Party membership: is it possible with a ‘coalition’ mindset?  


In the autumn, I received reminders about my soon-to-lapse Lib Dem membership. When I joined last year, I partly did so in response to the Christians in Politics ‘Show Up’ campaign which argued that it didn’t matter so much which party you joined, so long as you got involved and  made a difference. It was a really good campaign, but this time around I have been thinking more carefully about what it means to be a member.

Like many people, I suspect, I’ve a ‘coalition’ mindset:  probably around 65% Lib Dem (agreeing with the party on issues such as Europe, health, green issues, housing and the freedom of the individual); 25% Labour  (supporting more state ownership of assets such as the railways, and better employment rights for working people); and 10% Conservative (for example, I supported Michael Gove’s education reforms which put a greater emphasis on formal English and Maths skills: my children’s generation weren’t taught spelling and grammar, which has put them at a significant disadvantage compared to graduates from other European countries).

There can’t really be three, mutually exclusive, ways of looking at the world – red, blue and yellow (I’m leaving out purple and green for the sake of argument!), yet there isn’t much acceptance of a diversity of viewpoints in political parties – which doesn’t make joining one a particularly easy thing to do. Watching Question Time, we perceive the pressure on politicians to tow the party line, with some MPs looking clearly uncomfortable when having to defend some of their party’s policies. Only the old guard of MPs like Kenneth Clark seem to have had the courage to depart from the script in recent years.

Even in the most liberal party, not agreeing with a core principle can seem heretical: the slightly obvious question is, where’s the freedom in that? Former Liberal Democrat MP, Sarah Teather, certainly didn’t get an easy ride from some Lib Dems when she voted against the Equal Marriage Bill, even though it was a free vote.

When the Syria debate took place in the Commons recently, MPs spoke their mind, with well-argued reasoning on all sides of the House, both for and against intervention. This makes for a much better level of debate and enhances the credibility of Parliament; it made MPs look like real people. I know a three-line whip isn’t imposed on all votes, but going against the party line on the big issues isn’t easy (tuition fees?), and sometimes it’s impossible; it’s a mindset that can also affect the ordinary party member.

Isn’t it time for the rigid party system to loosen a bit? People want politicians with principles, who speak their mind, but who also don’t express knee-jerk opposition, being willing to acknowledge that other parties have good ideas and qualities.

Maybe parties should embrace a greater diversity of thinking amongst their members too, as society itself becomes more diverse and complex? The narrow, see-saw, ideological politics we have seen over the last half century, swinging from right to left and back, has lead to policies that have often damaged our economy and society.

Joining a political party shouldn’t mean having to sign up to everything it stands for, or signing away the right to argue for something quite different. Expressing dissent should be accepted, welcomed even, and seen as the norm.

* Judy Abel has worked in the health policy field for around 15 years, including at the British Medical Association, for the All-Party Parliamentary Health Group, and in policy roles at Asthma UK, the Neurological Alliance and Versus Arthritis until the end of 2021. She was also the Constituency Office Manager and Senior Caseworker for former Lib Dem MP, Sir Simon Hughes from 2012 to 2014. All views are her own.

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  • Thomas Shakespeare 21st Dec '15 - 10:44am

    Hi Sarah

    Great article. I completely agree with you about the problem of party lines for difficult issues.

    I think nearly all parties have a large diversity of opinions for the reasons you describe. One of the great things about the Lib Dems is that conference gives everyone an opportunity to put their views forward and try and change party policy (if you can afford to go!). I also hope to see a ‘virtual conference’ in the future where members can watch and vote online. This sort of thing was discussed in the leadership campaign.

  • I think the members of parties are very free to openly dissent. I’m a eurosceptic and I’ve not been chucked out of the party yet. Mostly because what I think doesn’t matter to either the public perception of Lib Dems or to representing voters.

    There’s a difference between that and dissent amongst politicians though. It’s important that we have an open discussion of policy, but that at the end of the day people know what they are voting for.

    Suppose an MP votes against the clear well know view of their party. I’d suggest that the people who voted for such an MP will be confused, they voted for a politician from this team, and that’s not what they are getting in the division lobby. You need to have a very good reason to violate people’s expectations like that (and as we saw over tuition fees even very good reasons are not always enough).

  • Thanks Thomas. If you look at the number of people who join political parties it is very low, I think, partly, because party politics still seems so tribal. I agree that there are a diversity of viewpoints in parties but the moment politicians are in front of the media that free thinking seems to stop. Of course I understand why, but it has made me question renewing my membership.

  • @ Adam. Yes I do agree that people need to know what they are voting for and the tuition fees example is a good one, where people felt a sense of disbelief when the party changed it’s position to go into Coalition. (although Tim Farron held out and voted against the increase – thank you Tim). That was one example, in my view, of a red line that should never have been crossed.

    But in general, I think there is a culture in the Lib Dems, and probably other parties, where it is not that easy to express a counter-cultural view, so it then seems easier not to sign up as a member at all.

