kept above board (by both sides!).
I believe in democracy. I must support the concept of a referendum on the subject. But, with a bearded dragon as my witness (the house is empty right now and I don't believe in sky fairies), I will fight to try to keep this union together. I will not let the country of my birth, the country I love, disappear easily.
Our islands ,and their many varied people, must not be split apart based solely on where you happen to live. Instead we must fight the forces of nationalism by addressing the remaining, genuine grievances of all in a new federal structure. Devolution was a typical British compromise. We must move beyond it to something more stable (please oh bearded dragon let it be federalism not independence).
Crawling from the Wreckage
What went wrong
How to implement full Lords reform, now that the referendum is lost.
When Nick and the LibDems balloon was well and truly burst
If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist