Saturday, 7 May 2016

An Election Tragedy for Wales

For what should be fairly obvious reasons of being busy and having my attention firmly fixed elsewhere, I've not posted here for a little while, but I wanted now to post my reflections on what has happened in the recent election in Wales.

I’ve stayed quiet for a day or two before saying anything, just to allow the dust to settle in my own dusty data banks. What has happened in Wales is, I believe, nothing short of a tragedy for the people of Wales, and to the Assembly – to lose the dedicated public service of Aled Roberts, Eluned Parrott, Peter Black and William Powell is a blow that many will only grow to appreciate in time. Some of them I know better than others, and have seen in action more often personally, but as well as their excellent work in holding governments to account and getting things done in the Assembly itself, I know how much unseen work they (and their dedicated staff) have been doing over the years to serve the people they represent. The often invisible stuff that doesn’t get the glory and doesn’t make the headlines, but has directly made many, many individual lives better – the really important work of being an elected member. No group of people has worked harder to serve the people, and no group in politics understands better what such service should be about, and in that context the double tragedy for Wales of having them effectively replaced by a rag-tag bunch of failed and disgraced hardline Tories can’t be overstated.

In that context too, the people of Brecon and Radnorshire could not have a better representative than Kirsty Williams, and it is heartening to see that so many of them appreciate that. I’m saddened by her decision to step down from the leadership of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, though I do understand it. She has led the party superbly through such a period of difficulties that were mostly well beyond her control, and her personal dedication, hard work and genuine passion to make things better for people should be an inspiration and example for anyone who seeks to represent people anywhere.

I would also like to pay personal tribute to the many candidates and volunteers (and indeed the all-too-small group of paid staff who all give far, far more time and effort to the cause than they are actually paid for, most of whom will now sadly and unjustly have lost their jobs) who have worked so hard across Wales over the recent weeks, months and years – those who have given up their time, energy, and indeed money, to try to make Wales a better place. Without trying to name every one of the long list of candidates, I must particularly mention Helen Ceri Clarke who stood in my own constituency of Aberavon, and who would have been a fine addition to the Assembly, no matter how unlikely an outcome that might always have seemed in such a place.

There is sadly much public misunderstanding about how ‘politics’ really works at the local level, but we know the reality, at least in our party, is a very long way from the oft-mentioned  ‘party machine’, ‘wealthy elite’, and so on. It is about ordinary people - passionate and dedicated individuals, putting their own lives on hold on a regular basis to do their best to make their own small contribution to making the world a better and more Liberal place by pounding pavements, knocking doors, delivering leaflets, and so on. I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets frustrated seeing and hearing comments like ‘well nobody knocked on my door – don’t they want my vote?’ – we’d love to knock every door and speak to every person, but unfortunately in the modern world there just aren’t enough people prepared to give up their time to such a perpetually thankless (in public terms) task to allow us to do that in many places. I know we will keep trying, though, whatever hill we are faced with climbing.

I must welcome, of course, the gains and consolidations for Liberal Democrats in England and Scotland. It is so sad, though, that a nation with such a great Liberal history of tolerance and decency has been the exception this time, and has fallen foul of the politics of intolerance, division, isolationism and knee-jerk-reactionism. It is not only a tough time for my party, but more importantly a very, very sad day for my nation.

As for the party itself, there will be a little time now to rake over the coals of what went wrong, and discuss campaign tactics, and long term strategic planning, and so on. Of course we have made mistakes, and we must recognise them and try to put them right, but in doing so we must keep our eye firmly fixed on what this thing called ‘politics’ is all about. Now is certainly not a time to turn in on ourselves or turn on each other. It’s not about ‘winning’, and it’s not about ‘power’, and it’s not about ‘glory’. While we may disagree over the coming months about where we have gone wrong and how best to move forward (I have my own opinions on that, and will not by shy of expressing them in due course), we must all keep in mind what we are doing this for – it is about making Wales and the wider world a better, fairer, more tolerant, more equal and more Liberal place, and it’s about working to serve the people, not ourselves. Only the Liberal Democrats can do that, because only the Liberal Democrats are trying to do that – we must keep that firmly fixed in our minds, and re-dedicate ourselves to that goal.

This is, of course, not the end of the great Welsh Liberal tradition, nor even the beginning of the end – as long as we keep working together towards our ultimate goal, it will merely be the end of the beginning of a new chapter in that great history.

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