I’m a member of the Liberal Democrats, but have been in and out of the party since I first joined five years ago. The toppling of Charles Kennedy did for me the first time, and I resigned my membership in disgust.
Then, in 2007, I decided to rejoin the party, and have been a member since. I voted for Chris Huhne in the leadership election, but I was prepared to give Nick Clegg a chance. I don’t think I’ve been disappointed, but we still have an election to place the final judgement on that one.
Prior to actually being able to vote, as a nerdy youth politics was one of my interests. Not in that Tory Boy kinda way, but I was heavily influenced by my parents. I recall the euphoria of 1997, the Labour landslide, and the delight it brought to my parents. They were Labour voters. If I could have voted, I would have been too. The same in 2001. I thought of myself as left-wing. I thought of myself as Labour.
My revulsion over the Iraq war, and the fact that Labour stopped doing anything for the working class after they introduced the minimum wage, led me to party isolation. In the end, I voted for the Lib Dems in 2005, believing they had the right policies, but I could easily have not voted, or voted Green.
I’m no tribalist. If my party is wrong, I will say so. If my party starts being consistently wrong, the direct debit will be terminated. But there aren’t many people like me who bother paying money to a political party any more. Most people know what kind of policies they want, but flit between the parties on their side of the spectrum.
It’s all so very different to how it used to be.
It took a long time to convince my parents that Labour failed the working class. They had sympathies with the militant tendency. And in the end, it wasn’t even me that did the job. It was, what else, Iraq. My dad says he’ll never vote Labour again. Most elections he now votes Lib Dem. At last, the party loyalty passed down through the generations has been broken.
But go back another generation, and the loyalties run deep. My grandparents, fiercely, deeply, tribally loyal to the Labour Party, could never consider anything else. No matter what I say to them, they will not be shifted. Labour look after the working class, they say. You can’t trust the Liberals. The Tories are sub-human scum. They don’t understand what it’s like to be a worker.
No matter the evidence – staring them right in the face – of a society where the rich-poor divide is at its widest, where millions are stuck in the benefit trap, where a shameful quality of life is equalled by a poverty of aspiration, and all nurtured by decades of Labour constituencies returning MPs that do nothing for their communities… they will not budge.
Politics is changing. Two and three generations back, the electorate was loyal and deferential. Labour voters bizarrely stuck in a love-in with their party, in some sort of ironic class system. Conservative voters voting for their economic interests.
With generational shift, that is evolving. My generation is politically fickle, and very much open to persuasion. To put it in Tony Benn’s words, we are a generation of weather vanes. The previous generation, born in freedom, born in the 60s and 70s era of emancipation and rebellion, are equally throwing off their chains of political affiliation.
Elections of the future are going to be more like this one. Harder to predict, but easier to persuade people.
Even harder to keep them.
That centre ground is getting pretty crowded though…