Thursday, November 25, 2004

Why left-wing Liberals hate Labour the most

I was reading a profile Alex Salmond in The House Magazine earlier today. It is the Westminster in-house magazine and has a very good website, except that the article I am reading seems to be the only one for the 15 November issue that is not on line.

These profiles are always written in the subject's own words, and this one quotes Salmond as saying:
I get on well with unionists and, indeed, you find nationalists from Northern Ireland get on with unionists. Actually, Irish members in Westminster and in Europe have tended to co-operate very well on social and economic matters. There are actually far more divisions between the Ulster Unionists and the Democratic Unionists because they are fighting for the same votes - making their relationship that much more fratricidal. They are chasing the same customers, rather like the SNP and Scottish Labour. So I don't have too many friends in the Scottish Labour Party - I have one or two but I better not say who they are for their own sakes. But I have got a lot of Labour friends among MPs south of the border.
Salmond is right. His observation explains why it is that West Country Liberal Democrats are at the Tories' throats yet strike the rest of their party as rather right-wing and why the Lib Dems who hate Labour the most are radicals from Northern cities.

When I read this I was also reminded of a fringe meeting on Lib-Lab relations held at the Liberal Democrat a few years ago. Among those on the panel were Menzies Campbell and Jackie Ballard. I was struck at the time how odd it was that it was the patrician Edinburgh lawyer who was keen on getting closer to the Labour Party and the former lecturer and social worker who was hostile to the idea.

Here the rivalry was not so much for votes as for ideas, but Salmond's theory still holds true. Ming, coming from the Whig side of the party, felt no pressure to present himself as a political radical and in particular was not concerned with competing for that title with Labour. He was therefore open to the idea of closer relations with them because he was not fighting with them to occupy the same ideological niche.

Jackie did feel an obligation to wrest the right to call herself radical away from Labour, and was therefore more hostile to that party. So she argued against deals and pacts with them even though, on any objective assessment, her political views were closer to Labour than Ming's were.

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