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21.12.16. Dear Eric, welcome to the Liberal Democrats!  I want to thank you for giving your support to the Party. The Liberal Democrats are fighting for an open, optimistic, liberal, diverse, and tolerant Britain…….Tim Gordon, Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats. 

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Jo Grimond, Leader of The Liberal Party 1956-1967.

If the LibDems webpage had been a sentient AI-driven environment, the above would have read: “Dear Eric, Welcome back to the Liberal Democrats!”, as for most of his life The Ericle has been an active supporter of The Liberal cause. Indeed in the mid-Sixties, I could be found canvassing for the lost-cause pursuit by Renee Soskin to become the Member Of Parliament for the constituency of Hampstead. (See: here).  I remained a Liberal through the Jeremy Thorpe era and the merger with the SDP in 1988, when they became The Liberal Democrats. When we moved to Muswell Hill in 1995, I offered my political services to Lynne Featherstone and when on the 3rd attempt – Lynne came 3rd and 2nd to Labour MP Barbara Roache in 1997 and 2001 – in 2005 she became MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, for the first time in my life I enjoyed the experience of voting for the winning candidate.

As my reader will know, I abandoned my Liberal past after the last election following their decimation in the 2015 General Election. Even though I had voted for the LibDems in that election – we had now moved to Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency – the truth was that I was already at-odds with their policy on Trident and their pro-Europe position. I also felt very let-down by their lacklustre support in the referendum for reform of The House Of Lords, an issue that lies at the heart of my political credo. And to be honest, I could not envisage that the party would have another sniff at government in my lifetime. This notwithstanding, I do feel very proud of the role they played in moderating The Tories in The Coalition and I honestly believe that History will be a lot kinder to Nick Clegg & his colleagues than were the voters in the 2015 election.

Which brings me to Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit – two personal decisions that I now deeply rue. Mea culpa, mea culpa. 

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To deal with the easy one, first: JC did not prove to be The Second Coming that I had hoped he would be. In those dark days following the 2015 Election I could see no way forward for the UK. I had attended a local hustings, during the General Election, and though I did not vote for him I had been impressed by Corbyn. He oozed honesty, integrity and, most importantly, independence from Westminster party politics. When he threw his hat in the ring, I responded with enthusiasm and joined The Labour Party to lend my support to his candidacy. Attending a Corbyn rally I was enthused by the electricity & excitement, particularly from the young. When the seemingly impossible happened, I was delighted. Sadly his leadership has been a bitter disappointment and almost a year to the day later, I sent my membership card back to The Labour Party. However, I do still identify the absence of political engagement of the younger end of the population as one the key problems facing us. I feel this most deeply when I compare the way I felt in my youth to how today’s younger generation feels about political things. It seems to me that whereas we believed in the 60’s & 70’s that we could change the world, today’s youth is of the conviction that nothing that they can do will change the country or their world. IMHO, the sooner the Baby Boomers step aside, the better it will be for all concerned.
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No public issue has caused me more trouble than Brexit. I am not going to rehash chapter-and-verse as to why I voted for Brexit. I had thought long and hard about Brexit and it had not been an easy decision, but it seemed to me to be the right thing for the UK at the time. As a result, I placed myself in opposition with virtually every person I knew – and many of them let me know this, in no uncertain terms. My views were not helped by Jeremy Corbyn’s reversal, for political expediency, from his career-long scepticism of the European project. I will always contend that if he had stuck to his convictions, and Brexit had had a major champion on The Left, the tone & level of debate would have been quite different; and immeasurably improved. Moreover I will also always contend, until I am proven otherwise, that the UK’s espousal of Brexit was not made in the name of isolationism nor that the essentially generous spirit of the UK was abandoned by the decision. However the completely unexpected triumph of Trump has changed everything for me. I had not counted on an isolationist USA; indeed I factored in a major influencing role in matters European by a Clinton administration. I now look in horror at the potential direction of travel of the most powerful country in the Western Democracy and take a completely different view for the future of the UK. I now fear the influence of the USA on an increasingly inept and potentially dangerous May government and feel that the UK needs to engage with its European neighbours to counterbalance their potential moves towards nationalism and xenophobia.

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Timing is everything in politics, if not in life. Politics is about what is in front of and ahead of you. In June, I voted for what was in front of me; and I now regret it. The world has changed dramatically since then and I now have adjusted my views to that change. Pillory me, if you are that way inclined, but as they say: “A day is a long time in politics”. More importantly, it has always seemed to me that one of our national weaknesses has been that a vast swathe of the electorate treat support for a political party as if that party was their football team. If anything is to be learnt from 2016 it surely must be that there are great changes afoot and that it is no longer ‘business as usual’ when it comes to politics. At this time, I feel that the Liberal Democrats alone represent the liberal socially-inclusive values that I believe in. Moreover they are the only party committed to offering the UK electorate another referendum on the EU. Factor in that the UK may not be out of Europe by 2020, or even that the May government may implode by then, the LibDems have regained my support. However, any voter’s support needs to be conditional; the reverse being counter-intuitive to rational politics. The real danger occurs when one is not prepared to change one’s mind; or worse, if one is not allowed to at all.

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4 Responses to The Ericle has changed his mind.

  1. Anna Brown says:

    Well done, Eric, so glad to read this. In my Dorset village, xenophobia – no out and out racism – and terrible shades of 1933 were and are still all too apparent. So deeply disturbing that we plan to leave for a city after nearly 30 years here. I know that city friends don’t come into contact with this but it’s ugly, and Brexit allowed licence to say what should be shameful.

  2. Ericle says:

    Very sorry to read this, Anna. Your comment raises all sorts of questions – the xenophobes did not become such overnight, so why were they not apparent before Brexit? Are you sure that perhaps you might, as the only ‘Remainers In The Village’ have become targets for robust conversation? As I said, I retain, a strong faith in the intrinsic benign & charitable nature of the British spirit and truly hope that you are misreading the tealeaves.

  3. Stephen Kon says:

    Eric you are a real mensch;not because on Brexit you are now agreeing with me but because of the integrity of you being prepared to re-evaluate and change your mind.The hope is the Brexit vote will lead to others also being brave enough to re-evaluate;including the EU who must surely begin to accept that they are out of step and need to reform and take account of the current political realities and threats . As for our PM ; she did not have the courage to speak up for her remain position during the referendum and now is governing by sound bites to embrace populism and the right wing of her party Such a pity that she cannot show the same integrity as you have done .Corbyn is misguided but in all other than Brexit has had the courage and integrity of his convictions . As you suggest his equivocation on Brexit has proved so deeply damaging for his party and for the country at large
    Stephen

  4. MG says:

    Interesting to read your views from afar.

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