Monday, January 26, 2015

How faithful do you have to be to a party's policies to be a member?

I see that the position of Alex Carlile as a member of the Liberal Democrats has been brought into question by one of my former colleagues at Liberal Democrat Voice, following his signature on Lords amendments intended to bring back the 'Snooper's Charter'.

Having spent quite a lot of time examining the voting records of Liberal Democrat peers, it has to be said that, whilst his overall voting record isn't brilliant - he does do other things, it should be noted - he is not a frequent rebel against the Party whip. And yes, the right to privacy is core to the beliefs of liberals, but so are many other things - equality, freedom, internationalism and, perhaps more relevantly here, freedom of association.

I am reminded that every political party is formed of a coalition of interests, and that, to succeed, getting more people involved and attracting more voters, some of whom might not have defined themselves as being liberal or socialist or whatever, is key. We don't insist that our voters agree with every dot and comma in the manifesto, so why do we get upset when some of our members disagree with individual planks of our policy?

After all, if a political party is to be a group of purists, how does it change and develop policy? Are those seeking change to be cast into the outer darkness if they are challenging a point of principle to be worshipped as though a holy relic?

Political parties do not, in my experience, spend a lot of time investigating potential new members for ideological purity, nor do they spend a lot of time debating ideas - there is too much campaigning to be done for that - but one would be reasonable in assuming that new members agree broadly with your message and, most importantly, with more of it than with any of the other choices out there.

So, how much of your party's policy should be supported in order to remain a member? 70%? 80%? 99%? And what is essential? After all, there are key Labour Party figures that believe in allowing the market into public services, Conservatives who support European integration (up to a certain point) and Liberal Democrats who are sceptical about Europe.

Yes, lobby individual representatives if you don't agree with them. Tell them why, remaining courteous. But if it's an offence to disagree with things that matter to you, do bear in mind that, one day, it might be you facing the mob. And please don't come to me for sympathy - it will be in short supply...


Unknown said...

Hmm. There's more to it than that. If it were about agreeing with our policies or our actions in government, I'd have been slung out of the party long ago.

We are a party which is supposed to champion civil liberties. When one person, 100 days before an election, at the fag end of a bill, introduces 18 pages of amendments which reintroduce measures that were resoundingly rejected by a parliamentary committee just over a year ago, and when that one person has been continually doing such things for many years, I don't think it is unreasonable to suggest that he moves to the cross-benches. It's not helpful to have him portrayed as the Lib Dem voice (see what I did there) on issues.

He's not going to go anywhere, nobody can make him, but at least I don't think it is unreasonable to question, in moderate terms, whether such a person and this party are suited to each other. In return, he, who wants soviet style mass surveillance, rather ironically said that I was guilty of "grisly intolerance" of a "soviet" nature. In the old days of the Soviet Union, it was a nocturnal knock on the door and a journey to the labour camps, not an observation even a slightly grumpy one,in a blog post.

Mark Valladares said...

There is a catch though, Caron, in that some of our colleagues think that, in a number of other fields, Lord Carlile has demonstrated his liberalism beyond reasonable doubt. And these people are not all the 'usual' suspects.

It isn't as though you left much room for doubt, you expressed the view that he should leave the Party, a stance that you are absolutely entitled to, but which is there to be tested, as I have done in my gentle way.

Phil Rimmer said...

Mark, over the years I have grown increasingly tired of the liberal article of faith that states we can't attack one another in public. We are as nasty as the next political philosophy in private and behind each others backs, but woe betide the liberal who attacks a colleague in public.

If we aren't willing to face the mob alone, we should never have got involved in Liberal politics

Gwyn Williams said...

I first met Alex 30 years ago when I was elected to Clwyd County Council. Since then I have disagreed with him, been told off by him and have at times been furious with him but I have been so grateful for the power of his advocacy when I agreed with him. I was Chairman of the Welsh Liberal Democrats when Alex became our Leader by default. After the 1992 General Election, and with the opposition of his own Montgomeryshire Association, he accepted and then spearheaded the modernising agenda. If he had taken the easy route the Party would have died in Wales. Over recent years it has become common place for members to be disciplined and kicked out of the Party for a whole variety of issues. We really need to return to a simple definition of the issues which can be used for such extreme sanctions such as conviction for a serious criminal offence, campaigning for another candidate when there is a Liberal Democrat in place and the obvious one standing against an official Liberal Democrat candidate. As good Liberals we could no doubt extend the list. Alex should be reproved for what he has done now but it is a matter for the whip in the House of Lords. Comment -yes, Disapproval -yes, Expulsion- no.

Mark Valladares said...


It isn't liberal to bar people from criticising or, indeed, being criticised. So I'm not sure if we're arguing on this point or not. Where I do struggle is the notion that if you disagree with the Party on one important issue but are otherwise supportive, it should be grounds for suggesting that you should part company with the Party.

After all, you may be in the minority, even a small one, but it doesn't necessarily make you wrong. We have, as a Party, become less and less tolerant of dissent, especially public dissent. Now I am uncomfortable with the notion of a free for all, because unity is helpful, but nothing would ever change if there wasn't someone challenging conventions.

Mark Valladares said...


Agree with that. Long service and devotion need not exclude anyone from scrutiny, but our disciplinary processes are still a work in progress.