by Stephen Tall on January 13, 2006
A lot of this suspicion can, I suspect, be traced to an infamous passage from John Harris’s book, So Now Who Do We Vote For?:
Sitting in Parliamentary café, we began talking about his membership of the nascent SDP as a first-time voter repulsed by Thatcherism, but almost as alienated by the Labour Party. … “And then,” he continued, his conversational tone suddenly brightening, “this new modern party comes along that has its own credit cards, that has rather nice logos, that has a modern, professional media launch.”
He now sounded positively evangelical. “They’re wearing suits. They’re driving round in Volvos. It’s claret and chips. It was different, exciting, dynamic. There wasn’t necessarily a philosophical belief: the important thing was, it wasn’t Tory or Labour. And it was modern, it was different.”
The next bit was so startling that I had trouble maintaining my composure. “I only really got a philosophical belief about three years ago,” he admitted. “I’ve gone through this whole process as a pragmatic individual, who’s just by quirk ended up in Parliament. It was only about three years ago that I got it. I was suddenly able to call myself a Liberal, which I’d found difficult to do in the past. It suddenly clicked. Before that, I’d become a Liberal Democrat, I’d got elected to Parliament – but I hadn’t really defined what being a Liberal Democrat meant. …
“Once I got over this barrier of the word Liberal, I suddenly clicked that if you have a philosophical belief that being Liberal is being laissez-faire and not wanting a nanny state, you can suddenly start to impose that on a whole load of political situations. I’ve now been able to get my head around doing it.”
Did Mark really say all this?
If he did, then no-one should be surprised that Lib Dem members view his leadership bid with real scepticism. If he did not, he should set the record straight.