Let’s be blunt: last Thursday results for the Lib Dems were brutal – far worse than anyone expected.
Nevertheless, we should all be proud of what we have achieved over the past five years. We provided the stability, which Britain so desperately needed, when we were genuinely under the threat of being swept up in an economic tsunami. We played a major part in turning the economy round, creating millions of jobs, making Britain one of the fastest growing economies in the world and taking millions of the poorest earners out of tax altogether.
And every bit as importantly we did what we could to make the last Government greener and more liberal than it would ever have been left to the Conservatives alone. Ending child detention, blocking the Snoopers’ Charter, protecting the Human Rights Act: anyone who thinks such key liberal freedoms would have been defended without the Liberal Democrats is deluding themselves.
So even with the benefit of hindsight I support Nick’s decision to take us into Government without reservation. We all understood the risks we were taking but we still had to act: for power is not an end in itself: it’s about what you do with it.
So I believe history will be far kinder to Nick and the role of the Liberal Democrats have played over the past five years than it feels today.
Nevertheless, we lost far too many outstanding ministers, MPs and councillors last week. They have been instrumental in changing our country for the better: all Lib Dems who, like Nick, knew the political cost that making incredibly difficult decisions incurs but did it anyway, because it was the right thing to do. Thousands of volunteers, staff and activists who fought to turn a vision for a fairer society into a reality. And millions of people who will benefit from that soul-draining work – many of whom may never be directly aware of it.
Now we must move on. We need a fresh start.
To rebuild the party we must start from the grassroots. That means the whole party must have a say in how we move forward: a different way of working.
Before I decide what role I might play in that rebuilding, I think it is crucial we hear from our members, our Parliamentarians in Westminster and in the nations, our councillors and activists, and give them a real say in what happens next so we can all unite behind a clear strategy for the party: bottom up, not top down - the liberal way.
We all need to reflect on what we can do personally because the lesson of the election is that today, more than ever, Britain needs a liberal voice. The campaign north of the border by the SNP and south of the border by the Conservatives and UKIP played on ‘fear of the other’: they put up ‘Aunt Sallys’ to be blamed for every ill in our society: the English, the Scottish, immigrants and Europeans.
I reject that analysis completely. Britain does not need to be further divided – instead we need to unite behind the values we share in common: true British values of decency, respect, tolerance.
And these are not only British values, these are liberal values. These are the values on which our country has been built and our party will be rebuilt.
We have been clear about what we stand for. It has been a privilege to begin to translate this into Government: a greener world, free of debilitating climate change; an education system where your parent's postcode doesn't determine your future salary; an end to the abhorrent anomalies in our own society that rob people of their human dignity - indefinite detention, crippling mental health, mature and collaborative international relationships.
Turning this into a reality is a messy business, for all parties. But if you have been shocked and depressed by the politics of this campaign, then I want you to turn your anger into action. We must not step back but forward - look around you. None of us can take the Britain of the last 50 years for granted.
The fight back begins today. It is time to get involved. Time, in the words of Jo Grimond "to march towards the sound of gun fire.”
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