The Lib Dems: A Cautionary Tale

“This is supposed to be the discrimination bill to end all discrimination bills, and yet it will contain quite blatant prejudice. Only protecting people who are considering or have undergone gender reassignment surgery will leave huge swathes of the transgender population vulnerable to what, in effect, will be legalised discrimination. I will do my best to make sure the final legislation offers real protection for people who define their gender differently.”

– Lynne Featherstone (Lib Dem) criticises the Equality Bill in 2008

I feel that I’ve learned a lot from the Liberal Democrats.

In many ways, I’ve always been a natural Liberal Democrat voter. Labour were running the country during my teenage years, and I grew increasingly disgusted with them during their time in power. The UK became increasingly authoritarian as the government made clear that civil rights were not a priority. We became involved in a number of utterly pointless, wasteful wars. Granted, the situation for LGBT people improved immeasurably, but this was down more to shifting social attitudes and a number of important victories in the European courts than anything else.

I understood the way that Labour regarded people like me. I was a socialist but accepted social democracy as a necessary reality, I was a trans person with an increasing number of equal rights. I imagine that, to them, I was a natural Labour voter. I wasn’t, and I’m still not. I won’t forget the ID card proposals, the introduction of tuition fees,  the wars and the arrogance. I won’t forget the way in which Labour representatives claimed time and time again that they’d done all these things for trans rights when pretty much every piece of trans-positive legislation they passed happened because the European courts told them to do it.

In opposition, we had the Conservative party (booo! hiss, etc.) and the Liberal Democrats. Oh, and the Greens, but they never stood the chance of getting anywhere, and I certainly wasn’t interested in the far-fight fringe parties.

The Liberal Democrats appealed to me. I lived in a constituency with a Lib Dem MP who’d done a lot of good, hard work for the area. The Liberal Democrats believed in greater social freedoms and less legal restrictions. The Liberal Democrats opposed war, and spending on weapons. The Liberal Democrats (supposedly) believed in social justice, and stood up for the poor. On that front they were a little too…y’know, liberal, but they seemed to have their hearts in the right place, and it had to be better than the situation under the hypocritical Labour party, right?

The Liberal Democrats not only spoke about LGBT rights, but seemed to know what they were talking about. Labour talked about civil partnership, and the Lib Dems talked about equal marriage. They actually got the issues, and they understood that bi people exist, and they understood that trans people exist, and – shockingly – they even understood that the trans spectrum encompasses more than just recreational cross-dressers and “primary” transsexuals.

I was a natural Liberal Democrat voter. I voted for them in two general elections and one local election. I voted Green once in a European election, but I was feeling terribly radical that day.

I now, of course, realise that my trust was utterly misplaced. The Lib Dem betrayal has been almost absolute.

I mean, they – like Labour before them – are still talking the talk. The Government Equality Office is pushing some kind of trans action plan that probably will actually make a difference in some areas, and hence genuinely help people (you can contribute to it here, if you manage to get your head around the bizarre contribution process). But, on the whole, the Lib Dems are obeying their senior coalition partners in a way that’s going to cause a lot of people a whole lot of harm.

The tuition fees sell-out was arguably the most high-profile instance of Lib Dem duplicity, but you just need to look at, well, everything that’s wrong with the current government attitude to see where the party is letting down the minority groups that they claim to speak for.

The cuts are hitting the poor, the young, the elderly and the disabled hardest. A disproportionate amount of trans people tend to be poor and disabled (funny how massive amounts of discrimination can do that, huh?)  Support services are failing left, right and centre as funding dries up. Trans charities such as Gender Matters, which struggled to find funding at the best of times, are going under. The restructuring of the NHS is already hurting trans people in areas that are withdrawing funding for treatment: I suspect this will only get worse if the proposed new system is implemented.

There’s no point in having all these wonderful new proposed laws in place to help trans people if there are no real support structures in place any more because the government has destroyed them all. The Liberal Democrats are totally complicit in this disaster, and it’s only going to get worse.

This is why I have absolutely no sympathy for the Lib Dems’ plight in the wake of yesterday’s dramatic Barnsley by-election result. The party’s candidate came sixth in the polls, behind UKIP, the BNP and an independent as well as the Labour and Conservative candidates. Quite frankly, it serves them right. I genuinely hope that this the beginning of a process in which the party will destroy itself, or at least totally undergo a thorough re-invention process. I’m not sure what will have to happen before I can trust them again though.

I used to think that the old adage, “never trust a politician”, was an unhelpful cliché. I now feel that to make any kind of meaningful change, we need to take power into our own hands. We can’t rely on some well-spoken, well-meaning, well-groomed young thing with a brightly coloured rosette to do the work for us.

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