Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Lib Dem till I die?

My membership renewal for the Lib Dems came through this morning. It marks five years since I first joined the party.

This anniversary has reminded me of something I have been meaning to write about for a while. The continuum on which political activists of all parties sit.

Regular readers will know that I do a weekly podcast with an old friend of mine Emma Burnell who is a Labour activist. Emma joined Labour back when she was a teenager and has spent the last 20+ years campaigning for them and being a highly active member involved with all sorts of internal organisations over the years. She is happy to describe herself as a "tribalist" and whilst I have some quibbles with her over the exact definition of that word I agree that even by my stricter interpretation of its meaning, she is one!

Emma has made it clear that pretty much no matter what the Labour party did she would stick with them and if she was unhappy try to change the party from inside. As far as it is possible to be she is "Labour till she dies".

Another friend of mine, Caron Lindsay is a very long-standing member of my own party the Lib Dems. Like Emma, Caron has been involved with the party from a very young age and has been on various internal committees and held various positions within it. Also like Emma, Caron has made it clear that she is also in this party for the long haul. She is to all intents and purposes "Lib Dem till she dies".

Which brings us to me. Although I am of a similar generation to Emma and Caron and am probably obsessed with politics to a similar extent (and have been since I was a child) I chose not to get involved with a specific party until 2008. And I think this matters. I do not have as much vested within my chosen party. Whilst I know quite a few people within the Lib Dems fairly well they are all somewhat recent acquaintances. My long-standing friendships are all with people who are outside my party and in most cases politics altogether. So my roots do not go anywhere near as deep.

There are certainly scenarios I could imagine that could lead to me leaving the party. In fact I actually came pretty damn close earlier this year when the secret courts legislation was passed by my party in government in direct opposition to what the members of the party wanted. In the end I restricted myself to pledging to refuse to campaign for any Lib Dem MP who voted for the measure. But I had several dark nights of the soul and it could have gone the other way.

So despite being in different parties from each other, Emma and Caron probably have much more in common with each other as political activists than either of them do with me.

I think there is a continuum at work here. I am quite close to one end of it - very interested in politics and in a party but without a deep seated rooting within it and my friends are close to the other end of it - so heavily invested in their parties that they cannot really imagine ever leaving it.

I think parties need those of us who would consider leaving, performing a similar service to the floating voters in the wider electorate reminding party hierarchies that they cannot take their membership for granted.

Maybe if I stick around then by 2023 or 2033 I will be the sort of "cut me and I bleed yellow" activist that form the core of activists for political parties but I am certainly not there yet.

But I have renewed my membership for another year. That gets me another year closer to perhaps eventually being one!


James said...

I joined a little after you did, and I have a pretty similar view to you. I can imagine a scenario where I might leave the party - indeed, I've told myself that I will leave if we elect the 'wrong' person to replace Clegg in 2015. I also made a rash promise that I would resign if we agreed to the Snooper's Charter (something which Clegg has been obligingly firm on). But that's my rational brain saying these things, and my emotional attachment to the Party and the people within it is already such that I might find it pretty hard to break. That's only going to get stronger the longer I spend as an activist.

mattburrows said...

I agree with you both. I think it´s good to have activists who hold onto some objectivity and perhaps can relate better with non-active members and regular voters than the more ardent activists. Tribalism is quite inward-looking and unhealthy; and whilst I appreciate this was necessary when the party was smaller, the Party and the wider political ´game´ is bigger now. Also, there is a wider loyalty to Liberalism more widely in contrast to the more narrow definition of Social Liberalism. I sense this discourages other types of Liberals and I´m not sure we can afford that exclusivity.

I've been in and out of the LibDems a few times since 1994 (now back in for the 3rd time). My social roots in the Party are quite deep: nearly all my friends are party members - it is an inescapable part of my life. Although it was difficult decision, I left the first time (2002) as I perceived at the time that the Party had leaned to far to the left. Simply, I forgot to renew the second time. Woops! I have regretted that since I gauge things have moved back in my direction and I moved back towards the Party too.

I thought long and hard about rejoining so hope to be in the fold for a long time on this occasion. Coalitions are likely to be a fact of life in the future, so that ought no longer to be a red line. There are anxieties for me with arrangements with other parties *before* an election. since it prejudges what voters will say. I hope that is not put to the test - I don´t want to leave again.