The slight musty smell of a church hall, the hushed chatter amongst early arrivers and the squeak of cheap plastic chairs as they are laid out ready for the new members, who inevitably then never materialise. This might have been my first Lib-Dem meeting, but it wasn’t my first ever political meeting and I felt gratified to know that some things seem to remain the same whatever party you choose to support.
It has been a relatively short, though exciting journey for me as I made my way from Labour activist through a state of political confusion and then out the other side into a fully fledged member of the Liberal Democrats. So, as I arrived at my first meeting of the Hounslow Branch ‘Executive Meeting’ I don’t mind admitting that I was a little nervous. Is it true that all Lib-Dem activists have beards and wear sandals? Will I be bullied for my recent membership of ‘the enemy’? Or, worst of all, will they just ignore me?
I needn’t have worried – the people were lovely, properly lovely. Everyone I met shook me by the hand and welcomed me whole-heartedly to my new political home, there was sympathy about ‘the Labour thing’, with many admitting they too used to be members – and there was barely a beard, or sandal, in sight.
The meeting itself was an eclectic mix, far more so than I have ever been used to – the chair, who grew up in Llanelli and still has a hint of Welsh about him, admitted to being a Conservative in his younger days (a lonely thing for a young man growing up in South Wales you would imagine) whilst two seats down was a proud member, and huge fan, of the PCS and Mark Serwotka respectively. It took me a while to work out what brought them together – how could someone on the centre-right sit so comfortably alongside a woman who I am sure would have described herself as a ‘Bennite’ in previous decades? The answer it turns out is simple, and the same reason that I was there – they believe in fairness, in social equality and in liberalism – the right for people to make the best of their lives in the way they see fit. If you can agree on that, the rest seems somewhat frivolous.
What struck me most however was the willingness to debate and the candour and honesty that emanated from everyone in the room. Most of the meeting was taken up with a round-the-room debrief of how the election went and what it meant – every person listened politely, even when they did go on for a bit, or offer a clear minority opinion. People responded with courtesy and most of all everyone wanted to listen and learn from their friends and colleagues experiences. Even a disagreement between the two parliamentary candidates was an opportunity to debate and explore ideas rather an entrenchment into political ideology and a way to score a political point or two.
It was a breath of fresh air to be amongst people whose priority was to debate policies and ideas rather than procedures and it has made me want to do more – I can see how I might be able to help and support the branch in their campaigns and now I have been inspired and energised to actually do it.
So as I left into the cooling night air (for this was not a short meeting) I reflected on what had not only been an engaging evening, but an enlightening one too – The new politics is thriving and you can find it in a church hall near you.