In part 8 of our Pre-Election guide, Andrew Hickey explains the philosophy behind Britain's third largest party: the Lib Dems.
A lot of people don't get the Liberal Democrats.
I think this is to do with the fact that we're portrayed in the media (and, indeed, used to portray ourselves) as centrists, which given that the parties of the 'left' and 'right' in the UK are both right-wing authoritarian corporatist parties with little but brand names to distinguish them, leads people to dismiss us without really bothering to investigate what we stand for.
The fact is, the Liberal Democrats are a fundamentally different kind of party to Labour and the Conservatives. Not because of our policies - though these do differ substantially from those parties - but because of our philosophy. I don't have much space, so I'll give two examples.
The first is this, from our constitution, printed on the membership card of every member:
"the Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity".
Is this something you can really imagine 'New' Labour or the Tories saying? In particular, note the bit about conformity. Other ideologies may well accept, say, bisexual or trans people, because they believe in fairness - and I do not want, at all, to slight the very real commitments to equality that have been made by member of other parties. But only liberalism as an ideology sees non-conformity as an actual good, as something to be celebrated (and not in a 'celebrating diversity' way, but as the core of our beliefs) rather than tolerated.
Alex Wilcock once spent some time coming up with alternative slogans for the Lib Dems. My favourite was "If you want to tell the Daily Mail to fuck off, vote Lib Dem".
We believe in freedom, not just the 'freedom of choice' the major parties talk about, but real freedom - including the freedom to do things we may personally find distasteful. We fought against the recent criminalisation of 'extreme pornography', for example, not because we as a party find that sort of thing of interest, but because finding something a bit icky is not actually a good reason to criminalise it.
Also, we're the only major party that doesn't want power.
That may sound like an odd claim, but it's literally true. The Liberal Democrats support a form of proportional representation called 'multi-member STV'. I don't have space for the details, but if it was brought in in Westminster it would lead to power being shared between a lot of smaller parties co-operating, rather than alternating between two big near-identical parties as today.
The Tories and Labour talk about change and reform, but will never reform the system that keeps them in power. Were the Lib Dems to get into power, we would make sure it never happens again. That's why you should vote for us.
Andrew Hickey is a member of the Liberal Democrats. He blogs here.
[Tomorrow: The Green Party, by Peter Tatchell]