I was intending to delay this announcement until closer to the election on May 5th, but recent events have inspired me to post this entry much earlier than planned.
It probably comes as only a minor surprise that I will be voting LibDem two weeks on Thursday. Thus far I have voted LibDem in every election since I reached 18, bar the previous general election when I voted for the Green Party due to dissatisfaction with the local LibDem parliamentary candidate. This time I have no such issue, and believe more than ever that voting for the LibDems is worth it.
There are several reasons why I will vote this way:
The party is the one I agree with the most (or, disagree with the least). As someone who works in higher education, I get to see first-hand some of the financial hardship that students have to go through to get a degree. Years ago, university was free for UK students; now, most students will borrow an average of over £20,000 to fund their education. It’s meant more students staying at home with their parents, rather than getting their first taste of independence at age 18. Further limits have meant that those with degrees already, who want to do a second degree in a new subject, have to pay eye-watering fees of at least £6,000 per year with many charging over £10,000 per year – and that just covers tuition; books, accommodation, printing, food etc. all have to be paid for as well, and you can’t get a student loan to cover it. This has stopped many people with degrees in less employable subjects going back to University to be tomorrow’s doctors, pharmacists, civil engineers, researchers and other professions where a relevant degree is necessary. This country needs graduates, yet only the LibDems are committed to abolishing tuition fees.
Not one Liberal Democrat MP voted in favour of the Digital Economy Act, which has now been passed into law and puts in place a number of potentially draconian new rules for dealing with illegal file sharing, and the party stated that it will repeal it if elected. As it happens, the act was passed due to support from the other two parties. It may just be one act, but for me this was a deciding issue for this election. While some high-profile Labour MPs did oppose it, such as Tom Watson, it was clear that the Labour whip was in favour of it.
The Liberal Democrats opposed the war in Iraq, which, admittedly, did free the country of the tyranny of Saddam Hussain but also lead to a war which was started without a United Nations mandate, probably illegal under UK law, has caused a significant amount of destabilisation in the country and the wider middle-east region and resulted in the deaths of a large number of our serving armed forces. The LibDems are also against the renewal of our Trident nuclear missile arsenal, which would be incredibly expensive and would come at a time when both the USA and Russia have agreed to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
Vince Cable warned before the global economic meltdown started that the economy was in trouble and that banks were taking too much risk. While we’ll never know what could have happened if the LibDems were in power at the time, I trust Cable to manage the economy better than it has been.
I also respect Dr Evan Harris, the LibDem’s science spokesperson, who backs evidence-based approaches to science (i.e. what every other scientist does) rather than be guided by the media and public opinion. The recent spats between the government and its drugs advisory committee show that scientific evidence should drive policy, not political witch-hunts and media pressure.
The first leaders’ debate showed that Nick Clegg can stand above his rivals and not to stoop to their levels of back-biting. It was telling that ‘I agree with Nick’ was used by both other candidates several times during the debate, and Clegg was a much more confident speaker. There are also some people in Labour and the Conservatives that I really don’t like – Lord Mandleson, who just needs a black helmet and cape to complete the transformation into Darth Vader; and Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary who recently said that discriminating against gay couples was fine in some circumstances. There’s Philip Davies, previously MP for Shipley and seeking re-election, who won’t be opposed by UKIP because he’s sufficiently far-right for them – this is an MP who voted against legislation to combat climate change and gay rights. And there’s the 3 Labour MPs who are claiming legal aid to defend themselves against allegations that they claimed illegitimate expenses using taxpayers’ money. And my local Labour MP hasn’t exactly done much to win my vote of late, having neither acknowledged nor responded to my communications regarding the Digital Economy Act. I could go on, but I trust the people in the Liberal Democrat party more than their opposition.
Oh, and they have an MP called Lembit Opik, who dated one of the Cheeky Girls. That’s awesome.
I would bet a small amount of money that there are a number of people who would have voted for the Liberal Democrats previously had they had a realistic chance of being elected, but have instead voted tactically. After Thursday’s debate, the Liberal Democrats shot up in the polls due to Clegg’s admirable performance and have stayed equal or above Labour for a few days now, and so are in with a chance of winning the election (or at least putting up a very good showing). For too long, they have been seen as the ‘other’ party, or an ‘also-ran’, covered in the news and satire programmes purely for balance. Thursday’s Have I Got News For You, which was broadcast at the same time as the debates, was a prime example of this. Suddenly the election has become a definite three-horse race, and I think people will be surprised at the level of support the Liberal Democrats actually have.
4. The third way
The political systems in many countries has become polarised and the United States is a good example – there’s the Republicans, the Democrats, and then a handful of minor parties that very few people know or care about. In the UK we’re lucky that we have 3 viable parties, giving a wider spectrum of policies and views, and this needs to be preserved.
5. Socking it to Murdoch
This is a personal thing but the power that media barons, like Rupert Murdoch, have over public opinion is sometimes quite frightening. Murdoch owns two of our largest newspapers – The Sun and The Times – and has a large stake in the Sky News TV channel (and his son is Sky’s chief executive). I understand that Labour and the Conservatives have often tried hard to lobby Murdoch and his cronies to back their candidates and it seems that he’s backing the Tories this time around, based on The Sun’s absolutely fair and reasoned support for the party (yeah right…). If the Liberal Democrats do well, it would show Murdoch and the media elite that their powers over the electorate aren’t as strong as they’d like to think (see also this comment piece).
6. Real change
The Conservative campaign has all been about change, but personally I don’t think they have changed a huge amount since they were ousted in 1997. I also hold things like Section 28, the disastrous privatisation of the railways and subsequent Hatfield rail crash and lack of public service investment against them from their previous time in power. While I do concede that Britain has been better off under Labour (minimum wage, human rights act, economic growth, equal opportunities), there’s so much more that could be done and I don’t think Labour are capable of doing it. The Liberal Democrats have not been in power at a national level before, so they’re the only major party that, in my mind, can bring real change.
May 6th is 16 days away and a lot could change, but unless something horrific and unexpected happens, I’ll be voting for the Liberal Democrats. And I hope many of you will join me.