Not an April Fool: distancing myself from the Lib Dems

I'm fundamentally a liberal in my political ideology; I want to see a fairer society, I think the state has a limited (but not zero) role in bringing that about, and in terms of the UK's internal politics I would like to see electoral reform.

I joined both the Liberals and the SDP as a student (the only vote I've ever cast in a Westminster election was for Shirley Williams in 1987), voted for the merger both times and was a founder member of the Lib Dems, as they became; I was a candidate for Cambridge City Council in 1990, an agent in 1991, and chair of the Northern Ireland branch of the party (a not terribly onerous responsibility) for most of the mid-90s. I haven't lived in the UK since 1997, though I have maintained my membership of the Brussels branch of the party – a friendly group of people to hang out with occasionally.

I was grudgingly supportive of the coalition agreement of 2010 – which was basically unavoidable, given the numbers delivered by the electoral system and the personalities delivered by the Labour Party – on the basis that the fixed term parliament provisions meant that the Lib Dems would be less likely to be snookered by Tory manœuvring, and that the AV referendum offered a chance for change to the electoral system. More on the former point below; the latter has been brutally analysed from both sides. It's difficult to blame Clegg personally or the Lib Dems in general for the referendum's failure, though their mistakes certainly contributed to the disaster of the campaign, which has certainly killed electoral reform in the UK for a generation.

There are a couple of widely made criticisms about the Lib Dems in government which I don't share. I was always dubious about the proposed reforms to the House of Lords, and was not at all sorry when their collapse also brought down the planned redrawing of constituencies – two birds with one stone – though this was also a Lib Dem policy failure. On tuition fees, the mistake was the initail pledge not to raise them, when it was already clear that this was unimplementable.

However, I fear that the Lib Dems are being captured by some of the worst parts of Tory policies. Clegg's recent declarations on secret courts and immigration are, quite simply, a betrayal of what I thought he and the party stood for. But in particular the many appalling stories of harassment of the disabled (not just from professional campaigners – see for instance 's first person account here, here and here) simply disgust me; this is the state waging war on the most vulnerable members of society. To quote Harry Wilcock, I am a Liberal and I am against this sort of thing.

I know it's a biased source, but this list in today's Guardian of the changes being made by the coalition to the UK's benefits payments has given me further pause for thought. I have been out of the UK for over 16 years now, and will probably never again either contribute to or benefit from its social security system. But the picture is very clear – that the State's support to those who need it is to be implemented according to ideological prejudice, rather than on the basis of actual need. I am against this sort of thing too. (And I fear that the Labour Party would be exactly the same when back in government, given its vote on Workfare.)

I still like the fact that the Lib Dems are serious about Europe (though with no Lib Dems in the Foreign Office), serious on constitutional reform (if visibly ineffective in practice), and less bad than the other two main parties on other issues that seem to me to matter. In particular, I like and respect all of the party’s MEPs, who continue to work hard for things I believe in, and they have my full personal support, individually and collectively. But "less bad" is no longer good enough for me. I don't believe I'm a party member any more, having let my subscription quietly lapse last year, so I can't exactly resign in a huff. The one thing I can do is request that this LJ no longer be syndicated to the LibDemBlogs aggregator. Visitors of all parties and of none remain welcome here. But I am no longer willing to stand up and be counted with the Lib Dems.

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