As elections approach, Roar News speaks to students in different political societies at King’s to find out what they have to say about this controversial election.
Following is an interview of Louis Triggs, President of King’s Liberal Democrats society. Louis is a second-year Politics, Philosophy and Law student.
R: In light of the current elections, what percentage of King’s students do you think will vote for Lib Dem?
L: That’s a very tricky question. Actually, it’s a good opportunity to say that the thing about King’s is that it’s a very international university. I think that’s one of the great things about King’s, but it also means that when there’s an election where unfortunately only UK citizens can vote, it makes it much harder to rally people because not everybody feels they have a stake in the election. So, what I can say is that by my estimation, at the Fresher’s Fair we got more sign-ups than any other political society. I think that there’s been this sea-change in British politics where the Liberal Democrats, who were seen as a party that had abandoned young people are now once again trying to come to the rescue of young people by stepping in during this Brexit crisis and taking a really strong stance for internationalism, which I think for so many young people, myself included, is the most important thing.
R: If you don’t mind me asking, how many people signed up for the Lib Dem society this year?
L: I think we have 65 registered members but in terms of the sign-ups at the Freshers Fair, we had 219 sign-ups.
R: Lib Dems are known for being a party for people who are neither completely aligned with the Conservatives or Labour. What do you have to say about that?
L: There’s this unfortunate myth in British politics that the Lib Dems don’t stand for anything because in some respects they are a centrist party. I don’t think that’s true. I think that being middle of the road on the economy, which is what we are, we say that yes, there’s a role for market, a role for business but of course, that there must also be a place for intervention. We must have a welfare state and we must build a society in which, as it says in the party’s constitution, no one is enslaved by ignorance or poverty.
So yes, while we are economically centrist, we are also not middle of the road on a number of other things. And this is, I think, the real appeal of the liberal democrats. We take that sort of compromised stance on the economy—but what’s really important for us is we are unequivocally internationalist. We are unequivocally pro-immigration; we are unequivocally in favour of social justice. There’s plenty that we do stand for and I think that it’s a sign of how misleading this sort of one-dimensional political spectrum is that says that we don’t stand for anything just because we’ve taken a moderate stance on the one core issue of the economy.
R: Are you, as a society, happy with the Lib Dem position on Brexit?
L: Broadly speaking, yes. Of course, within any liberal group, there will always be disagreement— there’s a joke about how if you have 3 liberals sitting at a table you have 5 opinions around the table. One of the main reasons why people come to the Lib Dems is because of the Brexit issue and from that, the liberal values that underlie our Brexit stance have grown after they have joined. No one joins the Liberal Democrats as a completely perfect liberal. I think slowly, as you get to speak to people you start to see other points of view and you make peace with the political philosophy, if not with the party itself.
R: You said, “a perfect Liberal”. What is a perfect Liberal?
L: My friend Atyab Rashid has this saying that there’s no such thing as a liberal utopia because liberalism is about having people of different backgrounds, different preferences and different attitudes all living together as harmoniously as possible whilst also respecting their individualism. Unlike something like conservatism or socialism, the individual can’t be made a sort of pawn of the collective. And that’s what I think makes it such a powerful ideology, but it’s what makes it so hard to define what a perfect liberal looks like. For me, I think that the core that’s underlying all of it is empowerment. We want to empower everybody to pursue their ambitions, whatever it may be.
R: Do you think it’s fair to characterise this election as a single-issue election, the issue being Brexit?
L: I certainly think Brexit is the most pressing issue and I think that it would be a mistake for voters to vote for a party they don’t agree with on that core issue. In that sense, it is a single-issue election. But underpinning the Brexit issue, there’s a whole host of very complicated values and policy issues. It is a single-issue election, but the single-issue cuts so deep that it is a moment of reckoning in a more holistic sense for the entire country.
R: The Extinction Rebellion has almost permanently been in the news for the last couple of months — will this be the first election in which climate change will substantially affect how people vote?
L: I would be very happy to see climate change move up the agenda. I think for too long it has been something that is a distant, far off question. I also think that unfortunately, because of what we’ve just said about Brexit dominating the news cycle, it’s going to be hard to bring climate change to the floor. For us, the two main issues we’re running on is: One, stop Brexit and Two, resolve the climate crisis. Take real action on the climate emergency because it’s an existential threat.
One thing that can be said for the UK is that every party at least nominally recognises that— the Conservative party, the Labour party, Greens, Lib Dems; we all acknowledge that climate change is a thing. It is a problem. The question now is, what action do we take? One thing that is good is that the voters in the UK, whoever they choose, will be electing a party that at least believes in climate change. The question is, who has the strongest plans?
R: Outside of the Brexit debate, what would you say is the most important thing your party stands for in the coming elections?
L: The broadest way of stating the Lib Dem ethos is “fair, free and open society”. I would add to that now, sustainable. The biggest point I think is that we want to create an economy and a democracy that works for the people and for the planet, which is something that we don’t have right now.
R: If someone asks you “Why Lib Dems?”, what would you say to them?
L: I think the basic answer is that the two traditional main parties have abandoned liberals. They’ve both become different shades of authoritarian, nationalist and populist and I don’t think that’s the right way for this country to go.