There has always been a need to blend parliamentary, representative politics with the social activism of extra parliamentary movements. Recent examples of informal action outside the confines of the parliamentary system include UK Uncut on companies avoiding corporation tax and the Occupy movement. Liberal Democrats and their antecedents have an honourable history of involvement in single issue campaigns and community movements.
Indeed, it can be argued that “community politics” grew out of the widespread social campaigning movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Given this history you would expect Liberal Democrats to be at the forefront of such campaigning today but we have a problem – our involvement in a Tory led coalition government which is now responsible for the latest attacks on social security and the welfare state.
Hasn’t the time come to try and forge a new alliance between campaigning movements working outside parliament with the best elements of parliamentary democracy in order to set out a different vision of the development of our society? I make no apology for holding to an old ideal – how to realign the centre left of British politics so that the campaigning instincts of a new generation can be harnessed and augmented by a responsive parliamentary leadership.
In order to achieve any such change existing political parties will have to banish their tribalism. Both the Liberal Democrats and Labour love to operate within their own, limited silos and to pour scorn on their so-called rivals. So, big changes will have to come from both parties if they are to contemplate working together in the future.
In addition, the political parties will have to work in a new, open way with campaigning organisations and movements so that real social change can be encouraged. Compass is a high profile, effective campaigning organisation which has opened up its full membership to people of other parties and those who are not aligned to any party. It has recently re-launched itself with a dynamic new website.
Liberal Democrat campaigning bodies could also open themselves up in the same way so that there is a genuine mixing of political beliefs within the overall rubric of the centre left. Such fluidity would encourage joint working and better understanding for all those committed to radical social change.
By the time of the next election, we must have created an alternative to the right wing revanchism of the present coalition.
* Simon Hebditch is a member of the executive team of Liberal Left, a member of the Social Liberal Forum and on the Compass Management Committee