Back in June, I wrote a post on my private Facebook page summarising my thoughts on the outcome of the EU referendum result in the U.K.; and I find myself filled with similar emotions regarding yesterday’s result.
Donald Trump has won the Presidential election in the U.S. (with the Republican Party retaining control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives), something I never thought I would ever write or say. I am absolutely devastated, the fact that someone who has proven to be a sexist, xenophobic, misogynist who said he wanted to grab a woman by her p***y; who wants to build a wall between Mexico and the US, who wants to ban all Muslims from entering the US, who made fun of a disabled reporter, and described women as dirty and nasty, is now the ‘leader of the free world’ (as they like to describe themselves) is horrific and terrifying.
All night long, when the results were heading towards Trump’s direction, the commentators on CNN were comparing the result to the Brexit vote. There are similarities to be drawn there, the slogan of “Take back control”, has been used by both Trump and Leave campaigns; the protest vote as well, in both instances, played a massive role. This was a vote of protest against the perceived elite, the “Washington” elite as many in the Trump side used to regularly. “Liberal elite” is another phrase that is regularly used both in American politics, and increasingly so in the U.K. More recently by the Prime Minister, the right-wing media and populist press, and by the Brexiteers.
I first must ponder the word elite, I find it terribly strange that Donald Trump can rail against the elite, when he fits so perfectly into the elite. This relates similarly to Farage and his mob, who say that they speak on behalf of the ordinary person, yet they couldn’t be any further removed from the ‘ordinary voter’. However, they are able to exploit it so well. By attacking the elite for electoral gain you paint yourself as the outsider, the privateer, the populist, with the hope that it has success. It is the essence of populism. And it is a political approach that works. You change your message from “this is what you need” to “I know what you want” or even more powerful “tell me what you want”; those are two very different phrases and make such a massive difference when it comes to fighting an election. But these phrases should not be left to the devices of the right wing politicians.
The two phrases that I mention above bring me onto my next thought which is ‘on liberalism.’ Liberalism is under attack, we see this across Europe and following last night’s/this morning’s results in the USA. As Liberal Democrats, we need to ensure that liberalism and Liberal Democracy flourishes in the U.K. We have different views on what liberalism is, and we can debate this ad nauseum. However, for me, Liberalism is about giving power back to the people. It’s about going out into communities and asking people “what can we do for you?” and not telling them, “This is what you need.” A soft Liberal approach to populism, I suppose.
To be Liberal, for me, is something to be celebrated. It’s something I am immensely proud of. Liberalism is about being tolerant and open, it’s about ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard, understood and respected – especially when you disagree with them. It’s about being an internationalist, it’s about celebrating our diversity. “Freedom from conformity” is the key phrase that sticks in my mind when I think about being a Liberal. It is my favourite part of our party’s constitution. That is why I am a liberal and a Liberal Democrat.
It is a time like this when I reflect on a poignant part of Nick Clegg’s resignation speech from May 2015.
“Fear and grievance have won, liberalism has lost. But it is more precious than ever and we must keep fighting for it. That is both the great challenge and the great cause that my successor will have to face. I will always give my unstinting support for all those who continue to keep the flame of [British] liberalism alive.”