Why I left the party I love

What if the party you represent goes so off-piste that staying in means you have to abandon the true principles of that party?

Is the Conservative Party what it used to be?
Donna Rachel Edmunds
On 22 January 2013 12:20

Should an elected person ever quit their party mid-term? For many the answer is a resounding and definite no, and I can understand that. Sure, theoretically the electorate votes for the person not the party, but in practice one need only look at how few independents are electorally successful to realise that standing under a party banner gives a candidate a definite advantage. Arguably, at least a good proportion of your voters voted for the party, not for you.

On the other hand, what if the party you represent goes so off-piste that staying in means you have to abandon the true principles of that party, or break election promises? That was the dilemma I faced recently when the majority Conservative group on the council I serve on decided to raise taxes on one small group of people. 

It’s true that the Conservative party, like all large parties, is a broad church. But to be one party we have to have some idea of what it is that binds us and our myriad opinions together. For me, the Conservative party has just four words at its core: Low Tax, Small State. If a policy doesn’t deliver either reduced taxes or reduced government (or better still, both!), it simply is not Conservatism. 

Which presented a problem for me. I’d fought and won an election on the promise at least to freeze, if not actively reduce the district’s share of council tax. I thought my colleagues were committed to that promise too, and yet here we were, taking more money from the good people of the district. To my mind, it wasn’t me that had abandoned the Conservatives, but they who had cast off their principles and drifted away. So what to do? 

It wasn’t an easy decision, and ultimately it wasn’t one that came down just to the policy at hand. I’d been uneasy for some time defending policies I didn’t agree with, watching how the party faithful were ignored and taken for granted. Ultimately, the policy disagreement was the get-out clause I’d been unwittingly waiting for, and even then I was questioning and re-questioning my decision for months; during endless frustrating group discussions; and up to, during, and for a few hours after the meeting at which the vote on the policy was held.

In the end, it was a trivial thing that tipped it for me: an insulting comment, on a completely different topic, from a colleague on the phone that evening which made me realise how miserable I was within the fold. I wrote to my chairman and council leader immediately tendering my resignation. 

I’d expected vitriol after the event and was pleasantly surprised when it didn’t really come. A few commented that we need people within the party to continue to make the case for libertarian conservatism – and that’s true. But equally we need people on the outside (or rebels on the backbenches) with the ability to call the party out when it goes wrong.

Ultimately, as a local councillor on a parochial council, I felt that I’d be better placed to fulfill that role by leaving the party as there is no real backbench function on a district council, just an awful lot of apathy. 

I’d also expected to feel relieved after I’d made my decision, but in the immediate aftermath I felt strangely vulnerable outside of the party, going solo for the first time in years. The feeling lasted a few days, until I sat down for a coffee with an old friend and we discussed with glee all the campaigns I could now conduct. Campaigns with ‘Low Tax, Small State’ at their heart. I made the right decision.

Donna Rachel Edmunds is Founder of Freedom Matters. She tweets at @DonnaInSussex

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