Read my blog at Huffington Post

I also blog at Huffington Post's new UK site; please click here to read my posts there.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Shock as Lib Dems prove fractious

Great drama on British streets as people react to the news that a bunch of Lib Dem activists have voted against something. Cars screeched to a halt. People who were outside ran indoors. People who were indoors ran outside. Fights are breaking out in pubs, and television sets that were showing some sort of important Rugby Football match have been switched off in anger.

I am confused - they (we, although I'm not there) voted to reject the changes to the bill that the Lib Dems had secured (; I thought the changes were the bits that we actually liked? And I thought that Shirley Williams was the patron saint of critics of the bill, and that if she was now happy with it, they were happy too?

The electorate punishes divided parties. Sometimes, even in a democratic party, we should allow the leadership to lead, instead of giving the public the impression that we are a disorganised rabble that opposes what its own ministers are doing in government. Why would anyone vote for a party if that party is going to try to stop its leaders from doing the things that the leaders say that they will do?

If even the massive concessions secured by Nick Clegg and Shirley Williams were not enough for these activists, then the activists concerned look like spoilt children demanding another ice cream when they've already (as a special treat) been allowed two today.

And who is this man who, having voted against Nick Clegg's line in the debate, claims to have put a weapon in Nick Clegg's hands in his negotiations with David Cameron? A weapon that Nick Clegg specifically asked not to be given, but for which he is now supposed to be grateful? That is what offends me most: that those who vote against the leadership claim that they are doing so as a way of supporting the leadership, when the best way to support the leadership is, you know, to actually sometimes agree with what the leadership is doing.

Having said that they believe that the revised Health Bill is good for the NHS, are Nick Clegg and Shirley Williams now supposed to pretend that they have changed their minds and don't believe in it after all? We've basically voted to say that we think Clegg and Williams are wrong, and we are presumably inviting the public to agree with us on that - how does that encourage people to vote for the party that Nick Clegg leads?

These activists think that they are "the party", but they are not - they are the party's fans, and this was their equivalent of being at a Doctor Who convention. Just as Doctor Who is not owned by its fans (it is owned by the general viewing audience, most of whom are not 'fans'), so the Liberal Democrats are not owned by activists, but are owned by the millions of people who vote for us, and the millions more who seriously think about voting for us but have not yet done so. Those people don't have politics as a hobby and have a sense of perspective that puts the activists to shame.

I realise that this will offend people, and I am writing here in a personal capacity.


  1. I wonder if you really mean it. However we live in a democracy and the Liberal Democrats are a democratic party. It's members are all volunteers. If we had to agree with the party leader on everything then I do not think the party would have many members. Imagine if someone like Jenny Tonge was elected leader of the party, would you simply agree with her on everything?
    As far as the NHS bill is concerned, it is opposed by virtually everyone in the NHS. Many NHS staff are also members of the party. I think they are entitled to have a say in the decisions that affects them - that is fundamental to what we believe as community politicians.

    1. Thanks. Yes, I really mean it. If someone like Jenny Tonge was elected leader of the party, then I would not be a member of the party. What is the point of being a member of a party if you fundamentally disagree with what the leader of that party stands for? I stand by my suggestion that Lib Dem party activists cannot constantly claw at the backs of those of our colleagues who are serving as ministers in government; our behaving in such a way makes our party look ineffectual and disorganised. Why vote for a party if, when that party's leaders try to do the things that they have pledged to do, a bunch of activists jumps up and down and tries to stop them?

  2. Further to your point that "the Liberal Democrats are not owned by activists, but are owned by the millions of people who vote for us", here’s a helpful poll

    Amongst people who voted for us in 2010 (assuming we're interested in the 23% who voted for us in 2010 - as opposed to the 7% who poll for us today?), 5% support the NHS Bill and 55% oppose it.

    "Those people don't have politics as a hobby and have a sense of perspective that puts the activists to shame."

    Well, at least those activists who support the bill...

    1. Your point is no unreasonable, Martin! However, while I appreciate the democratic structure of our party, I dislike many aspects of the activist culture that has grown up within that structure. The fact that so many of our activists exist in a constant state of uproar sadly speaks volumes about that culture.