DEREK LAUD: Why don't Lib Dems welcome black voices like mine?
27th September 2020

Why don’t Lib Dems welcome black voices like mine? Senior member DEREK LAUD asks his provocative question as the party conference begins

The Lib Dems aren’t known for much these days, apart from being ‘serial losers,’ as a friend put it. They’re not even known for being particularly liberal, writes the deputy chairman of the Witney Liberal Democrats Derek Laud

You may not have noticed, but the Liberal Democrats are holding their annual conference this weekend. The event is online, so the party has been spared the usual jibes about gatherings in phone boxes.

It could all have been so very different had the leadership not overplayed their hand at the last Election, even though they faced a feeble Jeremy Corbyn on one side and a rancorous Conservative Party on the other.

The Lib Dems aren’t known for much these days, apart from being ‘serial losers,’ as a friend put it. They’re not even known for being particularly liberal. Despite the party’s open-minded reputation, it’s not a comfortable place for a black man such as myself, willing to question orthodox views.

The Liberals, dating back to the 19th Century Whigs, have always stood for personal liberty, social reform, free trade and minimal government interference.

This is what attracted me when I resigned my membership of the Conservative Party in disgust at Theresa May’s government’s treatment of the Windrush generation – when people who’d lived legally in the UK for decades were detained or deported.

Yet what I’ve found among the Liberals is illiberalism, a hunger for central control and an instinctive distrust of minorities who can think for themselves.

This was seen in the run-up to the last Election when then leader Jo Swinson pledged herself to overthrowing democracy by unilaterally cancelling Brexit if she became PM. 

How telling that the electorate responded by overthrowing her – the first major party leader for decades to be booted out of Parliament.

The new leader is Sir Ed Davey (pitured), and his first public remark as leader was to say he was ‘listening’

Most Liberal Democrats don’t seem to mind. David Laws, a Minister in the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition once observed to me: ‘You don’t become a Lib Dem if you have ambition.’ Or maybe black for that matter.

Studying political theory at Oxford, I was taught the Conservative Party, too, had a strong tradition of 19th Century liberalism in its core, something Mrs May wasn’t sophisticated enough to comprehend.

And while I toured the TV studios and wrote newspaper articles denouncing the Windrush scandal, where were the Lib Dems? 

The leading members were too busy climbing in and out of limousines and eyeing up titles for themselves. 

In the run-up to the last Election,  then leader Jo Swinson pledged herself to overthrowing democracy by unilaterally cancelling Brexit if she became PM. How telling that the electorate responded by overthrowing her – the first major party leader for decades to be booted out of Parliament

My experience suggests the party has more authoritarian tendencies than liberal ones.

When Jo Swinson wanted the capable Sir Nick Harvey ousted as Chief Executive of the party, she gave him less notice than I would give my housekeeper.

When the good people of Buckingham expressed an interest in me becoming their parliamentary candidate, Swinson decided that this target seat would have their choice of candidate decided by her.

David Laws, a Minister in the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition once observed: ‘You don’t become a Lib Dem if you have ambition’

The Lib Dems talk about natural justice and local democracy, yet take decisions by whisper, nudge and wink. This is a world in which PC Plod types with low intelligence and zero charisma are propelled to the top.

I remain the deputy chairman of the Witney Liberal Democrats. Of the 386 members, I’m the only one who is black. At the last annual general meeting, I was the only officer who faced a challenge. 

I should have known it was coming as I was routinely asked the ‘Where do you come from’ question. I hadn’t realised being black in the Liberal party would be such a novelty.

No doubt my view will be challenged, but I believe Vice President Isabelle Parasram, a woman of colour, has been appointed as window dressing – to signal that the Lib Dems embrace minorities. 

Her role, she says, is to ‘champion diversity’. Let’s hope she proves me wrong.

Why was it that I alone objected to the re-admission of a former member expelled for expressing racist views on social media? It’s not good enough to say you are liberal. You have to think and act like one, too.

The new leader is Sir Ed Davey, and his first public remark as leader was to say he was ‘listening’. I hope he is, because while the Lib Dems might want black faces, they don’t welcome black voices.

The party was created to change society, yet appears horrified at the idea of changing itself. But if it’s not prepared to change, it will die – and deserve to.

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