I'm taking part in a discussion at the moment that asks people why they first joined the Lib Dems. I got so many good memories writing my answer that I thought I'd cross-post an expanded verion of it here.
I chased a Liberal leafletter down the street as a schoolboy to say “can I help?”
I delivered and canvassed for a while – particularly for the unfortunate George Binney in 1983 who achieved 20,000 votes and still got buried in a landslide – but didn't actually join until the merger debate. I was signed up into the SDP on a nod and a wink (ie, no fee, not sure the paperwork ever got sent off) so I could attend the North Herts SDP meeting to discuss which way to go, with Danny Finkelstein vs Shirley Williams as guest cheerleaders for the rival factions. We all went one way, Danny and a philosphical, sad-eyed gentleman named (I think) Pedro went the other.
The first time I think I was a real member was later as a student, at the UEA, where I fell in with a bad crowd in the Alliance Students. Those were heady days – Lembit Opik was running for NUS glory on a platform of “Students for Students” using the slogan “Like it? You'll Lembit”, a gerbil was elected as our SU general secretary, in all other respects the union was in the iron grip of the Labour Club until Richard Grayson cut their feet from under them, the Norwich skyline was smoky from the burning of Poll Tax registration forms and we held internal Alliance Students elections by means of a unique version of the secret ballot in which the candidates closed their eyes and eveybody else took part in a show of hands.
I drifted off to the Greens for a couple of years (the malign influence of my ex-fiancee), had a weird 1992 general election day helping Chris Fowler in South Norfolk and then attending the Norwich North count for the Greens, and finally defected to the Lib Dems (or whatever we were called then) at the local elections the following year – I agreed to stand as a Green, tried to withdraw, but found I was one of only a handful of Norwich Green candidates with valid nomination papers and felt compelled to go through with it. At the count in my ward, watched only by my Labour opponent, his flunkies, and my two tellers (both Labour voters) I announced I was leaving the Greens. Norwich Labour smirked until I pulled a gold rosette out of my pocket. Later that night I was thrown out of the Labour Club while enjoying a pint with an old friend in the People's Party. Things went downhill for the Norwich Labour Party thereafter :o)
Since then I've been stoutly Lib Dem (very stoutly until I joined Vince Cable's gym last year) and, in 1996-97 or so, finally read enough policy and political philosophy to understand why. So no more wobbles, and an ideological basis to my membership this last decade. I was a council candidate in 1998 and 2002, and probably will be again this year, and stood for Parliament in 2001. In 2003 I burned out and thought 'sod that for a lark', but I'm making a bit of a comeback at the moment.
But why did I originally join? Damned if I know. I think it was because I liked to support the underdog. Do you know, this leadership campaign we've just had is the first time I can ever remember supporting the favourite in anything since that night with Finkelstein and Williams?