One of the things that first got me involved with politics was the battle over university tuition fees in the 1990s and 2000s. Fairness is one of the great driving forces in political ideas. It’s a basic human value. Small children understand it instinctively. I felt very strongly that it was unfair that the free university education that I’d got so much benefit from was being denied to others.
In a progression that will be familiar to many activists, I gradually became more involved with a local political party, in my case the Cambridge Liberal Democrats. It started with leafleting, then canvassing, and later I helped with the running of the local party. I went to Conference and joined in the discussions and voted in the debates. During the 2001 General Election campaign I was election agent in Cambridge for the Parliamentary and local elections. I reduced my involvement after my children were born, but continued to support the party locally, particularly at election time.
It was when most Lib Dem MPs reneged on their pledge on tuition fees in 2010 that I quit the party. I understood that a party in coalition cannot get all of its manifesto implemented. But the tuition fees pledge was not just a manifesto promise. It was a personal pledge by each individual MP. Some of the party’s MPs stuck to their pledge, but most did not. I asked myself, how could I defend this on the doorstep? And I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t.
Being outside party membership for the last few years has given me a different perspective. It’s made it clearer to me than ever that there are people of goodwill in all four main parties in Cambridge who really care about our city and our society. It’s helped me better understand the confirmation bias that plagues political debate and makes us think that our lot are always right and the other lot are always wrong. And I think it’s helped me understand the Liberal Democrats more objectively. But they are still the party that comes closest to my values and beliefs. And I agreed with a lot of what they did in Government.
Just as importantly to me, Cambridge is my home, and I want to be involved with helping it deal with the many challenges that it faces. There are different ways of doing this, of course. But in a democracy it’s elected politicians who make many of the important decisions, and it’s political parties that get them elected. Winning elections is a social activity that requires a coalition of the willing. Parties are an emergent property of democracy. If you want to be involved in the decisions that affect our societies, cities, and people’s lives, being an active member of a political party is still one of the most effective ways.
So now I ask myself, how can I continue to stand aside? And I come to the conclusion that I can’t.
So today I’m rejoining the Liberal Democrats.
Or at least, I’m applying to rejoin. Membership is “subject to acceptance by the relevant local party”. Let’s hope they don’t think I’ve been too rude about them over the last four-and-a-bit years. I’m well aware that I did virtually nothing to contribute to Julian Huppert’s recent campaign, while many others, party members and not, worked incredibly hard to secure his re-election. They came tantalisingly close to victory in the middle of the party’s biggest electoral meltdown for decades, while I wrote a few blog posts about them.
But better late than never.
Commitments to family and work are going to limit how involved I can get, particularly while my children are still growing up. Perhaps I won’t do much more than deliver leaflets and go canvassing, for the time being at least. But it’s feet on the streets that are the bedrock of politics, and it’ll be good to get back to that.
I’ll continue to write about Cambridge politics and local issues on this blog in what I hope will be an objective and constructive way. And I hope you’ll continue to read it.