When you sign up to be a member of a political party you do so because you fundamentally believe in their ideology enough to want to put your money where your mouth is and make a difference. I did exactly that when i joined the Liberal Democrats from Labour a number of years ago.
I make no secret of the fact that I was highly suspicious of going into coalition with the Conservatives in May 2010 but I, like many others, was willing to go along with it if it meant making a real effort to clean up the mess that the Labour government of the last 13 years had left us in. I went along with it in the hope that the Liberal Democrats would temper some of the more rampant Conservative desires.
Today that faith in what my party has been trying to achieve has been rocked to its core for two reasons. Firstly the Welfare Reform Bill passed through parliament today without the amendments pressed for by the Liberal Democrats which would have seen vulnerable people protected from some of the more vicious cuts. The second is a more personal reason. I work for a charity that provides services to deaf people, people with a hearing loss and people with hearing loss and learning difficulties. Today my party in coalition not only failed them, it also failed me. Thanks to the devastating cuts to local services and cuts in funding from national government, my charity is at risk of not being able to provide services to people who need them the most. As a result, I was put on notice of redundancy today and my post no longer exists.
So what I hear you say. You make things look pretty and buy print. Yes I do, but it is part of a much larger picture. The literature that I help produce raises awareness of the issues people with hearing loss face. It attracts new members in our magazine and fundraising material. It attracts people who fundraise for us. It advertises services up and down the country that many people with a hearing loss could not do without. I am part of a well oiled machine that helps gets those services recognised.
Today, thanks to this government and my party’s part in it, I am looking at an uncertain future. I have no savings, no pension and no one to help me out of a hole that is gaping in front of me. I do not have credit cards to help me get by and it is just me myself and I. So what do I do now? Like millions of other people up and down the country I have to try to find something else. At this stage in my career it is not easy. My sector is always the first to get cut. In the last recession it took me 10 years to find a job that i had trained to do. I don’t have the luxury of doing that this time as I don’t live at home with my parents. I will probably have to take any job I can simply to keep a roof over my head.
Even that may be hard on a reduced salary. I am no in need enough to be a priority on council housing and I don’t qualify for benefits. Frankly the thought that I might even have to apply for benefits appalls me. I have never done so in my life and to do so would be like admitting failure. Benefits are for those in dire need, not people like me who can work. Why should I be forced into this position by a government that seemingly has no regard for people who’s circumstances are somewhat less than our own?
But what saddens me the most is the prospect of leaving an organisation that I would frankly lay down my life for. For the first time in my career I can see that my work has a positive impact for people who need help. I can see that what I am doing is worthwhile and not just some part of a corporate machine designed to make money for corporate shareholders. I feel as though I am having to leave behind the people I have been helping over the past three years and it kills me.
When I signed up to be a Liberal Democrat I did so because we were the party of fairness. The party that made sure that no one gets left behind. I see none of that in either of the two circumstances that have happened today. All I see is a trail of despair that is opening up for those that need help. I’m not being dramatic. I am seeing it with my own eyes. Does this government or the Liberal Democrats understand or care what happens to a person when their hearing is gone. Do they understand the isolation that a person feels when they cannot hear the things we take for granted? The person in the shop when you buy something, the conversations with grand children, the help with services that you are trying to access? On today’s evidence I would say they don’t. What is even worse is that for the first time I would say that both of them do not care.
This is not why I joined this party. I lost two things dear to me today. My job and my faith in my party and what it is trying to do. The first may be easier to get back though not in the kind of organisation I would want to be. The second may be something I never get back. I am ashamed to be a member of this party and this government tonight and don’t know how we will ever be able to look the electorate in the eye with a straight face again.