Saturday, 7 May 2011

Radicalism: A Love Story

"And instead of saying, 'Well, excuse me, you right-wing, reactionary xenophobic, homophobic, anti-education, anti-choice, pro-gun, Leave-it-to-Beaver-trip-back-to-the-fifties!' we cowered in the corner and said, 'Please. Don't. Hurt. Me.' No more." - Bruno Gianelli, The West Wing

“By God, I’ll show them the face of a radical.” - Clifford Odets

Yeah, that's what tanking feels like. It was a horrendous night at the polls for the Liberal Democrats, including me personally. Having said that though I was a paper candidate in the West Heywood ward of Rochdale, and I wish I could find all 219 people who voted for me so then I could shake them all by the hand.

The main reason I was a paper candidate was because I was working on another campaign in Rochdale, to try and get William Hobhouse elected as the councillor for Bamford. He lost by an agonising 70 votes that left the entire campaign team crushed, so much so that William is rethinking his career in grass root politics. I have come to know William very well over the last couple of years, and I know what he will be thinking in the aftermath of the election results - what did I do wrong?

That's the thing - he did nothing wrong. It was one of the most efficient local election campaigns I have ever seen. Polling day was a massive operation that spanned the ward, with over ten people helping to get out the Lib Dem vote. His leaflets were superb, full of substance and plenty of reasons to vote for him. It was a campaign that would have Jed Bartlet watching in awe. So then why did he lose. It's simple - the coalition.

The AV campaign brought out the Conservative voters on a massive scale, and all those who were wavering saw the AV ballot, linked it to William, so voted for the party that didn't support it. Labour, who traditionally do very poorly in Bamford, got a voting boost, no doubt from the angry protest vote that would have traditionally gone to the Lib Dems which is rather ironic. I have absolutely no doubt that if we were separate from the coalition then William would have won convincingly, probably exceeding 50% of the vote.

So now it's post mortem time - what do we do now? There is one thing I know for sure - the coalition has to change. The Deputy Prime Minister said in an interview with The Independent not so long before polling day that regardless of the result on AV, the coalition would enter what he called "phase 2", where the two parties would be a lot more expressive about their opinions. God I hope so.

I am sick to death of the argument that we are the minority in the government, and therefore don't always get our own way. Since when did being in a minority mean sitting in the corner and shutting the hell up? What really bothers me isn't the fact that we are in a government where we no doubt lose most of our battles in front and behind closed doors, but that at times it feels like we aren't even trying to fight. That's why it's been so refreshing and invigorating to see Chris Huhne enter his "I'm taking no more sh**" mode and show the Tories what we are really made of. When I heard about the incident in the Cabinet meeting, I think it may be the proudest moment I have ever been a Lib Dem since the first televised leader's debate. Frankly, the people out there who are saying Huhne should shut up and are ashamed of him should honestly be ashamed of themselves. So far Chris Huhne seems to be the only one who got the memo on phase 2.

Let's say for the moment that the worst thing imaginable is going to happen - the Lib Dems become extinct. I have no doubt that it won't happen, but say for a minute it did. How do you want go out? Personally, I believe that if what we are experiencing is the first drop in a very long fall, then I think that our fall is really the only thing that matters. If we are going to spend the next four years running into walls, then we should do it at full speed, leaving lib dem bird shaped hole in it. Let's start by fight against the Tories on the NHS reform, and begin the long battle to get an elected house of Lords. Just because we're in government doesn't mean we can't remain the radical minority we used to be.

My God, we can show them the face of a radical.

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