In another post, a while ago, as a confirmed member of the Liberal Democrats, I wrote this:
I have to ask myself, where else could I go? I may not be a rabid anti-Tory (I have a former SU colleague who is a Tory backbencher, and I acknowledge Winston Churchill as one of my political heroes) but I’m certainly not one myself – I do not believe in total free-market economics, that the market will always do the right thing if given time, that the smaller government is the better. I am no socialist either (though Clement Atlee and John Smith are further political heroes, and I realise some might disagree with labeling them socialists anyway) – I do not believe that the state (being the tool of the people) should own the means of production, that the tax system (or at least the income tax system) should go beyond progressive and be punitive. I am not a Labourite either (though I have many wonderful friends who are members of a party that has done much good for this country) – here my difficulties are more personal: in the days after the election, and in recent days [and months] too much of what I have seen and heard from Labour people has been incredibly tribalist, of the ‘if you’re not with us you’re against us’ kind of thinking that I have great difficulty with – I prefer debate and measured disagreement, an openness to being wrong as well as an ability to argue why one is right, and too often for my liking the response from some Labourites (and I acknowledge not all are alike) has been, “You’re a LibDem, your party sided with the Tories, you clearly don’t understand, oh and by the way that makes you a [add name(s) here]”…
I am pro-Europe (though I recognise entry into the Euro is a no-go currently, if ever), pro-immigration, pro-civil liberties, pro-progressive tax, pro-debate, pro-Proportional Representation, pro-education as education not economics, and pro-participation in politics (both inside and outside of political parties). Of all the parties it seems to me that the LibDems are still the party that best matches my political thinking. Can I bring myself to leave them after what is (relatively) a pretty long time – I have been an active supporter, voter, Member and party worker since I first developed an interest in politics in the mid-90s? I really don’t know.
Yesterday I made that decision, and today I followed it through: I picked up the phone, called the party headquarters, and cancelled my membership.
I am now officially what the Americans refer to as a registered independent – registered to vote but with no confirmed political allegiance. I’m still a left-leaning liberal, and the decision to leave the LibDems did not come easily at all, but in the end I couldn’t keep being a member of a party that while in government supports the myths and lies shown up by the Truth and Lies About Poverty report. In recent days, as the planned changes to the tax and benefit systems in this country have come into effect, the government have gone on the major offensive to defend themselves from accusations from churches, trades unions, charities, other political parties, and other groups and individuals, that such changes will have a drastic effect on the poorest in society, and are part of a deliberately ideological change masquerading under the cover of economic necessity. These moves, such as those by Tory Party Chairman Grant Schapps and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne (no relation!), have continued to suggest the myths exposed by the Truth & Lies report are true. Because they are part of the government these attacks can be seen as coming from the LibDems as well as the Conservatives. LibDem Secretaries and Ministers of State may not agree with the way things are being handled but their hands are tied.
I cannot have my hands tied. I am a minister not of the State but of the Church. I must be free to speak the truth to all. It is no longer possible for me to be tied to one party – especially when the party I would most naturally belong to is tied into a government that is carrying out what I believe to be a terribly destructive attack on the most vulnerable in our society, those very ones Christ tells us we must care for if we are to care for him.
This is not a step in my formation I expected to take. I have always argued ministers should be engaged with the political processes of their country, and that includes being involved with political parties – although I have also argued it must be done in a pastorally careful and sensitive way. It feels strange being politically adrift after so long tied to one particular ship, but it also feels like the right thing. Who knows who I will vote for at the upcoming local elections (maybe it’ll even be Mebyon Kernow!), but I will take part, I’ll just do it free from paid-up allegiances and tied only to my allegiance to the one who has called me to follow him!
Wherever you stand politically, travel well.