Copyright: yayayoy / 123RF Stock Photo

…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.

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  • Pierre

    The Lib Dems have definitely picked the EU as their hill to die on. The party’s latest agit-prop (Focus?) shoved through our door was strangely insistent on the issue. They look like they’re cementing their position as the ‘pro-EU’ (read: pro-Troika) party. I think the comparison with UKIP is appropriate, they’re the ultra-globalist counterpart to UKIP’s ultra-nationalist tendencies. To my eyes neither of them are the least bit progressive.

    • There is a *feeling* that some (and it probably is only a few looking at a poll in one of the Newbie groups asking why people joined) are holding the party hostage – “if you don’t stick to this we and all these other new members you’ve had will desert you and call you out as the liars we always knew you to be”. And there’s probably some confirmation bias as well there in that they are also very vocal in the newbie forums.

  • Phil Beesley

    I don’t like awkward compromises. If I’m beaten in an argument at work, I’ll try to make the winning solution work. I’ll only argue to water down the winning solution (sic) if it is necessary to deliver it.
    As a Lib Dem and Remain voter, I’m content with the party’s official argument. But it is a short term position — and we, UK, are going. Thus the Lib Dems, an internationalist party by all proclamations, have a chance to be internationalist.

    • I absolutely think we can be internationalist but that we ought also to be planning ways of being so while outside the EU, either short or longer term. Some of those arguing on that thread would not countenance even that. EU or bust!