I first became involved with party politics when I was 18. I was studying an undergraduate degree in Politics and Religious Studies (later refined to straight Politics) at Cardiff University. Like most first years, I had planned to join at least one society and throw myself into student life at the University. I knew I wanted to join a political society, and for me what was then Cardiff Conservative Future seemed like the perfect option.
I have always considered myself to be a Liberal, and at the time this seemed very compatible with what the Conservative Party had to offer. It was 2014, a little over a year after the Coalition Government, led by David Cameron, had successfully passed legislation to allow for equal marriage in the UK. With UKIP firmly on the rise over the issue of our continued EU membership, the Party’s membership primarily consisted of other Liberal-minded people. Until last night, I’d spent approximately 4 years in the Conservative Party, and in that time a lot has changed.
As we know, UKIP’s support has plummeted, and the vast majority of its membership has moved to their former political home. For many, this meant a return to the Conservative Party. While I do not have an issue with a party being a broad-church per-se, I could see that this shift had brought a very toxic atmosphere to the Party.
An obsession has evolved with branding anyone to the left of Mogg or Johnson a ‘traitor,’ and a determination to phase out the ‘wets’ of the Party completely. During my last few months in the Party, I got told to join the Lib Dems (which I have now done), Labour and even Plaid Cymru, all because I did not agree with this increasingly more right-wing outlook of the Membership.
The fact that I am seeing members of one of the governing party in the United Kingdom endorse the troubling agendas of Salvini and Trump is chilling. This is no longer something that I am able to associate myself with.
At a local level, I have seen the way friends have been treated at the hands of fellow party members and even elected officers. It is a toxic environment. The local party that I joined was fun, friendly and welcoming. Things are different now.
While this is more an issue with the Membership than the Parliamentary Party, I believe we are beginning to see a shift there which would make myself (along with many other liberal members) feel uncomfortable. We are hearing reports of Steve Bannon engaging in meetings with the likes of Boris Johnson over issues such as Brexit. Steve Bannon is dangerous. He has branded Tommy Robinson (founder of the extremist EDL) a ‘good man’ and suggested that racists should wear their label as a ‘badge of honour.’
This is no longer the Party I joined. This no longer represents me or my values, and while some have suggested sticking it out and acting as a voice from the center, I know that I cannot ever love politics in the way that I did being surrounded by the toxicity I’m seeing right now.
There is also the issue of Brexit. With No Deal looking increasingly more likely, I believe now more than ever it is important to fight for a People’s Vote on this issue. I believe that what was perhaps voted for at the Referendum versus the reality of a ‘No Deal Brexit’ are two very different things. We must give people the choice as to whether they want to continue with this vision of Brexit, or exit from Brexit and remain and aid to reform the European Union from within.
Therefore, last night, I finally took the plunge and joined the Liberal Democrats. This was not a decision that I made lightly, I have been thinking about it for a couple of months. It’s also incredibly scary, I never thought about what it would be like to defect from one political party to another. However, I knew joining a party that truly represented the Liberal values that I have always been so passionate about would be the right step.
I can honestly say that, even within the space of 12 hours, I can already tell that this has been a great decision. Since posting my tweet announcing that I had officially become a Member of the Liberal Democrats the response has been overwhelming. I have received so many tweets and DMs welcoming me into the party, I’ve had local Members contacting me and adding me into Facebook groups so that I am able to stay up to date with events. It has honestly been a task keeping up with and responding to all the notifications I am receiving, it is beyond any welcome I could have imagined receiving.
I know some will be reading this, possibly having the same dilemma as me. You may, like me, be on the liberal wing of the Conservative Party, feeling pushed out by the Right and the general toxicity within the Party right now. You may be feeling uncertain about moving parties, wondering whether you will be welcomed or able to build the friendships again that you may have done in your old party. If you are feeling like this, and no longer feel the Conservative Party is for you, I would 100% urge you to take the plunge and leave. I feel such a huge relief having made this decision, and I am confident that you will too!