Simon Hughes coming out in support of the Clegg camp is significant. I don’t know why, as party president, he’s allowed to support either side – but the fact that he has done means something, to me at least.
Simon was elected in 1983, just a few years after I joined the Liberal Party. In the years that followed, especially while he was such a brilliant and innovative environment spokesman, he came to symbolise what radical Liberalism was all about. For me and many others.
But some misunderstanding about what Liberal radicalism means has crept in since then. As if it meant ‘social liberalism’ or more public spending or more enthusiastic support than ever for local government power. It might imply any of those, but not by themselves – for me, radical Liberalism means a greater commitment to change, to being on the side of people not institutions, to handing power back to people, to making them independent.
I’ve always regarded myself as a radical – but realise only too well (I can tell by the puzzled looks in the policy committee when I open my mouth) that this may just be my interpretation of the way things are. On the other hand, with Simon joining the Clegg camp, I have a feeling of reassurance that my brand of radical Liberalism is shared more widely.
Maybe it’s also about to undergo an exciting revival.