The Lib Dems – Relevance, Responsibility and Resilience

(John Russell)

I’m going to be completely honest, the circumstances under which we are holding the upcoming Liberal Democrat leadership election are sub-optimal. In an ideal world, we would have made significant gains at the last election, stopped Brexit and Jo Swinson would still be leader. But none of this is the case. We need to recognise that, accept it and move forward – together.

These unprecedented circumstances and uncertain times are tearing at the fabric of our political system – a system that doesn’t represent the people and only serves the interests of a never-ending duopoly between Labour and the Conservatives.

The coronavirus crisis is making us think again about the way we do politics, highlighting the inefficiency and obscurity of lengthy, obsolete processes in Parliament and giving rise to questions around voting reform so that we can introduce an electoral system in which votes actually matter. Our current Parliament reflects an unrepresentative snapshot of how voters across the length and breadth of our country felt in December. The outrage sparked by the racially-driven murder of George Floyd has mobilised people across society of all generations and backgrounds. Echoing the chants of protesters “no justice, no peace” – the calls for radical change, a shift in societal attitude and new legislation to protect ethnic minorities, are dominating conversations with family members, friends and strangers online. The ability to hide behind an anonymous profile and abuse and threaten people we disagree with on social media, coupled with the absence of rigorous processes and mechanisms to ban perpetrators of hate speech from these platforms, has toxified our society, which is becoming increasingly polarised and intolerant. The imminent threat of the climate emergency is still very much on people’s minds, with the substantial improvement in air quality as a result of the lockdown being testament to the fact that we can slow the effects of climate change if we have the personal and political willpower to do so. We are at a crossroads. Our future hangs in the balance.

Regardless of the outcome of the leadership election, our next leader will have to face the challenges of a world turned upside down by COVID, and connect with people of all ages and demographics. We cannot afford another five years of one-party Conservative rule come the next election. The politics of Boris Johnson do not reflect the values of a modern, 21st century Britain. The electorate deserves an alternative – a party ready to take seats off the Conservatives in over 80 constituencies across the country. We are that party, so let us be in no doubt about one fact: The Liberal Democrats will hold the balance of power at the next election.

What happens between now and then is in our hands. We have to face the truth that, if we are to defeat the Conservatives at the next election, we must identify areas where we can work with Keir Starmer’s Labour Party. Don’t get me wrong, I have long been sceptical of the idea of a closer working relationship with Labour. But with the party having changed hands, it’s time to put some of those differences aside and work, wherever possible, towards those goals which we do have in common.

In a situation where Labour needs an arrangement with the Lib Dems and other parties to form a Government, our experience of being burned in coalition with the Conservatives teaches us that we must be very clear on which issues our principles lead us to establish red lines on. One of those essentials is a commitment to introduce proportional representation in the early stages of the next Government. Proportional representation gives parties like the Lib Dems the chance to significantly increase their influence on policy, direction and priorities, thereby ensuring that the electorate is more accurately represented and engaged in our democratic processes.

If we are clear about one thing, let it be this: We can’t change the past, so let’s change the future. We can’t go back, so let’s move forward. We can’t do it on our own, so let’s do it together.

I am optimistic and confident that there are better days ahead of us, that there is light at the end of the tunnel and more glass ceilings will be smashed in the future.

Dominic is a Liberal Democrat party member and activist from London. He Tweets @MrDominicBuxton.