One thing I wanted to write about after being at Lib Dem Conference in September were the fringe meetings about working with other parties. One was Caroline Lucas, Lisa Nandy and Chris Bowers, talking about their book The Alternative, while the other featured Lucas, Norman Lamb and Peter Kyle talking about similar issues as part of a Social Liberal Forum fringe.
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that the fringes didn’t result in a spontaneous desire to co-operate between the three parties, but I think they gave everyone there a decent amount of food for thought, and having read The Alternative since, it’s clear that people aren’t just thinking that shouting ‘progressive alliance!’ enough times will overcome all obstacles.
One line that’s stuck with me from the first meeting was something Lisa Nandy said: ‘we’ve all won fought and won lots of battles against each other, and while we were busy doing that, the Tories were winning the war.’ That’s what makes it especially interesting to see that she’s one of the Labour MPs who’ve called for the party to consider not standing a candidate in the Richmond Park by-election. Part of that comes from the rather odd situation of a by-election caused by an MP resigning to protest against Government policy only for the governing party to not stand a candidate against him. With the Tories having already left the field, it’s perhaps easier for Labour MPs to suggest their party does the same. (And according to this Guardian article, there’s a similar discussion going on in the Greens)
It’s an interesting idea, and perhaps a reflection of the interesting and febrile political times we’re living in that these suggestions have been made. It’s perhaps also a reflection that some people haven’t recognised this in the reaction I’ve seen from several Lib Dems online. There’s too much ‘we shouldn’t work with other parties’ and ‘those quotes will look good on the squeeze leaflets’ and not enough reflection on the possibilities that are opening up. Yes, if this was to happen, it might lead to the party having to make difficult decisions in the future, but if you want to change things you’re going to have to make difficult decisions and find ways to compromise with others. You can try glorious isolation in your idyllic world of never compromising, and maybe you can spend some time there mocking the Corbynistas for being naive about how to change things (it’ll stop both of you from looking in a mirror and making any discoveries about yourselves, anyway).
We can sit around and wait for everyone to agree with us like we’ve done for most of the last century (a strategy of, at best, occasional and partial success) or we can get out there and try and find common ground we can build on. If we’re so convinced that that liberal arguments are correct, then why fear working with others when we should be able to persuade them to our way of thinking? Sure, it can be fun to sit around in a small group indulging in the narcissism of small differences, but maybe we’d be better off engaging with those we seek to dismiss and trying to persuade them to work with us and perhaps even getting them to agree with us? If we’re so convinced that they might be wrong on something, why not try and persuade them of that, instead of declaring them beyond the pale?
Let’s be prepared to reach out and play a role in building the common ground, instead of standing on the sidelines and complaining that we weren’t included when someone else builds it without us.
It’s fun to fight battles against each other, I admit that. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to win the war once in a while too, though?