I fucking hate losing. 2016 obviously; the collapse of our party a year before. Few, though, have stung as much as 2019. Not just a Liberal Democrat disappointment, but a huge majority for a party of sleazeballs, crackpots, and authoritarians, strung together by a shared love of culture wars. I know few reading this article need convincing that the Tories are pretty rubbish. And I know few of you relish the prospect of having to present identity papers to vote; or of savage cuts to foreign aid; or of a rowback on trans rights; or of a host of other things this government have flirted with or embraced. A strong liberal party, that can effectively challenge this ugly but formidable force, is increasingly vital. Chesham and Amersham gives us an opportunity like no other to start that fightback.
This is our chance to show millions of voters that we can win elections. This is our chance to get the media coverage the gravity of First Past the Post denies us. This is our chance to shape a narrative about Tory retreat in the Blue Wall, and set up electoral realignment which could see the end of Tory rule.
Indeed, this by-election has given us more concerted coverage than any event of the past year. We have had coverage of our chances in the by-election in the last four days from the Guardian, Economist, Financial Times, and others—all of them highlighting our growing power in Southern England, and that we will be integral to any future progressive majority. Think how much more, and how much more real, that coverage will be if we win on Thursday.
If you’re pessimistic, if you’ve campaigned hard and seen too many false dawns, I get that. But it’s also about the party gaining an MP. A single MP really, really matters, especially as a party with currently 11 seats. At 12 seats, traditionally, we as a party are entitled to a Select Committee chairmanship in the Commons—a powerful guarantor of more publicity. If Sarah Green is elected, we can seek that out.
The government has a majority of 80. At present, we know there were roughly 30-35 rebels on the Government benches prepared to fight to protect the aid budget. If the Government intends to cut aid spending to below 0.7 for a second year, there will be a vote in the House of Commons. It will be a very tight vote. If it’s one we lose by one, I know I will regret every spare moment of the coming days I wasn’t spending in Chesham and Amersham. Whatever personal disagreements I may have about our tactics, this campaign is more important than me.
Volunteers don’t have to campaign if they don’t want to. They’re entitled to stay at home. And Chesham and Amersham is no different—if you don’t care much about winning the seat from the tories, or don’t particularly want a Liberal Democrat victory then that’s up to you.
But I must confess I find such an attitude perplexing. By-elections aren’t frequent. Chances to win them are rare. The stars have to align for us as a party—and they have right now. Why on earth would we pass that up? Because our leaflets cater to voter preferences rather than those of Lib Dem activists? I’m disappointed with the party’s stances sometimes. But my personal disappointment pales in comparison with the power of a parliamentary seat to shape political change. I’d rather spend my time fighting on the front line than writing about why I’m sitting this one out.
Lib Dems have got to start focusing on winning, rather than constant navel gazing and public self flagellation. Activism is not about making the perfect the enemy of the good; it’s about replacing the bad with something better. A Lib Dem MP is going to be better than a Tory MP—and it really is as simple as that. I will be in Chesham on Tuesday, Wednesday, and on polling day. I hope to see you there.