In this short article, Oliver Townsend, the Welsh Liberal Democrat for Islwyn and the South Wales East regional list, sets out why the party offers a unique and distinctive voice and perspective – and why Wales would be poorer without that contribution.
We’ve got less than a day until the Senedd elections, and already many people have written us off as a party. This has happened before, and each time we have fought back and held on. I know people have asked me sometimes why I carry on, when our party is trying to rebuild after slow growth in previous elections.
My answer is always the same: there is no other party with the same combination of values, as the Liberal Democrats.
That combination of commitment to personal freedom, with Government support, and a dedication to protecting and lifting up the underdog, has appealed to me for years.
I grew up as a disabled man, having many operations over the years in the NHS. As a result of the many amazing medical professionals and their care, I have seen just how important Government support is. People with my condition in the United States are often opting for amputation, rather than expensive treatment.
But I have also seen the negative side of being powerless and unable to speak out. When I have experienced the rare moments of unsafe care, or being ignored, I have seen all too well the negative side of power – people who don’t listen, who don’t like being challenged, and who think they know better.
It is why, as well as growing up seeing my late Dad campaigning for a party that cared about local communities, and genuinely worked throughout the year, I joined the Welsh Liberal Democrats aged fifteen. And stayed a member ever since.
It is a tricky balance, between personal freedom and Government support, and I believe absolutely that no other party has it right – and even we struggle sometimes, but I think we get it right more than any other.
The Labour Party, for example, who proposed ID cards and other controls when in Government, and who had to be pulled and pushed into opposing them recently. Yes, they are in favour of Government support, but they also like Government control. They have also tended to be more conservative, very much refusing to engage in discussions around decriminalization of cannabis, and other aspects of harm reduction. These are hugely liberal ideas, that are often not proposed by the ‘big two’ parties in London.
The Conservatives and their off-shoots such as Abolish, UKIP and Reform, are often very supportive of individual freedom (except when it comes to ID cards, photo ID for voting, police power…) – but they fall short when it comes to support for people on the edges of society. At every step of the way in the disastrous Coalition years, they were pushing to cut more, to stop more, and opposed so much support for social housing.
Then there is Plaid Cymru. And in all honesty, they try – there are elements of liberalism within their ideas. But again, their response is often to micro-manage from the centre of Government. Take their policy proposal in this year’s Senedd elections, to appoint ‘town managers’, who would work from Cardiff Bay, telling local communities how to recover from economic shock. This idea that the Welsh Government knows better than individuals and communities is wrong, and something that the Welsh Liberal Democrats are completely opposed to.
Since 1999, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have been a radical voice in Wales, working in Government or outside it, to make good laws, and to stand up for causes that are often overlooked. Our approach, our mindset, our values, are different to other parties.
It is why it would be a tragic shame to lose this perspective in the Senedd.
I think back to 2016, when there were five Welsh Liberal Democrats in the Senedd, arguing hard for protecting homelessness funding, for individual rights, for safe nursing levels, for a premium for poorer students, and much more. I remember the last five years, with first UKIP, then Brexit, now Abolish, offering wilder and wilder interventions that added little to the debate, and have now added fuel to the fire that would gut and destroy our Welsh Parliament.
I think what the last five years in Wales could have been like with Welsh Liberal Democrats offering their unique insights and values to the debate, rather than refuseniks who hate the Parliament they stand in.
It is why I am urging people who would normally not think of supporting us, to lend us your vote this year in the regional list, but on the constituency as well if you can.
If you value a positive balance between personal freedom and Government support, then vote Welsh Liberal Democrat.
If you want to put recovery first, but in a way that prioritises communities and people who are on the edges of society, vote Welsh Liberal Democrat.
And if you want to show a vote of confidence in our Parliament, and show Abolish the door, vote Welsh Liberal Democrat.