Politics in the UK seems to be in flux following the Brexit vote. With the Tories split between remain and leave and Labour too busy squabbling amongst themselves to be effective it ought to be a time for the Liberal Democrats. Yet, so far, although we have seen many individual members of both the Labour and Conservative parties switch to the Lib Dems, only a handful of councillors and no MPs or MEPs have done so. Why is this?
I want to suggest that in the case of the Labour Party there are two factors; loyalty and respect
We often accuse the Labour Party of being tribal. The reality is that loyalty is ingrained in the psyche of Labour Party supporters and even more so in MPs. The worst thing that you can do is be ‘disloyal’. Crossing the floor is unthinkable for almost all Labour MPs and we need to recognise that this is a real factor in preventing people from joining us. When you couple this with the attitude of Labour people to what they perceive as treachery – for example the Lib Dems joining with the Tories in government – you begin to see how difficult it is to get people to come across, even if they share our values to a much higher degree than the values of the Labour Party.
Respect and being respected is also very important in the Labour Party. You respect the leader, even if you fundamentally disagree with him. If someone does something to lose that respect that is almost as bad as disloyalty. This explains why it is so easy for the Labour Party to diss everything that was done by the Lib Dems in government. We lost their respect and can therefore be treated as beneath contempt.
If we are serious about encouraging people who share our views to join us, then we have to enable them to cross the twin obstacle of loyalty and respect. This means toning down our attacks on the Labour Party and talking up the things we have in common. Of course we need to attack the Labour Leadership for their spineless attitude to Brexit, but we do not need to broaden this to a more general attack on the majority of Labour members and MPs. At an individual level we need to offer both MPs and other members good positive reasons to change.
As an aside, perhaps we ought to ask ourselves whether somewhat more loyalty would be an asset to our party as well as the self discipline not to attack each other in public.
* Dr Michael Taylor has been a party member since 1964. He is currently enjoying a round the world trip.