After a few quiet weeks this week saw 8 principle council by-elections including a Lib Dem seat to be defended.
Another quiet election night with just the 4 by-elections. But how did the Lib Dems do?
It has been rankling me that the righteous-right have claimed nationalism for their own. I am just as proud of my country and heritage as they are; but for me it is liberalism and the fight for liberalism that has made this country great. Yet in the face of their fierce brand of isolationist-nationalist fervour aerated by self-serving media monopolies, it is hard to find a strong counter-argument that a Liberal United Kingdom at the heart of Europe that is open, tolerant and progressive is an authentic and compelling future for this country.
But today I believe I had an epiphany that reached right out of the bowels of our collective identity: a rallying call that all British people will intuitively understand.
However, before I get carried away with this, it seems prudent to share this with the great agglomeration of cynical minds that you all are, as it is possible I am in my own little Narnia…
I was at our local Remembrance service on Sunday. I am a conscientious-agnostic; therefore not a Christian. However, many of my core values do stem from Christianity, such as treating others as I expect to be treated, and in general these values form the moral back-bone of our society.
As part of the service we sang one of the classics: ‘I Vow to Thee, My Country’:
I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.
Sir Cecil Spring Rice’s words are of course very evocative and I suspect most Brits feel some inner stirring on hearing the instantly recognisable Gustav Holst tune. Something that is interesting about the hymn is the lack of direct Christian references: there is no mention of Christ and only an intimation of God and heaven.
As I have been thinking a great deal about liberalism recently, I suspect sub-consciously something clicked. I felt a resonance with what I am and what I suspect a lot of us are now doing; metamorphosing from living a liberal life to being a Liberal Activist.
So I re-read the words and gave it some thought. I think I then had the epiphany: if the Christian context is replaced with liberalism, this hymn encapsulates British Liberalism.
Liberalism is the dream of a better life, borne out of ancient innate ambitions. As Aristotle said, ‘Of all the varieties of virtues, liberalism is the most beloved’ (he from that other country so long ago).
Liberalism is the axiom that is most dear and great to me; one that I love and one that is at the heart of who I am, how I see the World and how I live my life. For me liberalism is living life how we choose, without oppression, coercion or harm, but also without causing oppression, coercion or harm to others. Without armies or a King, Liberalism is the way of gentleness and peace and like all the most profound ideas, it just requires a faithful heart to hold and fortify it.
For most of my life I just lived a liberal life, without feeling the need to fight for it. Now liberalism and especially British liberalism feels very much under attack: the tolerance, the openness, the progressiveness and being able to speak one’s mind without being engulfed in a hail of Caps-Lock. These are the essence of modern Great Britain that I hold dear. So yes, I now vow to thee my country, the country that I love.
With this in mind, I am putting the best of myself forwards for my friends, family, community and country. This is ‘the love’ that I am laying on the altar. It asks no question or requirement, it has stood the test of time, it is paying the price (certainly in my time and effort), but it is undaunted and I would, if it came to it, make that final sacrifice just as my Grandparents did when fascism tried to roll over Europe.
But this is not just a national calling; I fear for the future of humanity. Globally so many people have been intoxicated with the inward ideology of nationalism, racism and greed; Thatcherism (Neoliberalism), Nationalism and yes, I throw extremist religious ideology in with that too. It chills me to the core that humanity may now be swerving from away from what Obama described in his Arc of History speech, that each ‘generation’s task, to make these works, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real’.
Across the Great Arc of History we liberals have fought and suffered for our cause. The Magna Carta was born out of tyranny, yet there is still so much tyranny in the World. Blacks long suffered as slaves, yet often are still treated as second class citizens. The Suffragettes fought to get Equal Rights, yet pay inequality is universal. Liberal Welfare Reforms combatted laissez-faire oppression of the poor, yet millions suffer in poverty still. It is a long walk to freedom, equity and opportunity, but that is our duty and our pride.
Even so, all our paths are peace. That is what any liberal really wants: peace and harmony for all, with all individuals living together, creating a better place for all.
And of course, soul by soul and (not so) silently the shining bounds of liberalism are increasing, as this group very much demonstrates.
Of course, this maybe just my interpretation, but I feel this hymn expresses what liberal Great Britain is about and it is an identity that the great British people will intuitively understand. An identity that was there all the time, secluded away in familiar words and melody, provided by the son of Swedish immigrants and a British Ambassador to the United States. It is our rallying call!
So with those thoughts, I am looking at an old hymn in a new light and I am wondering if this is just me. Given the great number of wise, passionate and knowledgeable liberals here, I was wondering if you would provide your thoughts. Does this hymn, or at least the sentiments it provides, encapsulate what British liberalism is about? If so, is this a national-liberal rallying call we can use in the face of the righteous-right storm?
