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A special thank you from our Parliamentary Candidate for Reading West, Meri O’Connell….

I want to say thank you to all of the people who have joined our party since the polls shut and to explain what your stand for Liberal democratic ideals means to me personally.

I stood as the Parliamentary Candidate here in Reading West. We weren’t a target seat and I wasn’t expected to win, but I had hopes that I might be able to retain some of the gains we made in 2010.

I’ve never done anything like this before – I followed politics, but left it to others to actually do it. It wasn’t until Blair ignored the voices of the millions that marched against the war in Iraq, that I realised if I wanted my voice to be heard I needed to start raising it.

I joined the Lib Dems and as I got increasingly interested in local issues, I became more active with my local team. I was elected to Reading Borough Council in 2012, but surprised even myself when I stood in the general election.

As Lib Dems, we went into this election knowing we would be punished  for going into coalition with the Tories, but we were hopeful that we could pull off a couple of surprises and win in places the pundits weren’t expecting us to. We optimistically  believed voters would look at our record in government and see how hard we’d worked hard to make as many of our ideals a reality as we could.

The first exit polls were like a slap in the face. Disbelief changed to panic as the extent of the damage emerged. As each hard working Lib Dem MP was defeated it was like a body blow, all that they and their teams had campaigned for, lost.

By the time the result was declared in Reading West I was fully prepared for the poor result I got. Coming in 4th behind UKIP hurt though, they hadn’t even canvassed or leafleted and had no local policy plans. It didn’t feel fair.

In the immediate aftermath, I slept a lot and spent the weekend with my children, offline. I was pleasantly numb and philosophical about the whole experience, till I bumped into a friend at a village fete. She’s an armchair Tory and derided our role in government. She didn’t mean to upset me. But I went home and had a cry behind the nut tree in the back garden.

It felt so lonely for a while there, like everything I had dedicated all those hours too, all that energy and hope, had been for nothing. Nobody had noticed and nobody cared. The politics of fear had won again, with people voting against what they were most scared of, rather than for what they believed in. I was exhausted, mentally and emotionally.

Then I got the call asking if I’d seen the stir on twitter. I logged on for the first time since election night and there it was – 3500 people had joined the Lib Dems since close of polls. I found myself crying again.

All I could think of was that bit at the end of Spartacus. Where they’ve been defeated and have been taken captive, bloody and broken. The Romans come over and demand to know who is Spartacus so they can make an example of him. As he goes to stand up, others around him get to their feet and start saying ‘I’m Spartacus’.

Well, that was my Spartacus moment and I cannot thank you enough for it.

You stood up and said ‘I’m a Lib Dem!’ and I don’t feel alone any more. Instead I hear all of you out there, telling me and my colleagues and friends to get back up. You are dusting us down, challenging us to begin again and start rebuilding. You have rekindled the fire in my belly and I know that with your help and fresh eyes we can work out how fight the politics of fear.

We took a kicking and the bruises hurt, but we’re not slinking away to hide in a corner and lick our wounds. We have 2 fantastic choices for Party Leader and you, over 13,500 new members, along with the rest of us, will have your say in where the party goes from here. You’ve joined just when we need you most.

And a special hello and thank you to all the new members that have joined up here in Reading West and East. I really hope you are up for the fight and I can’t wait to meet you all!

Greater Reading Lib Dem Team