Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Richard Grayson: he was high on intellectualism - I've never been there but the brochure looked nice

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...


Ed said...


Richard Grayson said...

Thanks Mark, though I don't think have ever been 'fearfully bright' - much more of a plodder! There have been a range of reactions to what I am trying to do, some absolutely hysterical, but others showing that a lot of peple really do get pluralism. That is all I am trying to encourage. Plenty of people in the party are talking to the Tories about what happens after the coalition agreement has been implemented, and I really fail to see why pluralism should only extend one way. So really glad to see your thoughtful piece which can only help that.

Martin said...

Well put Mark and good to hear from someone who actually knows Richard. I posted this on the Vote Clegg Get Clegg facebook thread on this subject and thought you might also find it useful.

I think I speak for all Liberal Democrats when I say we just do not trust Labour. Whether we talk to them or not is a different thing. This Party is strong and principled precisely because it has the liberal and social democrat wings (Orange Book & Yellow Book if you like) entwined and working as one. We are a unique political force and can never be Conservative or Labour. Being in Coalition and dealing with the Tories on the one hand or talks with Labour to establish a common agenda on the other could act to divide the Party.

We must not let this happen; that means forming our own agenda outside of Government while giving support to our team in Government and talking to Labour with the view of making it easier to work with them in a future Coalition. I welcome talks with Labour, although I am concerned that we are not mugged like Paddy was in 1997. Labour is angry and bitter about the fact we had the sheer audacity to form a Coalition with the Tories. They have contempt for us and try to undermine our right to exist. Maybe Ed Miliband has seen the error of this view (for the sake of pluralism) but words by themselves mean nothing.

Most Liberal Democrats (I include myself) would rather have formed a Coalition with Labour but I have come to see the wisdom in this Coalition, not just because of the electoral maths and the fact that Labour put up so many obstacles (Brown being one of them), but also because it was an opportunity to prove we could form a Government and implement Liberal Democrat policy; indeed it has also made Labour sit up and think. Maybe it is a pragmatic view that has been awoken in Ed Miliband. To prove he is serious he must wholeheartedly and sincerely take PR on board as the only viable way to elect members; giving his claim of pluralism substance.

Anonymous said...

Every day is a winding road, eh Mark?

Anonymous said...

Hi Richard, not sure if you'll read this, but - my worry is, are you being used by the Labour party? There's certainly plenty of good in you doing what you're doing, but how is it being portrayed in the media? At least, what are your views on that?

Mark Valladares said...


Funny where inspiration strikes sometimes...