What current and recently departed members of the Libertarian Party are witnessing is either a rapidly accelerating meltdown, or the 'rock bottom' from which the drunk begins his slow rise towards a life of sobriety. I guess it all depends on whether your glass is half full or half empty. I've always had a cynical streak, and lean rather heavily towards the view that the patient is (to use the official term) fucked and burned, with any signs of revival owing much to wishful thinking.
I actually had to resign three times before getting through the razor wire. Given that my first two cracks were rendered invalid by (apparently) being sent to the wrong person, this makes me wonder how many looking to escape the compound in the last month or so are still members of LPUK without knowing it. The search for someone, anyone who is prepared to wear the party's name with pride goes on, and I genuinely feel for all those who put their time, effort and worst of all money into what looked a worthy cause.
Money (or the lack of) appears to have been the main cause of friction within LPUK in the last month. So much so that there has been an attempt in the last week, led by 'acting leader' of sorts Max Adronichuk to push people in the direction of "moving on" and "looking to the future", while calling for disgruntled members, ex-members and supporters to 'stop talking about money and audits'. Some have taken the bait, while a few of us have dismissed this as the "learning lessons" nonsense that it is.
If Max, who I do not know and thus hold no brief for or against, truly believes this to be a solution then he is showing a political naivety that one could easily forgive from someone 20 years of age. But it's a naivety that needs to be addressed nonetheless. Nobody appears willing to come forward and confirm whether the legal entity of LPUK actually has any monies of its own or not. This has led many to conclude that the reason for the party requiring a loan to fund its election literature was, simply - there is no money left.
Establishing the trail of where the cash went is essential in order to rebuild the trust that has been shattered by recent events. If an attempt is made to sweep this tale into a corner and pretend it did not happen, every rejection of a proposal on the basis of a lack of funds will be met by a cocktail of angst and suspicion. Angst at the fact that there are no funds available, and suspicion that it may not all have been used for appropriate purposes. Only a full audit into the past will enable a future built on anything resembling confidence.
The main obstacle to such an audit taking place would appear to be the man in possession of the party's books - former (and possibly current - answers on a postcard) leader and treasurer Andrew P Withers. Since my correspondence with Mr Withers to make my first resignation attempt last Monday, I have seen or heard very little of him. It could be that he is in a period of self-imposed exile, or he could be hiding from Susanne Nundy, aka the blogger Anna Raccoon, who he claims is stalking him. At least this is what he is supposed to have told the town clerk in Clevedon upon taking his seat as an independent parish councillor.
After all that we wind up back at the start - Anna Raccoon, whose blog 'Libertarian Liberties' - http://www.annaraccoon.com/politics/libertarian-liberties/ opened up this particularly unpleasant and wriggly can of worms. Much of the stuff on here is personal, and has little or no bearing on Withers' abilities to lead his party. But the nature of some of the allegations paints a picture that one would want to refute immediately. Establish the facts, get everything out into the open and show this up as the errant pack of lies that it is. I honestly did not know what to believe at the time, but understood that there was a case to answer, and hoped that this would be the response.
As it is, we got a claim from Withers that he would sue the Raccoon for defamation (if someone can clarify whether or not this has happened I would be most grateful) and an NCC report that skated around a few constitutional issues before declaring there was "no evidence of wrongdoing". Apparently, the question of finance was not within the scope of the investigation, as acting leader Nic Coome told me. Who defined that scope? Nic explains, "Looking back through the myriad of emails, it looks as though I suggested it to the NCC and they either agreed or didn't disagree (i.e. didn't respond)." Following this, Malpoet offered to step in as temporary treasurer and pay for an external audit of the accounts himself. Given the reluctance of members to entrust their cash to the central party, this seemed like a two birds with one stone solution. Malpoet's offer was turned down as 'unconstitutional' - make of that what you will.
Now, apparently, allegedly, Anna/Susanne is travelling between France and the Uk for the sole purpose of stalking and/or following Andrew P Withers. Again, it is very hard to know exactly who or what to believe (it would also potentially be sub-judice to speculate). However, if this is exactly what is happening, it would be fair to suggest that an individual making the effort to travel that length in order to stalk someone poses a significant and immediate risk to them.
So why, instead of arresting Anna/Susanne, are the police "compiling a file on her before taking action" as Withers claims? I know if someone was travelling from France to stalk me, I would be mightily pissed off to find out that the police were "compiling a file" on them, wouldn't you?. I'd want them hauled in for questioning without hesitation.
Just to clarify something else before I wrap this part up - Andrew's own words to me on 9th May - "I have also told the Clerk that Susanne Nundy is stalking me and that the Police are compiling a file on her before they take action." Not cyberstalking, or e-stalking but plain old 'following someone down the street' stalking. It's worth making that abundantly clear just in case the story changes or a writ arrives in the post in the near future.
There is much more I could have covered but I get the feeling I've lost quite a few of you already, and I'm gonna need a cigarette before continuing. However, it's worth exploring exactly why this incarnation of the Uk Libertarian Party failed as miserably as it did. They may well continue in the same name, but in essence it will be a new party built up from scratch on a skeletal membership of maybe 150 and, in all likelihood, no funds to speak of.
