- My mother. Whilst my father was a Labour supporter, my mother was apolitical. Well, not exactly... she had, and still has, a strangely liberal streak. She believes that with rights come responsibilities, that people should be given an even break, and is tolerant of anyone but idiots. She would never have described herself as liberal, but that's how I was influenced.
- My junior school teacher, Mrs Moore. Mrs Moore encouraged me to think for myself and left me with a phrase that I have never forgotten. "Mark,", she would say, "life is not fair.". She was right, it isn't, but that didn't mean that you shouldn't strive so that it might be.
- My secondary school teacher, Mr Franklin. He taught me not to use the word surely. 'Surely' is a word used when you want things to be as you would like them to, even if the facts indicate otherwise.
- My university adviser, Dr Janacek. He taught me to be sceptical, to doubt the statistics that are presented as fact.
- A sense of honest self-doubt. I'm not someone who deals much in certainty. There is always another side to the story, always a range of opinions to be compared and contrasted. For me, that desire to listen to those opinions and balance the freedom of the individual against the needs of the community is the essence of liberalism. It is, at the same time, the greatest challenge.
- People, not systems. Ironic, coming from a bureaucrat, I know. However, whilst you need frameworks within which to operate, you need to remember who the processes are designed to serve. I believe that government should be there to enable, not to dictate. I believe that people should be encouraged to take part, not to wait for someone to do things for them.
- Because I was made to feel welcome. Without exception, I have been at home in every part of the Party. I'm a shy, retiring soul, contrary to my reputation, but the kindness shown to me by a variety of people at different times has encouraged me to engage, albeit erratically. I have already withdrawn from active liberal democracy twice in my life, only to be embraced upon my return.
So, no great policy, no speech, no historic event. But then, that isn't really me. I'm a bureaucrat with a sense of public service, a liberal who believes that government, with all its problems, can make our society a better place.
It would be fundamentally wrong to tag Ros, so I'll tag my fellow National Express passenger, Jonathan Wallace, instead. It will give him something to do on the 7.40, presuming that it isn't cancelled, of course...