So I'm now about three weeks out of an eight year stint working for the party. Not quite decompressed yet, I still miss all those useful meetings, but I am getting there. One of the downsides of being on the inside is that you inevitably stop experiencing politics in the round, and you don't tend to have time to get involved in anything that isn't part of the job. So since moving on I've enjoyed the change in perspective, and have tried to pay more attention to areas where I was previously compelled to maintain silence (don't panic, this won't last).
It's been interesting, as part of that, to take some time to read more of the views of other members across the party. Sometimes you agree, sometimes you don't, but it's always interesting to hear what people think.
Except, it would appear, that for many if our members it isn't.
By far the most worrying thing I've observed is just how intolerant many people are of any views that don't exactly align with their own. I don't mean that they have a problem with the substance of their opponents argument, it's that they don't believe that their opponent has the right to hold an opinion at all, because they have in some way disqualified themselves.
Usually these attacks are on the basis that their interpretation of what it means to be a Liberal Democrat is different, and that inevitably their opponent is in "the wrong party". There is also a new and disturbing expectation that members display a quasi-religious dedication to the exact wording of the party constitution, with no room for interpretation or, God forbid, evolution of the sacred text.
This is the same logic that the NRA use. We'd do well to remember that.
Last weekend one of the editors of Lib Dem voice (a woman) was loudly admonished in public for daring to write a "review of the year" which did not fully take into account the views of one of her keyboard-warrior readers (a man, inevitably). After attacking the piece on Facebook he then tagged her in several comments and demanded she respond to him and explain herself. The idea that another Lib Dem had written something he didn't agree with seemed to send the poor man apoplectic.
The cherry on the cake was someone stating they refused to read an opinion piece because the first paragraph contain a word they found offensive.
The word in question? "Centrist".
That's right, "centrist" is now an offensive term. That's like being offended by the colour beige, or Dame Judi Dench. It's just not credible.
The thing that links all of this nonsense is that none of it takes any issue with the substance of anyone's argument, it's all simply at attempt to undermine their right to have an opinion at all. It's at best ignorant and at worst sinister, especially from loudly self-proclaimed liberals.
I don't care whether you think the future of the party is in the middle-ground, equidistant from both Labour and the Tories or whether we need to reclaim our progressive roots from the bunch of Tory-infiltrators who dragged us through five years of Government. If you pay the membership fee and follow the rules you have the right to express your opinion.
(As an aside, if you do believe that Nick Clegg & Danny Alexander are Tory moles who successfull executed a decade long conspiracy to destroy the party, then you're a fuckwit, but I'm not going to question your right to be a fuckwit).
What seems to be the most nefarious internal outcome of five years in Government is that all these bizzare little battle lines have been drawn, when in reality it's all so simple. Disagree yes, and argue, please, but if you ever find yourself questioning whether someone has the right to be a member of the party because they are saying something you don't like, just pause, take a deep breath and let it go. After all, if we're going to defend the right of people in wider society to offend each other, we have to be able to deal with being offended ourselves without trying to change the rules of the game all the time.
What's most ridiculous about this (or certainly what's next-most ridiculous after being offended by the word "centrist") is that it's of course all so pointless. Spending so much time tearing each other to shreds only helps our opponents, and with Labour determined to spend the next five years forming the world's largest circular firing squad, it's even more important that Liberal Democrats focus our time and energy on holding the Government to account in the most aggressive way possible. Otherwise if we're lucky we might just pull out heads out of our backsides for long enough to discover that the Tories have locked themselves into power for another generation.