A Green, Progressive, Liberal Perspective

A sign reads 'not afraid' as thousands gather for a vigil on Place de la Republique in Paris on Wedn

I was selected as the Lib Dem Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Wantage last week.  I’m very grateful to the discerning and supportive members of Wantage Lib Dems for their white-hot grilling, and for putting their faith in me.

Standing as a candidate is a big step and I’ll say more on why I’m doing it below.  But if you are in the mood for resolutions, whether you are interested in politics or not, please do give some thought to the priceless democratic process taking place in May 2015.

Firstly if you are not on the roll, you can register to vote here.  You can do it online, you only need your National Insurance number and it will take about 5 minutes.   However you feel about the election, that’s a very easy resolution to tick off before January has passed and you don’t even need to leave the sofa.

But if you are feeling even a slight bit interested in shaping the future of the UK, please do go further and resolve to engage in politics this year.

I admit, for many people it is not top of the list.

But if you are intending to be a tax-payer any time in the next five years this will (probably) be your only chance to have your say on how your money is spent.  If your child is in school, or you’re planning to use a doctor before 2020, this is the year you can have some influence on how that might go.  You can give Russell Brand as many facebook likes and retweets as you want (and I do) but right now voting in the poll on May 7th is the only formal way to change the way the country is run.

And if you wanted a further example of how important it is to stand up for our democratic-selves, recent events in Paris provide one of the most powerful.   As someone who has lived in France, celebrated French culture and admired French values I was deeply shocked and saddened by the barbaric attacks.  When the City of Light was plunged into darkness the flame that I and so many people hold in their hearts for Paris, and all that she stands for, flickered in distress.  But it did not go out.

Even before the murderers had been trapped, citizens from all over the world were showing their solidarity.  They wanted to show that they had too much in common to be torn apart by these atrocities.  That mood grew into the extraordinary march through Paris on Sunday.   As many people have pointed out there were contradictions and hypocrisy on show, but even a cynic could not fail to be moved by such an incredible show of collective resolve.

But hashtags and vigils alone can not provide all the answers to the issues raised by these events. It will be left to politicians to set the tone and agenda on how we move forward.

And that’s one of the reasons I’m getting involved in the election.

I believe that only by encouraging everyone to engage in the political process we can ensure that our politicians are as representative as possible of mainstream Britain in 2015.  By doing so we stand a chance at getting policies and ideas that will unite and strengthen us further.  This is particularly important in times of challenge like those we saw in Paris and will see again.

If ‘normal’ people withdraw from politics, because they’re too busy, too bored, or too intimidated (or all three), the political ground is left open for extreme ideas and voices to flourish.  In those circumstances our political discourse risks being driven towards divisive rhetoric that blames the defenceless for our problems, marginalises minority communities and normalises hostile and intimidatory language.

I am standing for the Liberal Democrats because I believe there is a more positive route to solving the challenges we face.   I want our country to build our prosperity by moving forward on the tolerant, internationalist, sustainable path that has been the making of modern Britain.  In a fast-paced, globalised, inter-connected world the solutions are not simple and will take time to achieve, but success will only be ours if we rise to the challenge of working together and resist the calls to turn in on ourselves.

That means we must retain our rights and freedoms – our liberty.  I have already extolled the virtues of democracy.  But the third limb of France’s mission statement – fraternity – has had less of a look in.  Yet for me, this is the value that was most on show in the aftermath of Paris and the value that citizens and politicians must prioritise to set a course for a successful future.

The reality of a diverse and open society is the foundation on which we can build our future, rather than an obstacle on the way back to the past.  But to make that foundation strong, we have to work out better ways of understanding, tolerating and working with each other, between generations, faiths, classes, cultures, sexes and races.   If we are not equal to the task, or contemplate failure, we will leave our communities open to be chipped away by the extremist hammers of attacks like Paris, but worse still, weathered gradually by the storms of frustration and prejudice.

Strengthening and building on our communities’ foundations is, to me, the ultimate political challenge.  By standing in this year’s election for a party that believes in addressing that challenge positively and directly I want to do my bit to move us in the right direction.

But whatever your perspective we must not allow the political arena to be left to political anoraks and extremists.  On the day itself and in the run-up to May 7th, make sure you play a part in shaping the future, and at the same time doff your cap to those that have fallen in the name of our freedoms by voting.




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