Rejoice! After nine long years as one of those formerly derided as a 'trot' at federal party conference by a Special Advisor to Nick Clegg, I awake today ahead of conference to find I can come in from the cold. No longer are we progressive, lefty lib dems to be derided as wet socialists - indeed we can look forward to a bright future in a party that appears to be making an opportunistic volte face in the light of Corbynmania.
A bit of context; the first political party I joined was the Labour party, aged 16. A year later in the run up to the Iraq war my membership lapsed, not to be renewed. The lack of faith in politics that disaster created lasted for nearly my entire time at University. The game changer for me was hearing David Howarth speak to students at our union as our MP in my final term at Cambridge. This was the first time someone had explained to me that right and left were approaches to economic management; but being liberal as opposed to illiberal was an approach to life and power in all its aspects. This became one of the core tenets of my political belief system, and I find is as compelling and exciting today as I did then.
It has to be said over the following years I was often disappointed and disheartened by the cracks, sneers and outright insults directed at members like me who were liberal but keen progressives. Things got especially bad in the coalition era - our motives and loyalties were constantly in question and attempts to offer criticism of party policy derided as factionalist. Indeed I would imagine the vast majority of the third of the membership that left after 2010 were left liberals like me, embarrassed that the party seemed to be drifting from our core values set out in the preamble to the constitution and tired of apologising for their political views.
For me, I would probably have been one of those who left had it not been for Social Liberal Forum, and beyond it the many many brilliant progressive liberals who kept reminding me that I wasn’t alone. You can imagine my chagrin at attending SLF conference this summer and finding a lot of ‘new’ faces in attendance who had been conspicuous by their absence in previous years. Clearly some were waking up post May to the reality that the election was a referendum on Orange Book liberalism (Why vote Tory lite if you can just vote Tory) that had revealed an unpalatable truth for careerists and true believers alike; for the vast majority of the electorate, when it comes to liberalism, social liberalism is the only game in town.
I could perhaps forgive this of those members who over five years were loyal soldiers. If they are happy to dig in with social liberals in rebuilding an effective liberal voice in the next fews then I shall welcome them and work with them. Some of my best friends believe in unregulated markets.
But former MPs and cabinet ministers show a complete lack of integrity if they think they can reach out to the Labour party or progressives now and expect to be taken seriously. In fact I'm inclined to put the whole thing down to denial as a result of grieving; who could seriously have spent five years propping up Nick Clegg and paving the way for the havoc that is now being wreaked on the country, and then without acknowledging that think that they had much compelling to offer to the left or left of centre?
Our parliamentarians, both current and former, would do well to focus less on contingent opportunities offered to us by the leadership choices of other parties, and instead work instead to build and articulate a simple, clear and socially progressive liberal vision. If David Howarth could do it in a chilly student union meeting room nine years ago, I remain hopeful that as a party we can do it again.
Katherine is Secretary for the Yorkshire and Humber region and is a steering group member of 'Rock the Boat - Lib Dems Against Sexual Harassment'