Party membership peaked at around 800 while they never won a contested election and struggled to put up more than a few candidates. Explanations for this vary. Some will suggest that LPUK simply fell into the wrong hands, while there will also be speculation as to whether or not there is a real appetite for this kind of politics in the Uk.
Despite dissatisfaction with mainstream politics, do people really have the confidence to take the risks that come at least hypothetically under a Classical Liberal/Libertarian government? For instance, is there a majority out there who aren't scared by the thought of a significantly reduced welfare state? Or are we the distinct, unelectable minority, albeit one that should continue to press its case and try to influence the political arena from the outside?
What I do know is that people who take refuge under the Libertarian umbrella invariably feel that they have found a spiritual home - I speak from personal experience as someone who joined the party with the comfort of knowing that I really wasn't a political misfit, and whatever minor disagreements I had with details in their manifesto, just thank the man upstairs that I've found some people who I can share some common political ground with. The bit of the equation that remains unclear is how many people in the Uk really are of that political ilk. I suspect it may be much fewer than we had hoped, for in my everyday experience we're a pretty rare breed.
It's worth being honest about something else. We only use the word Libertarian because the word Liberal has been stolen from us by the mad, statist left. In truth, most Libertarians are just 'real Liberals' or 'classical Liberals' who had to use a different term to distinguish themselves from the Liberal Democrats, the remnants of the Liberal Party, and anyone else wishing to use the mutated 21st century application of the name. As leftfield as it sounds, I genuinely believe that the main problem LPUK had was its name. In my opinion a 'Classical Liberal Party' would fare much better - before you call the nurse let me explain why.
I'm a Liberal, I intend to fight hard to take that word back from the statists who have shit all over it, and will state openly that I'm a Liberal, then face down anyone who abuses their misunderstanding of the term. Liberalism is pretty much an instinctive thing - you tend only to have to think about awkward 'competing rights' issues. Everything else has a logical answer - get the state out of the action, out of people's faces, out of their bedrooms and away from their money. Provided what takes place is within the rule of law, this is a fairly simple stream of thought to apply to any situation, and it either runs through your veins or it doesn't.
We don't feel comfortable either bossing or being bossed about - many of us would in fact subscribe to Billy Connolly's observation that, "a person who really wants to be a politician should be disqualified from being one." This is why parties with liberal instincts often struggle to attract what could be described as 'effective' leaders. Responsibility for ourselves comes naturally to a Liberal, but telling people what to do is something we are often uncomfortable with.
And people who have this liberal bloodline tend to get mad when people who don't try to associate with them.
A 'Classical Liberal Party' would attract a membership almost exclusively made up of 'instinctive Liberals'. Everyone who knows their politics enough to get into it knows what a classical liberal is, and equally importantly, what he/she isn't. There will always be differences here and there between members, and disagreements on those grey issues I mentioned earlier. But that common thread that the state should stay out of the way as often as possible would hold people together more than any disagreement would divide them. So much so I suspect that that those lacking in liberal instinct would feel lost and almost unwelcome. Good - we don't want you - go and join the Tories, the 'Liberal' Democrats or UKIP.
The word Libertarian is slightly less clear. To me it may mean 'classical liberal in all but name' but crucially the complete word Liberal is missing and thus there is a degree to which it is open to interpretation. What I found as my time in LPUK wore on was that some people within the party simply did not have liberal instincts. Nobody who did would see 'party discipline' and 'protecting the treasurer from slander' as their top two priorities. Andrew Withers may refer to himself as a Libertarian, but when he declared these first in his 'to do' list, the absence of any sort of instinctive liberalism struck you right between the eyes. Party discipline bascially involves reducing the membership to disciples, while the law of the land already forbids slander. Anything beyond that would appear to be some sort of party-imposed superinjunction.
The leader of what was supposed to be an 'instinctively liberal' party also declared without consulting the membership that the NCC would be cut to five members and invited us all to "build a future under Max" - ie Max Adronichuk, presumably LPUKs leader-in waiting. He may be the most obvious example of an illiberal Libertarian having become leader, but was far from alone. LPUK became a pretty broad church, with a small number of left-libertarian anarchists right through to people who were economic liberals, but of questionable instinct on other issues.
I heard many anti-immigration and "hang 'em flog 'em" sentiments in online discussion, and sometimes wondered if it were they or me who had joined the wrong party. It would appear that a group who were in no way instinctive liberals had contrived to see themselves as Libertarians. As a smaller state in economic terms appeared to be an issue which almost all were agreed on, LPUK also became something of an economics party. The strong constitutional and personal liberalism which really should have been the party's unique selling point was cast off into the background as a result, and I've no doubt that people using the old and defunct left-right axis saw them as a party distinctively of the right. This no doubt attracted supporters but in all likelihood scared off a great deal more.
LPUKs existence should in part have been an illustration of how few questions a left-right analysis actually solves, and the party failed to grasp it. Being a Liberal means being anti-populist and taking emotionally charged criticism an awful lot of the time, but I have never found it an uncomfortable experience. This is probably because I'm merely following what I instinctively believe in. It's just a shame that although many did, not all within the Uk Libertarian Party shared that sense of autopilot. I'll remain a supporter of the party, but if it wants a little bit of advice from an ex-member, here's some you can have for free - ditch the name, reclaim the word Liberal and be proud of it. After all it's yours.