…or “Don’t Go To Bed Angry”. The first in I hope an infrequent series of getting something off my chest before going to bed.
Tonight: how not to make friends in a new political party.
I was a witness and participant this evening in a Facebook thread in a forum for Liberal Democrat “Newbies” that was, I think, the vilest feeding frenzy I’ve seen in the party. A new member, who said he had voted to Leave in June and still believed there were reasons we were better off out, had come round to the Lib Dem policy of wanting a public say on the final terms of any deal and had just joined the party.
Very quickly he was accused of being a troll, a right wing patsy, gullible, having been taken in by lies, being economically illiterate. In short, of being generally incapable of rational thought. There were demands that he explain his position which was clearly utterly irrational, unconscionable to the many who suddenly barraged the thread with vitriol. Witness too the outrage directed at Norman Lamb and Greg Mulholland last week for abstaining at the second reading of the Article 50 bill – having fully supported agreed party policy calling for a referendum on the final negotiated deal.
I’m getting a bit sick of being told that there is only one issue, campaigning to stay in the EU, and that to keep the many people who have joined us because of our general and specific commitments to the EU, there can be only one approach. Apparently we mustn’t even have policies for how we would like to see the country run if we don’t get our way (as if it’s the only way) on the EU. To be, in effect, the mirror image of what we spent a decade and a half criticising UKIP for – a single issue party with nothing to say about actually governing Britain.
I have news for such people – some in the party, and 25% of its voters apparently, did vote to leave (though not me as I explained at the time). Liberalism existed before Schuman and Monnet were even a glint in their parents’ eyes. The EU is a means by which we feel we can pursue the much longer standing end of liberal internationalism, but clearly not the only means. No form of government, no set of coercive institutions, should be an end in themselves for liberals. There are opportunities to be even more liberal outside the EU. But if you turn your back on them it is a self-fulfilling prophesy that nobody will champion them.
If you think a political party of whatever it is, 80,000 members, is a single issue hive mind with no permissable difference of opinion even on a singularly important issue, then I suspect political parties are not for you – you want a pressure group and the ability to choose at voting time who you support, or rather who supports you, on that issue. We all have to compromise. God knows, as an anarchist I have to compromise with your statist ideology more than most.
I am sure that a very great majority of those who have joined or rejoined the party in recent months have done so out of a commitment to all the aims of promoting a liberal democratic society, at home, internationally, and locally, but if we are going to become closed minded in order to keep a very small number who appear to have joined for one thing only and keep threatening to take their ball home if we deviate from their opinion one jot, then we will become what our opponents have long said of us – illiberal and undemocratic.