Saturday, 5 May 2012

Why am I a Liberal Democrat?

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity

Taken from the preamble to the constitution of the party and it a fair reflection of my own views. I come from a family that would always discuss and challenge ideas, thoughts and comments. Occasionally I would say bone-headed stuff and then laughed out of the room. I learnt from this, and quickly.

Looking at my background, one set of grandparents were conservative and the other set were socialists. I was encouraged to develop my own thinking and I suppose I found a happy middle-ground. Many of my views took a good twenty years to develop. After a flirtation with the Orange Book wing, I consider myself to be part of the social democratic wing which I interpret as being free market where it is needed and the state where it is needed because the free market profit motive does not work in those spheres.

I am a republican (as the monarchy is not meritocratic); in favour of rights to combat discrimination and to protect employees, whether they want to work, in an industrial dispute or to protect from unscrupulous employers; in favour of media plurality and anti-authoritarianism/extremism. I am pro-european, though not in favour of joining the Euro. I believe that people need to demonstrate responsibility as well as having rights afforded to them. Although I have been a trade union rep in the past, the policies adopted by trade unions as a whole are narrow and do not fully represent my political thinking.

My earliest political awaking was when I was at my grandparents, and my grandmother said to me "Don't be a liberal in my house". I did research into the Lib Dems and liked what I read. The stand out policy for me in those days was a penny on income tax for education, in those days, designed to have raised about an extra 2 billion pounds. Although I can barely remember other policies from those days, I do find the 1992 General Election manifesto still to be true to my political beliefs after all these years with their emphasis on education, environment, Europe and development of infrastructure along Keynesian economic theory long before it was fashionable again.

In that way, the party that I joined in 1995 is still very much the party that I still belong to. I do remember reading Emma Nicholson's autobiography from around 1997 where she writes about the tory party leaving her rather than she leaving the party, this is not a stage I have reached even after the start of the Coalition Government.

My old friend Stephen, who I met at sixth form in Newbury, wrote me a letter of introduction and packed me off with directions to the Newbury constituency office. Knocked on the door, and David Rendal answered. With a sudden attack of nerves, I said "Can I talk to Gerald Vernon Jackson?" David showed me through, bemused that I would rather see Gerald than him. And Gerald signed me up.

I did the usual right of passage of new members - to stick double sided tape on window posters. From there, I helped in General Election 97; Winchester bye-election 1997 which Mark Oaten won handsomely; various council elections and then into the local party committees and executives via an attempt, with Adrian, to set up a Lib Dem group where I studied at the University of Glamorgan.

Due to the tuition fees issues, University of Glamorgan Lib Dems, in the middle of the traditional Labour controlled Welsh valleys of Rhondda Cynon Taff, had a bigger membership than Labour Students for the time I was there.

I cut my teeth on NUS politics, which stood me in good stead for later involvement within PCS, learning from Stephen, Jon and Rene.

Later on, I worked on the South East Cambridgeshire General Election campaigns in 2001, 2005 and 2010 with Sal Brinton and Jonathan Chatfield.

These days, I am very aware that I joined the party to get Lib Dem councillors and MPs elected and into national and local government with genuine influence, that ambition has been met with varying degrees of success over the years and will continue to be an ambition of mine.

I am, on reflection, proud to be a member and getting policies that I campaigned for over the years implemented in government - triple lock on pensions; pupil premium; incremently raising the threshold of the basic rate of tax to £10,000; rolling back the authoritarian database state; reforming casino banking and setting up the Green Investment Bank; working towards recognition of gay marriage; working towards reform of the House of Lords. Policies that are the right thing to do but not always the popular thing to do.

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