I just read the short pamphlet ‘Merger or Renewal?’, by Michael Meadowcroft, from January 1988. (Available to download here). It’s well worth thinking about this period because (without seeking to apportion any blame), a tremendous amount of liberal energy was dissipated by the merger and associated drama, and a lot of good liberals (activists and supporters) drifted away from the Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Party altogether.*
A couple of observations struck me especially. Meadowcroft identifies ‘that constituency of young concerned idealists who have tended to support - and even work for – Labour because they saw no other better answer…’ [although 25 years later I think they are just as likely to wish a plague on both our houses]. ‘Up to the Alliance the Liberal Party was able to recruit such individuals when the party set its stall out for them. Many of our Councillors, candidates and officers are exactly this kind of person but it has often been a hard job persuading them to stay in recent years. In addition all too often our rare recruits from this key group have come through personal acquaintance with a like Liberal rather than through any indirect means. Unless we only wish to win the plush constituencies we must appeal to those who currently drift to Labour by default. That means addressing issues of concern to feminists, youth, those concerned about the arts, about green issues, and about the developing world.’ This challenge has only been intensified since 2010.
Finally, this gem could have been written in March 2013:
‘There is always something slightly odd about the way the MPs choose to act corporately from time to time. It is rather like the brave survivors of a polar expedition coming to tell the rest of us who got killed off en route that, despite what everyone else thinks, they are sure that it was actually a rather successful expedition and all we need next time are somewhat different arrangements and we shall all survive.’
*My impression is that more of them ended up not involved in party politics than in the Greens or Labour, but I’m too young to make a judgement from personal observation, so others might correct me.