March 7, 2012 5 Comments
Linda Jack – Chair of Liberal Left
The outcome of the 2010 election was for many Lib Dems a huge shock. In retrospect maybe we should have been prepared for the potential of a coalition with the Tories – but we weren’t. Over that fateful weekend I was in constant touch with a pal on the Federal Exec, reassuring me that we would never jump into bed with them – to the extent that I relayed that assurance on to an angry constituent who said he hadn’t voted for me to “let the Tories in.” So, when the likes of John Reid and David Blunkett in the Labour Party were wheeled out to speak against the possibility of a Lib/Lab coalition and it became inevitable that we would end up with the Tories, I was personally devastated. I also couldn’t understand why “confidence and supply” was ruled out and why as a party we didn’t force Labour to provide it.
Like many of my fellow activists I thought long and hard about what to do. For some it was all just too much and they resigned on the spot, for others it was the tuition fee debacle that pushed them over the edge. That camel’s back-breaking straw has been different things for different people – the Health and Social Care Bill being the latest in a long line. But my decision to stay and fight was influenced by a number of things.
Firstly a phone call I received from an old friend in the Stop the War Coalition. She had been chatting with mutual friends about what I might do. After all, I was the most vociferous critic of the likes of John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn – how could they stay in the Labour Party after it backed Bush in the war in Iraq? But I explained to her that, for the first time, I understood why they stayed. It was their party too: why should they conveniently butt out and allow the right to hijack everything they had ever stood for? By staying and fighting they could be a constant thorn in the side of the leadership as well as reminding loyal activists that they were not alone in their opposition to Blair et al. And of course it is always worth taking the long view – do we believe the post 2015 Liberal Democrats will have slid irredeemably to the right, or is it more likely that there will be a backlash and a return to the left of centre roots of the party? This can’t happen if those progressives in the party (still clearly in the majority) leave.
Secondly, there was the knowledge that I was not on my own in my opposition to the coalition and in particular that there were others in the party whom I highly respected, who felt the same. At the special conference when the party voted overwhelmingly in favour of the coalition agreement and as one of only 4 to speak against and 12 to vote against, it was easy to feel isolated.