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‘I hope the Lib Dems will build a strong party that I want to re-join’

By christian martin, Friday Jul 7, 2017

My membership to the Liberal Democrats has lapsed and I have no intention of renewing it. I have left the party. It was an emotional decision for me to cut ties but principle rightly won out.

I first took up the clipboard and wore a political rosette to campaign for the SDP-Liberal Alliance candidate when I was still at school, aged just 18. A year later, the nomenclature Liberal Democrats was coined.

It was my first political love affair that endured for 10 years, until a flirtatious re-emboldened, re-energised and more youthful Labour party seduced me.

In the grand scheme of things, however, this was the political equivalent of a one-night stand. The morning after the night before, as I watched Blair walk past me triumphantly, swaggering his way up Downing Street to state (with full estuary English intonation – that made him sound a little blokey whilst softening the posh) that he would stick to the Tory spending plans, I slunk off to do the walk of shame home.

So followed some six years in the wilderness, which gave me time to reflect and observe politics from the comfort of an armchair. From there, I watched the rise of a captivating Charles Kennedy. His stand against the Iraq War motivated me to take to the streets, and I found myself marching alongside him being enthused by his principled arguments. So in early 2003, I rejoined the Liberal Democrats under his leadership.

Here was a man standing up to the bully-boy tactics of an ego-maniacal messianic Prime Minister who was surrounded by packs of pugnacious acolytes acting on his every word.

They were the precursors to today’s social media trolls: shouting down dissenting voices, bullying journalists to run their narrative, discrediting and undermining, and making casualties of good honest people with their shock and awe bombardment of spin and double-speak, long before a shot was even fired.

In amongst this chaos of overreach and abandonment of morals, there was Charles articulating a measured oratory of prescient outrage at what was to be Blair’s folly, and the destabilising of the world’s future.

All my life I have stood up to and challenged bully-boys and injustice. By re-joining the Liberal Democrats, I felt like I was re-affirming an unwritten oath to confront bullying wherever I came across it. I cannot abide the aggression that is the engine of bullying behaviour whether passive or physically active.

However, some twelve years later I never imagined that I would witness bullying, try to stop bullying and end up a victim of bullying from the council group leadership in my own local party.

This was bullying that precipitated the resignation of a party staff member who couldn’t take it anymore, and now it is bullying that has claimed my membership.

After a two-year struggle to be taken seriously on this matter, followed by a nine month investigation by the national party, they have concluded that there is no case to answer to complaints about bullying.

Yet, in the same breath, the committee have made recommendations that, when considered, clearly imply that there are problems within the local party that could give rise to – errr – bullying. Bullying is bullying, and this response disheartened me.

The irony is not lost on me that, had I written this whilst still a member, the recriminations would have been swift, and action taken to suspend me for having brought the party into disrepute. But I am under no illusion that the penalty for publicly sharing this elliptical jeremiad will be far greater, and I can already hear the whispering.

Cleggy said you live by the sword and you die by the sword in politics – except in the Bristol Liberal Democrats, where they bury the sword in your back before you even get the chance to live a little.

I am now officially a floating voter. My vote is up for grabs by any and all parties, but it remains my strongest hope that the Liberal Democrats will rout out the rot and build a strong electable local party that I would want to re-join. That can only happen with reform and change from the top down.

Former Liberal Democrat councillor for Clifton East, Christian Martin is a foster dad, filmmaker and writer.


Read more opinion: ‘Labour MPs have taken charge of Bristol – the next three years are on them’

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