If you consider yourself a liberal then there is only one party in Britain left for you

As Nick Clegg's speechwriter I watched in horror as the Liberal Democrats were reduced to rubble at the last election, but with your help the party can rebuild

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The Independent Online

I won’t sugar coat it – it’s been a crap year for liberals. Whether you’re a Lib Dem, a liberal in the Labour Party, or even one in the Conservative Party (yes, they exist, I’ve met them), you have nothing to celebrate.

Lib Dems like me spent the summer licking our wounds after receiving a right royal kicking. Tory liberals spent it watching their own party punishing the poor, threatening the BBC, vilifying refugees and trying to bring back fox hunting. Labour’s liberals spent it losing their party.

It’s all very grim. But no day was grimmer than 8 May 2015.

We had known we were going take a shoeing, but we didn’t expect to be beaten within an inch of our lives.

At around 4am I was with Nick Clegg in a huge Sheffield sports centre. The gym hosted the counts of all five Sheffield seats and, given the other four are Labour strongholds, it was crammed with dozens of Labour activists.

As we waited for the Sheffield Hallam result, all of a sudden a huge roar went round the room. The BBC had just confirmed one of the big scalps of the night – Vince Cable had been defeated in Twickenham.

But he hadn’t been beaten by the Labour candidate. These Labour footsoldiers were cheering like a football crowd at the most left-wing member of the government, a man who fought the Conservatives every day in coalition, losing his seat to a Conservative.

They were cheering a result which signalled that the Tories were on course for a majority when a few hours earlier it still looked possible that Ed Miliband could be Prime Minister.

A couple of hours earlier, I had been in Nick Clegg’s flat in south west Sheffield working with him on his resignation speech: a robust defence of British liberalism even as the brutal scale of its collapse was revealing itself.

Over the following weeks I did a lot of grieving and a lot of soul-searching. I watched the party that I love reduced to rubble. I feared for the liberal cause that I believe in. I worried that a Tory majority would make our country a meaner, smaller and less welcoming place.

But I was also angry at the boorish tribalism of the Labour Party.

Those footsoldiers who cheered Vince Cable’s defeat are the same ones who called Liz Kendall a Tory and treated Blairites like sex offenders. It’s their party now.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I believe Jeremy Corbyn is a decent, principled man. He believes what he says and practices what he preaches. But what he preaches is a form of identity politics, grounded in reactionary "us versus them" class warfare. The language of hope disguising the politics of pessimism.

I understand tribalism. I’m a lifelong Lib Dem and West Ham United fan. I was almost literally born on to the campaign trail. My dad was a Liberal-SDP alliance candidate in Newham in 1983, when I was just a few months old, and I spent the election campaign being pushed around the tower blocks of East London in my buggy.

Maybe that is why I have always believed that the cause of liberalism is best served with a distinctive liberal party championing it.

I get that some people believe they can make Britain more liberal by trying to shift one of the two big parties from the inside. I respect that belief. After all, until 2010 they were the only two parties that could form a government.

But I believe the events of this summer should have settled the question. There is only one liberal party in Britain today – the Liberal Democrats – and Britain needs a liberal voice, right here, right now.

The big political battle of this century isn’t socialism versus capitalism. It isn’t left versus right. The world has changed. The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The questions that face us now are not the same.

Do we celebrate the freedom that comes with the internet age or seek to restrict it? Are we at ease in the globalised world of open markets, free information and free movement or are we threatened by it? Do we embrace an open, transparent, interconnected society with all its challenges and opportunities or do we retreat from it, throwing up new borders, snooping on our neighbours and guarding our ever-shrinking turf?

In the shifting sands of the 21st century world, Britain needs liberals.

If you are a Labour or Conservative member who considers yourself to be liberal, you have lost. Those parties do not want what you want.

If you want a liberal force in government, the best bet is to help the only party that truly believes in liberalism to return to its fighting weight.

Labour and the Conservatives have moved on and left their liberals behind. So how about we let bygones be bygones? Join the Liberal Democrats. There’s a home for you here, we just need your help to rebuild it.

Phil Reilly is a former speechwriter for Nick Clegg and Lib Dem Head of Media

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