I know — Not exactly a surprise. Not exactly revolutionary. And something of a reversal from seeking a new party.
I have positive and negative reasons for doing this.
Here’s the negative reasons, in other words the reasons why I’ve given up on a new party. My original post-referendum thought was that there could be a small-scale upset in Islington South, or a least a furore, if we had four years to work towards a decent showing in a 2020 general election. The press would be interested (and indeed they were) and that could help to create some ripples elsewhere too. A bit of a wake-up call for the two main parties that have got us into such a political mess.
But then the 2017 election put paid to the whole idea. There may yet be trouble for Thornberry and other Corbynites in Remain constituencies, but it would be a fool’s errand to spend the next few years trying to start a new local party here in Islington South.
Nonetheless, for a while, I was watching to see what would happen during party conference season. New parties were and are being spoken of, but it seemed to me that any success would depend on significant breakaways from the Tories or Labour, or more likely both. That hasn’t happened, and doesn’t look likely to in the near future. Their faithful remain in hock to their more extreme elements, and those who speak for tolerance, compromise and consensus-building have been neutered for the time being.
And that takes me on to the positive, or at least more positive reasons for my decision. I believe in compromise, not just as political necessity but as politically desirable. I’m proud of the British tradition of organic development, muddling along, fudging it and finding compromises. I’m disturbed by the apparent trend towards subscribing to belief systems which make it impossible to co-exist peacefully alongside those who do not subscribe.
Until recently, like most people, I had never felt the need to be a member of a political party, nor a church, nor a fan club. I’m just not built that way I guess. But these times seem to call for us to chose a side or a team. The trend towards polarised politics began before 2008. Indeed Obama wrote about it in The Audacity of Hope, which was a bestseller in 2006. But the unequal and frankly unfair recovery since the recession has made us ever more trenchant and divided.
So I joined a curve and joined the Labour Party in order to vote in the 2015 leadership election. But showing my usual talent for going off at a tangent, I did so in order to vote against Corbyn. And then I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either candidate in 2016. And that, of course, was sandwiched between the referendum and the US presidential elections. Polarising or what.
It’s interesting how even the broadcast media can no longer maintain a pretence of impartiality under the Trump presidency. It’s either Fox News or CNN. There’s no point bemoaning the polarisation of even these institutions. Indeed it may be wrong to do so. I’m a natural for sitting on the fence. I like to see both sides of an argument if I can. But sometimes one side is plain wrong. If CNN presenters fail to stand-up and be counted against Trump, what does that say about their integrity?
Likewise, what does it say about mine if I stay on the political fence in these times?
Of course, there’s an inevitability about all this, isn’t there? I’ve joined the only political party that’s ready made for those who would otherwise sit on the fence.
But actually, that’s part of the point of what I’m trying to do. I’m not looking for a perfect solution, because I don’t believe in them anyway, and I’m scared of those who do.
I want to stand up and be counted, in support of the open, tolerant traditions of the great people of this country. And meanwhile endorse compromise and consensus-building with anyone able to join in with that kind of politics, whether they have joined a political party or not.
I would have liked to see a new party come along, built from splintering the old parties which got us into this mess, but only because I believe it would have stood a better chance of joining people across socio-economic and cultural divides. It hasn’t happened, and I’m not sure it will, so I’m making the best of a bad job, and throwing my lot in with the people who say “open and tolerant” right there on the tin.
Of course for many the Liberal Democrats have taken compromise too far, and are in fact compromised by their record in Coalition Government. I suppose even that is grist to my mill. Compromise can be messy and sometimes it leads to being unprincipled. That’s the downside, which we always need to watch out for. And maybe as the party which allows for compromise and consensus-building, we also need to have better structures limiting flexibility on core issues, to keep that moral compass steady.
But I do not believe the Lib Dems are fundamentally compromised by their period in coalition. The real trouble is the party needs to get to grips with why and how it collectively snatched defeat from the jaws of the 2010 victory, and we need to get to grips with that before we have a prayer of doing anything useful. By way of example, I can’t believe that the people photographed on the main party website are so uniform, so wholly lacking in the diversity that makes up modern Britain.
Anyway, at least I can’t be accused of choosing the easy option when I say I believe in political compromise. And openess. And tolerance.