Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Lib Dems have not been tribalist enough

Back in February, when Change UK was launched, I wrote:
Remembering the endless hours expended on seat negotiations by the Liberal Party and the SDP, I would be tempted to pursue a selfish strategy if I were in charge of TIG and it had grown into a national party. 
I would give the Lib Dems a clear run in the seats they hold and in another dozen where they had realistic chances of winning. After that, I would stand a candidate in every seat in the country and let the Lib Dems stand against me if they dared. 
So low is the present Lib Dem support across much of the country, I would reason, that if we can’t supplant then we TIGgers have no future as a party anyway.
Now things have turned around - and that post is a reminder of how quickly it happened - that has become good advice for us Liberal Democrats.

You often hear the criticism that we are too tribalist, but that is a libel.

Chuka Umunna joined the party and was made our Treasury spokesperson the same weekend, and I have not read a whisper of criticism of him or that promotion.

Back in the 1980s the Liberal Party, which was supposed to be far more fractious than the modern-day Lib Dems, did David Steel's bidding and stood down in half the seats in the country to make room for the SDP. You can't  get much less tribal than that.

A fairer criticism of Liberals and Liberal Democrats over the years would be that we have been too prone to the belief that the route to success lies in giving in.

If only we give up enough of our beliefs and policies, runs the logic, if only we stand down in favour of someone else in enough seats, we will be swept to power.

You sometimes get the idea we believe we are an obstacle to Liberal government and not its greatest hope.

So I will now apply my advice from February to my own party.

I would not have a problem with our standing down in favour of the Greens in constituencies where they have a realistic hope of winning and we have none. But there are not many seats like that.

Nor would I have a problem with standing down in favour of Change UK, though I can think of only one seat - Heidi Allen's South Cambridgeshire - where that would be worth doing.

But we should stand candidates in the huge majority of seats and let other parties decide whether or not to put up against us.


Unknown said...

Quite right. And it applies in spades in Brecon & Radnorshire notwithstanding the Labour run Best For Britain campaign's efforts to stand us down.

Mickft said...

Actually it's worse than that. The person who wrote to me from Best For Britain urging me to support a petition asking the parties to unite round a single remain candidate in Brecon and Radnor was none other than Naomi Smith, former chair of SLF.
I really despair sometimes of the stupidity of some in my own party who appear to want to throw away our best chance of revival in favour of some cipher for the Labour Party.

Paul P said...

I find this post confusing, not just because it came on the day the Greens stood down in our favour in Brecon and Radnorshire, but because unless we don't think stopping Brexit is a historic liberal cause, no one is talking about diluting our beliefs and policies, but cooperating to better stand up for them (and in the process getting more Lib Dems elected). This would be the opposite of the 2010-2015 coalition experience, where we almost triangulated ourselves to near oblivion. Short of coming together in war time, it is hard to think of anything more urgent that should cause us to cooperate cross party than stopping regressive's winning an Election so they can enable a no deal Brexit. The consequences of letting them do this are almost unthinkable.

I know tribalists get accused of being irrational, but the inference in the comment immediately above that cooperating with internationalists in other parties is actually some kind of Labour front (when Labour is still a pro-Brexit Party) is just mad, isn't it? The suggestion also that we would be blowing our chances of revival makes no sense because it is remain voters who most want internationalists to cooperate. We are not going to succeed by ignoring what most of our voters actually want (see 2010-15).

Pauld1 said...

I thought Heidi Allen left change UK....

Richard Keatinge said...

I'll just give Euro election figures for one constituency: nationalist 35% supported by widespread loyalty and strong organization, Brexit 34%, us 8%... in the forthcoming election on the single point of Brexit, and despite all differences, I hope we'll endorse the nationalist candidate. Nothing else makes any sense. In other constituencies and in other elections it will be different. In the national interest, let's have tribalism in its correct place, and internationalist cooperation where it's the right thing to do.

Tim O'Brien said...

Sounds like we need to take each case on its own. But Brexit is so big an issue that virtually nothing else matters at the moment. Whatever delivers an anti-Brexit outcome is the best option. After that we must think about electoral reform.

Colin Peacock said...

I joined the Liberal Party 60 years ago this October and am still a sort of "Grimondite" Liberal, believing in things like co-ownership and co-partnership in the workplace. In the 1980s I sort of led the Liberal/Social Democrat group on Lancaster City. Led is not the right word for the way we worked together. Definitely only "Primus inter pares".
I am well aware that, as a liberal, I am capable of sympathising in several contradictory opinions at once!
I also can see how others share the same aspirations as I do but we differ in how to get there. The SDP brought in a useful dose of social democracy that makes the Lib Dems somewhat different from the old Liberal party. In the past I have described us as Fabian Anarchists, also Fabian Ecologists (before they became Greens). That is we work slowly towards our goals of individual autonomy, a green society and social justice in order for these to be embedded so deeply they cannot be reversed.
Hence I support any co-operation that helps towards our goals. For the moment that means working with anyone is pro-Remain, tolerant, not overly self-ambitious and open to discussion.