In my late twenties I joined the then Liberal Party and continued to support the party through its merger with the Social Democrat Party, right up to the day that I left England to live here in Spain. Throughout the whole of that time political power continued to elude us by a substantial margin in Westminster elections, although there was a progressive growth in power at local government level. I was delighted last May to find that we held the balance of power, and in due course formed part of a coalition government. Moreover, a few moment’s consideration of the comprehensive defeat suffered by Gordon Brown’s New Labour government made it obvious to me that a coalition which returned them to power would quite rightly provoke outrage amongst the major part of the electorate. So, despite the fact that I would place myself to the left of centre in the party, I accepted the logic that a coalition with the Conservatives was the most appropriate outcome.
It was from this position that I observed the recent by-election campaign in Oldham East & Saddleworth, where the Lib Dems had come so close to winning at the general election. Looking from the outside, I was mainly struck by how detached from reality so many political activists had become in the past nine months. From political commentators in the media I learn that large numbers of Lib Dems have deserted the party in favour of Labour. Why, for God’s sake? Apparently because certain key Lib Dem policies have been dumped in forming the coalition. At the same time, of course, many Tories declare themselves let down by the coalition’s failure to enact the red meat of their manifesto.
The Tories can argue that one among themselves, but to my fellow Lib Dems I would just make a couple of points (or maybe three), that bear consideration. Firstly, I would draw their attention to the fact that if the outcome of the general election had followed the pattern of the last seventy years, not a single Lib Dem policy would have been enacted, because, as for the past seventy years, the Lib Dem MPs would all have been seated in their customary places on the opposition benches. We could have trumpeted our principles and our policies until we were blue in the face - to absolutely no avail. Forming part of a coalition government on the other hand means that we have seen a string of important Lib Dem policies either already enacted, or scheduled for legislation during the course of this parliament.
Secondly, I would point to the outrage felt by the right wing of the Conservative party at the loss of some of their favoured policies. Those policies have been lost because, and only because, a Lib Dem presence in government has killed them off. So that’s two wins to chalk up this time around.
And my maybe third point? Grow up. In the real world (as you well know in the non-political spheres of your personal life) you cannot have everything you want; at least you no longer have to settle for nothing. Build on that start, unless you feel happier on the opposition benches with Ed Miliband and co.