Mark Argent
Creativity design composition spirituality work with organisations

Politics:: articles since 2015 General Election
Moving beyond fightback

14 February 2016, first published in Liberal Democrat Voice

Have we reached the point when it is right to move from “fightback” to something more positive?

Talking of “fightback” made sense for a while after the election, when we bruised after an almighty pounding but were also experiencing a membership surge.

Even recently I have seen talk of “fightback” on web sites and in emails to activists in different parts of the country and even in literature going out to the public. I am thinking in terms of things inviting people to “be part of the fightback”, or proclaiming that the “fightback is on”, or linking “fightback” to having more members than this time last year.

The snag is that this can sound as if we are fighting back against our political opponents and against the electorate who deserted us. This might be compounded by grief over electoral losses. Though understandable, it is not a reason for people to vote Liberal Democrat. But we have a rich heritage and set of values, well-summarised in the preamble to the constitution. That, and the policies that flow from it, are well-worth voting for.

Rather than “fightback” I have in mind the plants that seem to have died off at this time of year, that suddenly grow back in the spring, stronger than ever.

Wearing my hat as chair of Cambridge Liberal Democrats, I am not thinking of “fightback”. I am thinking about the pathway from where we are to Liberal Democrat control of the City Council, to one or two Liberal Democrat MPs (depending on what happens at the boundary review), and to working with others to have Liberal Democrat MEPs from the East of England and a Liberal Democrat County Council. This is not about a shallow grab for power: it is about a vision for the free, fair and open society, about freedom from enslavement by poverty or dull conformity, and an internationalism that engages constructively with the rest of the EU. These are things we can build most effectively by getting elected to public office. They are a strong and positive message.

Even the pounding we took in May needs to be set in perspective. It was obvious that there would be a short term cost associated with entering the coalition. We put national interest ahead of party interest in a way that we can be proud of. The present government is giving a painful series of illustrations of what the Tories do when left to their own devices — and a sense of how far we moderated them.

I am concerned because I have seen messaging and literature from a variety of local parties which gives me a sense of being written by people who are still reacting from a place of bruising. Invitations to “be part of the fightback” risk giving the subliminal message “we are fighting back but we don’t expect to win”. Even making a play on the number of new members needs to be handled carefully because in case it sounds as if we are surprised.

I would be saying this even if we were not facing an EU referendum and deeply divided Labour and Conservative parties. As it is, both parties have internal problems and are struggling with an EU referendum, where we are able to stand clearly behind the “yes” campaign. We have a real prospect of widening our support base as we do this, among people who realise they are naturally Liberal Democrats.

Has the time come for “fightback” to become “resurgence”?