You follow a political party because you agree with its policies. You become an activist for that party because you share in its vision. You put yourself on the line standing to represent that party because you want to enthuse the core values of that party into the lives of everyone.
Thus is was that 630 fellow Liberal Democrats and I lay it all on the line yesterday in the 2015 General Election. Some like Simon Hughes and Charles Kennedy had given years of service to get those values into their constituencies, improving their constituents lives and when they could into legislation. But yesterday they like many of the rest of us were judged not so much on our values but on one decision we made collectively about five years ago.
Our manifesto this time as in 2005 and 2010 was full of wonderful stuff about how to bring about fairness to society. It also laid out how we could strengthen the economy, fund additional NHS investment etc. But that one decision and not our core values were what the people judged us on.
We are a party that believes in proportional representation. Therefore we are a party that expects that we might be called upon to form coalitions to work with others under a fair voting system. Here's the thing with 5% less of the national vote than UKIP our party shouldn't deserve to have (at time of writing) eight times as many MPs. The only reason we do is that my party was Fire Fighting putting up fire breaks around places we occupied, while UKIP were riding a wave and thought they could do everything.
Maybe we should have said more about what our values were that made us want to do things rather than saying that we weren't like one lot in one way and another lot over something different. I believe in those values and I feel that others appreciate them to.
And, here is the thing. Despite all the pain, all the heartache and all the suffering that last night caused standing at my own count, getting feedback form elsewhere and then watching it all come crashing down, I'm still a Liberal Democrat to the core.
I still see no other party that believes that no other party exists to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society in which they seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, in which nobody shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.
If there were I would stand for them, work for them and vote for them. But none of the other parties fulfil even this small extract from the constitution of the Liberal Democrats.
That is why today, as much as ever, and indeed more so that 26 years ago I know that I am the very model of modern Liberal Democrat. I know our party will come back strong again because the essence of what we believe in does bring about fairness and opportunity for everyone. It may be a few election cycles, a few years or even a few months before voters realise this. David Cameron and his unfettered Conservatives could well be the ideal recruiter of people to the Liberal Democrat's way of thinking.