>Time for me to tackle the meme of the moment. You’ll notice that I’m not conforming by waiting until Saturday to do it:-)
The backdrop to my political DNA is found in the Preamble to the Party’s Constitution – the rest of the document is as dull as ditchwater, as constitutions are to most people, but the Preamble sets out our core values as Lib Dems – fairness, community, decentralisation and respect for people as individuals. And the thing is, these aren’t just words to us – we know what they mean and we try to live them out whenever we are in power, and in our lives as well.
1. I watched Roots when I was about 8 and was appalled by the scenes of human beings treating other human beings so brutally. That was the start of my political awakening. The Party has such a long tradition of campaigning against injustice and abuse and unfairness that it was only natural that I should join.
2. Things like the closed shop, and people being abused for refusing to go on strike, used to really annoy me. The huge mass meetings of the 70s just seemed to me to be so undemocratic and intimidating. The Party was in favour of making unions more democratic and accountable to their members and also in giving employees a greater say in the running of the companies they worked for.
3. Bob Maclennan, the SDP MP for Caithness and Sutherland, was such a good, decent person and took time to thank me for the work I did on his campaign and to answer any questions I had and to involve me in the party, even though I couldn’t vote for him at that time. As an aside to that, the people in the Liberals and SDP were all really lovely and welcoming. I made friends during the 1983 campaign when I was 15 that I kept in touch with for the rest of their lives.
4. Everybody’s unique. Everybody is individual. They have their own feelings, opinions, and experiences. The Lib Dems get that. I remember being really turned off by the Labour Party at university – if you didn’t believe in everything they did, you were seen as somehow a lesser class of person. We celebrate debate and diversity.
5. Not everybody has the same chances in life – we want a society where being poor, black, gay or female is not allowed to stop somebody from fulfilling their potential. That’s why Nick Clegg is always talking about how angry he feels that someone in a rich part of Sheffield, where he’s an MP, is likely to live decades longer than someone in a poor part.
6. We think the State is there to facilitate justice and fairness, and not to tell people how they should run every minute area of their lives. We won’t ban or compel unless there is a very, very good reason. We view the restriction of individual liberty as extremely serious. I remember when I was pregnant, just after Labour came to power, listening to a Labour Minister being interviewed about “National Average Bedtimes.” Why waste time on such frivolties when people are living in terrible poverty? This is why we are instinctively against such things as ID cards and CCTV being used to spy on people putting their bins out, and why we don’t think the Police should be able to detain people for weeks without charge.
Shirley Williams is one of my absolute political idols and I totally admired her for being involved with Project Liberty in the 90s. It was an organisation which went into the emerging democracies in Eastern Europe and tried to help the Government organisations in them develop a culture of service, rather than one they had been used to, where they were all powerful and people just did what they were told.
7. At the 1997 election, I remember being upstairs watching the election results at the count in Chesterfield. I was alone in the room with Tony Benn, who didn’t say a single word to me as he ate his white chocolate Magnum. Chesterfield Labour Party were never that nice to the Lib Dems, unsurprisingly because we kept beating them and showing them up for being incompetent bunch they were. I’m not sure they’ve improved that much since then, to be honest. But maybe Benn’s silence was a good thing because I was practically crying with joy that we were going to get a Scottish Parliament.
It always seemed crazy to me that we didn’t. We had a separate legal and education system. Why on earth was the centre of political power for those things in London? Independence never did it for me. I guess because I just thought that decisions should be made at the lowest sensible level.
The principle of decentralisation of power is and always has been a key part of Lib Dem philosophy. Lib Dems in Government are always looking to empower and to listen to local people and communities and that, to me, is a key part of what makes up a good Government.
So there are my 7 reasons as to why I not only joined, but have stayed involved for 25 years. They are why I’ve delivered leaflets in the rain, endured election campaigns where sleep is an optional extra if all the work is done, spent a small fortune on travelling to and from various elections and donating to campaigns and basically run my life round the party. I’ve had highs, the best of which was the win in Dunfermline in 2006, and lows – losing a Council by-election by 17 votes is no fun, believe me. I’ve made some lifelong, wonderful friends, though, and I couldn’t imagine my life without the Lib Dems in it somewhere.