These are some of the people I know about who have left the Lib Dems in the past few weeks. In the case of Chris Ward, he only left today. And I only know these people because I'm friends with them or follow their blogs. I can't help but wonder how many people I don't know about are leaving. Not to mention those who have left who I know about personally but don't have convenient links for.
All of these people are sensible Lib Dems. These aren't people who left simply because they prefer being perpetually in opposition. And many of them are politically to the right of me, some of them I've often disagreed with. So this isn't simply a case of these being disenchanted lefties. Chris Ward, for example, is one of those who actually voted to approve the coalition agreement and who has always been a supporter of the coalition (he's also the one who signed me up to the party, was my local councillor for two years and is a good friend). And they're not defecting to other parties either - they're simply dropping out of party politics, the only political home they ever had no longer somewhere where they feel happy.
I also know others who are seriously considering leaving. One of them is Andrew Emmerson - a man who I heard someone at conference describe as the most right wing person in the Lib Dems. (UPDATE: Just to clarify, Andrew is considering leaving because he doubts whether the membership are capable of setting themselves in the right direction rather than over doubts about the leadership) And even people who I know are definitely staying, who are stalwart defenders of what we've achieved in government, have been expressing serious worries.
And that's not even mentioning the likes of Jennie Rigg, or myself for that matter, who are remaining members of the Lib Dems but who are very upset about several key issues.
These people aren't fools. They're not swing voters who constantly shift position and who are a dime a dozen. These are activists. These are candidates. These are men and women who are liberals to the core. And yet they're leaving or considering leaving or are thinking about leaving.
Because they see things like the Health & Social Care Bill, the Welfare Reform Bill, tuition fees, cuts to legal aid, that weren't in the coalition agreement, that will devastate lives and which they know will damage and taint the party. And, for all people, there comes a time when you have to ask what the point is in sticking with a party that seems not to bear any resemblance to the one you joined. A party where you see good friends leaving, and where you see people who share your views becoming increasingly marginalised, will eventually become one you no longer feel at home in.
And it doesn't help when the leadership keeps on walking into elephant traps and policy disasters which members have tried desperately to warn them about (see: fees, the NHS, etc.). It certainly doesn't help when the leadership say that members who disagree with them are backing Andy Burnham and generally happily and barefacedly ignore the result of any conference vote they don't like. Or when other party members dismiss those who are leaving as "disillusioned perpetual party of opposition" voters.
Now, we might be getting some new members as a result of being in coalition. But these are a) fresh, brand new members without experience of activism for the party and b) noticeably more right wing than our existing membership - so this means that, not only are we losing many of the dedicated, veteran activists that we desperately need, we are also drifting rightwards. And, quite frankly, there's only room for one right wing party in the UK and that's the Conservatives. If we drift too ideologically close then we'll disintegrate.
So where do I stand?
I used to tell myself that I didn't mind being in coalition because the coalition agreement seemed sensible enough. But then I saw the leadership allow through major tory policies, that weren't in the coalition agreement, time and time again while only achieving "administrative wins" to make up for it.
So then I told myself that we were a democratic party, that members could still change party policy and influence the coalition government. But then I tried that, I went to conference, got the support of Liberal Youth and got a motion passed about the Welfare Reform Bill. And then, for my pains, the motion got completely ignored and our MPs and peers meekly backed the Bill without showing a twinge of conscience.
So then I got angry and told myself that I could go to conference and kick up a fuss about it. But then I got to conference last week and the best I could manage to achieve was a symbolic protest which was completely ignored by the media. And I saw conference vote against the leadership on the NHS only for Nick Clegg to ignore the issue completely in speech, and the leadership to announce its intention to ignore the vote, just hours later.
So, one by one, all the political reasons I've had for staying in the party have gone.
Now, I don't mind it when I'm in a minority opinion within the party and when the leadership are prepared to make the intellectual argument for their course of action and win - but I find it impossible to stomach them just ignoring completely the will and opinions of the majority of the membership. And not just ignoring but treating us with contempt - not even having the decency to pretend to be listening.
I've been forced to realise that all the justifications I gave to the party have been proved to be false.
So where does that leave me?
It leaves me determined to remain a member of the party, that's what.
This is partly because I still support people in my local party - I know they are good people who would be brilliant champions of their communities and it would be utterly selfish of me to stop campaigning for them just because I'm angry with the leadership
But the main reason I'm going to stay is sheer bloody mindedness. I refuse to be forced out of my own party. I am, and always will be, a liberal and I will fight for liberalism come hell or high water - and if that means that I have to fight and oppose my own party's leadership then so be it. They're not getting rid of me that easy.
EDIT: By the way, if you're about to leave a comment complaining about the imminent dismantling of the NHS then please don't. I despise the NHS reforms for being shoddy, ill-thought through and pointless, but they won't privatise the NHS. Just thought I'd make that clear as someone invariably mentions the NHS in these situations.
UPDATE: I've just found the link for Liz William's resignation - hat-tip to Alex Marsh.