Please be kind 😉
Results from the 4 principle council by-elections held on the 10th November 2016.
The principle council by-elections on 3rd Nov 2016 were more about holding our existing seats rather than gaining new seats, sadly we weren’t 100% successful.
Since I have joined back in August 2015 I have seen many newbies run as candidates for local councils, parish councils and also eventually as potential parliamentary candidates should a snap General Election be called. None of these roles have ever appealed to me for a multitude of reasons. Aside from my exec roles, I started to look round to see what else I could do to help support my local party.
I took the decision to train to be an electoral agent over the summer, thinking I would have plenty of time to learn the role as the next round of by-elections in my area would be called in 2019. I could start my training at Autumn Conference and be very ready for 2019. I was very wrong! The resignation of UKIP’s Catriona Brown-Reckless from Medway Council meant that I was thrown into the deep end very quickly. Her resignation was announced right before Conference and it was decided that I was to be both agent and campaign manager for Isabelle Cherry, our candidate chosen to stand in the by-election. The ward was Strood South, an area where we had done very little work for over ten years. This meant that the objective of the campaign was clear: we knew we had little chance of winning but we could collect some data, start building in the area and try out some new methods of campaigning such as social media etc.
The essence of the campaign was planned and the signatures on the nomination form were organised before Conference. I had very little time to soak up the general atmosphere; I had a plan and I needed to stick to it! Training was quite intense but I learned loads (and in case anyone was wondering I still managed to enjoy Conference to the full and Hilton bar prices meant I did not have any hangovers to interfere with my training). I strongly recommend attending training courses at Conference; although I concentrated more on the compliance ones than campaigning ones.
Once back in Strood the campaign could start in earnest. We waited for our Focus to be delivered (carefully written up by other members of the team whilst I was away in Brighton and yes, evenings were spent in restaurants proof-reading literature). Action Days were planned and advertised. Bundles were weighed. Turf was cut (badly). We were ready to go!
The Action Days themselves were great fun. We had lots of support from all over Kent. The levels of support were overwhelming; never had I expected so many people to turn up! I am still so very grateful and cannot thank those that did help enough. The role of the campaign manager on these days is to plan, hold everything together and remain at the base to ensure everything runs smoothly. Providing food always helps, and as Issy is vegan I made sure all snacks were vegan-friendly. There was plenty of work to do outside of the action days too. Focus delivery; canvassing, it all needed to be done! Cutting turf became my new hobby; although on a personal level I still have so much more to learn when it comes to Connect (as anyone who knows me and also has Connect access will tell you; countless phone calls and messages and I still by and large don’t have a clue what I am doing). I also had to learn about social media campaigning. My Facebook and Twitter accounts were primarily for personal use and I had no idea with regards to advertising and how to raise our profile.
In addition to this, the campaign didn’t run as smoothly as hoped. Another by-election was called early on in the campaign which meant that resources would have to be spread more thinly. Isabelle was involved in a culinary incident which resulted in quite a nasty burn on her leg; whilst she tried to campaign through this it soon became apparent that medical treatment would be needed and she would need to take time out for a few days. I myself came down with the obligatory cough/cold combo I usually get when I am stressed. Time management really became an issue as both of us had then to enforce periods of rest whilst keeping the momentum of the campaign going. In hindsight, I fee we managed this as best we could; the last thing we wanted to do was to burn ourselves out before polling day.
Polling day itself was a whole new experience. Up early to get my vote in before all the fun started (yes I had to be reminded to vote). Knocking on doors, getting people out to vote, stopping only for a pub lunch. Making sure we got round all the polling stations to thank the staff for their help; after all, its a long and cold day for them too! There were sightings of Mark Reckless (cheeky really as his wife’s resignation triggered the by-election in the first place) but luckily he did not cross my path. All was going to plan.
Count night itself was interesting. I had never done a count before, aside from the EU referendum. We did some tallying and no; the results did not look good. The polling station staff confirmed that turnout was looking to be poor, which it was. However, this made the count nice and quick so there was some good news in any case! Our result is there for all to see.
So; what have I learned from my experience?
- Sometimes, you just can’t win, however hard you try. We all should set our to do our best in every seat we stand in. Sometimes though, the odds will be stacked too high against us. This was one of those times.
- Always have a plan.
- Delegate tasks to other members of the team. You can’t physically do everything alone and nor should you try. There are always people around you willing to help. They will also have a good variety of skills. It makes sense to put them to good use!
- Always say thank you.
- Make sure you have enough work for all your activists to do. I tended to underestimate what we could get done. Luckily, there was always more to do.
- Make time for yourself. It’s easy to get carried away, work extra hard and neglect your own needs. Make sure you take time out to do something you enjoy, or even just to relax.
I am proud of us. I’m proud of what we achieved. We did our best and that’s all you can ever do.