Why I am more a Lib Dem now than I was when I joined (and why we keep on needing to say such things)

It has been over 2 years now that we have been in Government. We have been ridiculed, mocked, humiliated, and embarrassed by a seemingly never ending stream of attacks, u-turns, and broken promises. Our local power base has been decimated. Our members feel demoralised at best and ashamed at worst. The only person who seems to think this is going to bring electoral success is the leader of our party. But despite the mistakes, the challenges and the serious questioning of whether this is all worth it, there are reasons why I feel more aligned with the party today than when I joined in more prosperous times. To make this argument I will start and end on the same quote from Theodore Roosevelt, speaking at the Sorbonne in Paris, April 23, 1910:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

I have many issues with what has gone on in Government and in the party since we have been in Government, not least with Clegg, who I feel has too often been too slow to react with a Lib Dem instinct. But the majority of my frustration has been with the Tories and I understand the contempt that Labour supporters feel towards them. They champion the minority; they propose dangerous ideas; they do not understand modern society; and they do not represent the type of country I want to live in. It is hard being associated with a party that makes me feel disgusted. But we are in the arena giving blood, sweat and tears to make some semblance of a civilised government, despite the Tories, not because or with them.

Being in opposition is easy. You have no compromises to make and can pretend you don’t need to make any if you were in government. We have been used to this position for so long. But in government we have had the most effective Ministers in Cable, Huhne, and Webb with many measures we should be proud of. That is not to say I like everything the Lib Dems have done in government but we should remember that it is not the critic who counts but the man who is actually in the arena. They may come short again and again, but we can’t say that we haven’t tried to make a difference in these difficult times.

It is an unfortunate state of affairs that everything is biased. We have no natural media base and you only have to pick up a newspaper to read how awful the Lib Dems are. The TV channels are as bad in an attempt to make stories and attract viewers. In the face of it Lib Dem supporters are left to believe everything that is written or are left with their faith or defences and both are poor political bellwethers. When I post the positive parts of the news about the Lib Dems I get messages saying I am wearing rose coloured glasses or it is a ridiculous love-in. It is merely highlighting the fact that some positive news has been reported but because it doesn’t fit with mainstream media narrative it seems fictitious to some, even though it comes from the mainstream media. Within these positive news stories about the Lib Dems are the roots of who we are as a party: liberal, fair, internationalist, environmentally minded, distrustful of power bases, cooperative and many others.

We might experience a serious political setback in the 2015 general election. Some talk of it being a generation to rebuild the party. But this is a journey for us. We got what we got and we have tried to make the best of it. Mistakes have been made and we will pay for them. It does not mean the party is rotten, changed, or irrelevant. It means we made some mistakes. If we think we were going to go into government without making mistakes then we were kidding ourselves. This is real life.

The prize was always the triumph of high achievement and a liberal legacy. We may or may not achieve this. But we will have tried and tried with dignity. There are things I would have liked us to have done differently but I wish we didn’t have to be in a government with the Tories. We may fail in government, and perhaps it is a strong possibility, but we can at least say that we failed while daring greatly.

We cannot deny the influence of the Lib Dems in Government precisely because we are in the arena. We cannot deny some of the measures that are coming out are because of the Lib Dems or have been improved because of the Lib Dems. We cannot bank on the fact that anyone will notice or even care this is the case. But we can at least say we have done our damndest to make this work and that it is better than it would have been otherwise.

We may not feel good about it. We may not do well out of it. But for all those who doubt the party, we still have a future and the party will continue to evolve and learn from our experiences. What we need is people to keep the party in line with why we exist, which can be difficult when under pressure from different angles when in government. We may forget, lose faith, or become disillusioned with the party but all these are necessary for organisations to grow. But we should remember this:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

P.S. This is the penultimate post of this blog as it will be closing very shortly and I thought I’d give advanced warning to anyone who managed to get to the end of this post. Thanks for reading.

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7 Responses to Why I am more a Lib Dem now than I was when I joined (and why we keep on needing to say such things)

  1. Chris B says:

    >”What we need is people to keep the party in line with why we exist,”

    Then you say you’re not going to be one of those people any more – that’s no good. Your final sentence made me doubt many of your previous conclusions. :)

    I figured there was something awry from recent post frequency; if any of what you say is true, people need sites like this. You’ve started to become a dissenter – that’s a great thing. It was the lack of dissent that got us in this mess.

    At least you won’t get long, boring maths replies any more. It might save me a few hours too, I won’t feel the need to frequent LIb Dem blogs so much and can do something more productive with my time.

    >”it is not the critic who counts but the man who is actually in the arena”

    That depends on if the critic put the man there, and what awareness the man has of events outside of the arena. If critics didn’t count, we wouldn’t be in this position at all – most of what you’ve felt and said on these subjects has been fashioned from the actions of others critics. That’s why they’re so necessary – stick with it! Otherwise it’s the latest in a long-line of results of the form Libertarians:1 – Liberal Democrats:0.

    • Hi Chris, I have always appreciated your opinion and loyalty in reading. I would love to keep the blog going but I can’t realistically do it. I work full time and I am doing a PhD part time on top and the workload is too difficult to manage along with thinking about and making the time to write on here. I don’t want to see the Lib Dems be taken over by Libertarians but I think there is enough in the party to keep it where it naturally belongs and as I am sure you are aware I think we need to replace Labour as a main party and we aren’t going to do that by just picking up Libertarian votes! I am not sure how much I have influenced the party or thinking in the party through this blog but I hope it has for a few who have read it.

      • Chris B says:

        Fair enough Matthew – we’ve all got hectic lives and I doubt I could find the time to write with the frequency and consistency that you have.

        As I’ve said before, it’s rare that any single factor is directly casual in any political event, but you’ve given many of us food-for-thought throughout this period of change, and that has to be a good thing.

        I’ve enjoyed reading immensely and wish you all the best in the future!

        Thanks.

  2. Geoffrey Payne says:

    I think this is an excellent blog and I am sorry that it is coming to an end. However I have my own blog and it is not easy to keep it going, especially when I am doing things like helping to organise the SLF conference. We all have other things that we could be doing.

    • Hi Geoffrey, thank you for the kind comments and thank you for reading. It is difficult to keep going with other things and so we have to prioritise. I think the SLF conference is an excellent thing to put time into and the choice of subject I this year I thought was excellent. Keep up the good work.

  3. Daniel Gent says:

    Your posts will be really missed. Has been really good hearing what you have to say.

    • Thank you Daniel.

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