Thursday, two weeks ago I had just come out of hospital after a two-week stay there. As a resident of a Bermondsey, my brother wheeled me to the shops. As we got to the former Santander Bank premises on Southwark Park Road, then turned into the headquarters of the Simon Hughes Liberal Democrats Return campaign, we bumped into the man. Simon Hughes was all alone carrying a large cardboard box out of the headquarters and headed for a yellow-painted black cab which he was known to drive. My brother and I greeted Hughes, but he barely responded, he looked unhappy. Hughes is usually a cheerful and accessible person. The June 8 elections had just ended, and the former MP had lost. It was a very personal irony for me, a very difficult one. I did not want Simon Hughes to come back as my MP.
My birth name is Grimond being a namesake after the 1960s Liberal Party leader, Jo Grimond, MP for Orkney and Shetlands. I grew up in a home that was purely Liberal supporting but voted Labour to keep the Conservatives out of power. My father was also sincere [left] libertarian. I expectedly grew up with Liberal and libertarian convictions.
During the 1992 general elections in the UK, Simon Hughes, MP for Old Southwark and Bermondsey emerged as my favourite politician. Simon Hughes could have easily categorised during the 1992 general elections as a man who practised “Politics without Bitterness”. This perception had a slight downward revision when I subsequently found out about Hughes’ acrimonious campaign (tinged with accusations of homosexuality and being an Aussie) against Peter Tatchell, his Labour counterpart in the 1983 Bermondsey by-election. I continued to support Simon Hughes, and in 2006, I became his constituent, the time when he had just admitted his bisexuality publicly. My response considering the Tatchell saga was Hughes was not perfect.
Then the 2010 general elections came along, and to my delight, the Liberal Democrats did well and formed a coalition government with the Conservatives. The Lib Dems surge in parliamentary seats under the leadership of Nick Clegg came mainly from young voters, the promise that university tuition fees will not witness increases playing a significant role. However, the Lib Dems voted with the Conservatives to hike university tuition fees from £3,500 to £9,000. It was a devastating betrayal to youthful voters (and their parents) who have now faced the prospects of starting their lives, not with a mortgage but student debt.
Being an MP within the London Borough Southwark, which historically had the highest proportion of publicly owned buildings and housing of any local authority, the fees hike was political suicide for Simon Hughes. University education was the most sought means of upward social mobility among his mostly working-class constituents. Simon Hughes, by his party’s betrayal, had lost the goodwill he had in Southwark. When Labour activists came to my doorstep, I emphatically told them Neil Coyle MP (Labour) would be returned to parliament even if he did not campaign. I was in the hospital when I learnt that Simon Hughes and Nick Clegg had lost their election contests. Yes! I shouted. It was Hughes’ second consecutive loss at the polls. Cheering against Liberals, the very party parents made me grow up to support, was particularly hard for me, but I have no regrets.
I still like the person or persona of Simon Hughes very much and perhaps enhanced by meeting him in person. I thought to myself, just like Jo Grimond many may say Hughes was in the wrong party. I wonder if the Liberals can rejuvenate themselves in future and be a more honest and conscientious party.