And so, farewell Richard Grayson. Or perhaps not.
There has been much criticism of his acceptance of Ed Milliband's offer to take part in Labour's policy review and, whilst I for one won't be joining him, he does offer a potential bridge on the long road towards future collaboration with New Labour Mark III (ish).
Now I have to admit at this point that, when I started in politics, I was of the view that there was only one thing better than kicking a Tory, and that was kicking one when he was down. I was young, and not frightfully clever, but after seven or so years of a Thatcher administration, they really were an awfully tempting target. I knew that I wasn't a Conservative, even if I was by the standards of most Young Liberals, pretty right wing. Add to the fact that most of the Young Conservatives I encountered were pretty vile, and it was a fairly easy choice.
At that time, Labour were still emerging from the years of Bennite agit-politics, offering nothing that could possibly appeal to anyone who thought that loosening the grip of the State could only be a good thing. And later, I had to do politics in areas where it was us versus Labour. Their utter vileness in Southwark in particular was a real eye-opener, and that was where I learned how much some of their activists really hate us. Us personally, not our ideas, as we should, in their eyes, be part of their rather ragged 'big tent'.
Over the years, all three parties have shifted somewhat. We've become somewhat less interfering, Labour fell under the spell of the market, and the Conservatives became less focused on ideology and rather more so on winning. What they were going to do when they won was rather vague, but whilst Labour's support hemorrhaged through 2008 and 2009, it didn't matter much.
And then it did. And here we are, in coalition with them. No matter how Labour whine, they made the Tories the only show in town (please don't bother trying to convince me otherwise, I had a ringside seat during those days post-election). Comfortable? No. Necessary? Certainly.
But that doesn't mean that we must inevitably drift rightwards, bound ever more closely to the Conservatives. And that's where Richard comes in. Now, suppose his efforts lead to a Labour Party more sympathetic to civil liberties, less inclined towards hoarding power at the centre and rather less messianic about the incontrovertible truth of its stance on the economy (sarcasm alert, for those who don't know me...). Wouldn't that offer a genuine choice in terms of coalition partners in 2015?
And yes, it will be more social democratic than is ideal. But they aren't us, and we aren't them. In a new, pluralist politics, we owe it to Labour to keep a watching brief on what emerges, to question, to challenge where it seems to be far from our stance, to indicate where we might share a common perspective.
In return, Labour are going to have to learn that, if they try to pick us off one by one, they end up without a dance partner. By trying to engineer splits in the Coalition by taking stances that contradict their own policy for short term advantage, they demonstrate that they don't get pluralism, and are less likely to make a credible partner in the future.
Once upon a time, I was part of a Young Liberal Democrat Executive Committee that employed Richard. He was fearfully bright then, and whilst his actions may be a bit naive, he is remaining true to his guiding principles. Just remember who your friends were, Richard...