  • Thomas Shakespeare 21st Dec '15 - 11:37am

    Hi Iain

    I agree with everything you say apart from the last sentence. Did Labour really refuse to enter coalition? Surely the facts that the numbers didn’t work and simply that the two party leaderships didn’t get on were the reason we didn’t work together.

  • @Iain:

    “the Conservatives entered coalition for the empowerment of the Conservative Party” – do they exist for any other reason?

    “Labour refused to enter into coalition because they believe that they are always right” – (tongue firmly in cheek) a friend who is a Labour party member assures me that they are.

  • @Judy – you may find this piece from the BBC interesting: (summary: we all assume our own view is the mainstream).

    I would guess that if you join a political party, there’s even more of an (unconscious) expectation that your own views will be shared by the other members, hence an internal party debate often just looks like violent agreement or splitting hairs from the outside.

  • ain Donaldson 21st Dec ’15 – 11:22am…………..Labour refused to enter into coalition because they believe that they are always right……………

    Would this be the Labour party, led by Milliband, who were, according to many articles on LDV, the authors of the worst political views ever to disgrace Westminster…or the Labour party led by Corbyn, , who are, according to many articles on LDV, the authors of the worst political views ever to disgrace Westminster?

  • @ Iain. Thank you for your comments. Yes, there may be a coalition of ideas within a party, but what happens to people who are their own coalition, who don’t fit neatly into any box?

    For example, I don’t really agree with the decriminalisation of soft drugs (although making associated offences civil rather than criminal offences would be better) because I believe it would lead to more drug use and therefore, in the end, more people suffering from addiction and mental health problems and addiction.

    I expressed this view in an article on LDV a while back which was much criticised, – which is absolutely fine and I can certainly take it!! – but it showed me that if one isn’t ‘on message’ all the time – and I think we all know what that means – it’s better not to sign up.

    Maybe it’s actually better to join a single-issue group such as Friends of the Earth, for example, or a campaign group fighting for us to stay in Europe, and then campaign for what one believes in that way?

  • @Judy

    >Joining a political party shouldn’t mean having to sign up to everything it stands for,
    >or signing away the right to argue for something quite different. Expressing dissent should be accepted,
    >welcomed even, and seen as the norm.

    LDV deletes contrary views as standard, so it seems unlikely that your vision of a more liberal party that welcomes open debate will happen any time soon. I’m a lifetime LD voter and member since June, I’ve got no idea what it must seem like to people that aren’t party supporters. Either way, expressing dissent on LDV is far from welcome and something fundamental would have to change for it to become the norm. I agree with much of your analysis and that you’ve correlated this with the low number of members in all parties – people simply don’t communicate like this any more. The internet means we can all walk around the corner and talk freely, usually about those that were just censoring us, so it serves as bad PR especially for a party with a name like the Liberal Democrats!

  • Hi Juf. Thank you for the article, I think a comment by Sarah Teather in a Guardian interview in April 2015
    sums up some of my thinking. She said: “If you speak out on anything, anything at all, any difference of opinion, it becomes a huge scandal. So nobody says anything interesting…” That is the danger.

  • George Kendall 21st Dec '15 - 12:35pm

    Hi Judy,

    If sometime agrees with all party policy, it makes me nervous. I worry that they have no real values but just go along with the crowd.

    The problem is social media, where a small group of intolerant ‘liberal’ bigots can dominant a discussion, and make you feel you are in a minority of one.

    Re pressure groups, I think it’s far far better to work within a party, because relatively few do. You have more influence than working outside a party. Being in a broad church-party is also great for challenging my own thinking, including about policy areas I know little about.

    PS I think I agree with you on drugs.

  • @Chris B – As an editor/moderator I have never deleted a comment on LDV because I disagree with it, because it opposes party policy or because I just don’t like it. I have, however, deleted many comments which play the person not the ball, in other words are rude and offensive. Sadly some people are incapable of engaging in political debate without being abusive about the people they disagree with.

  • @ Mary Reid
    “As an editor/moderator I have never deleted a comment on LDV because I disagree with it, because it opposes party policy or because I just don’t like it.”
    I’m inclined to believe that statement from you Mary. However, I can assure you that not all LDV moderators could write the above statement with a straight face.
    It would be worth listing at the bottom of an article who is ‘on moderation shift’, because at least it would clue commenter’s into when to not waste their time submitting a comment?

  • The Lib Dems need independent minded people like you. How else can we develop policy? I’m sorry that an article you wrote had more detractors than supporters but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Those detractors would probably agree with you on another topic and be just as forthright in their criticism of those they disagree with about that.
    Politics is all about persuasion so I’m glad that the Lib Dems have free speech at the heart of their beliefs. I am a Christian and some members are extremely wary of Christians. I am in favour of the European Union but would like the party to emphasise that we think it needs reform and to become more democratic. Having seen a friend’s son slip from using pot to becoming hooked on heroin and unable to come off it in spite of several attempts at detox, I am very concerned about legalising pot even though other friends use it as pain relief. Policy is complex so iplease carry on fighting your corner in the Lib Dems, even if you don’t win the argument today your time will come.

  • @ Chris. Thanks for responding and for the clarification @Mary about the criteria used for not posting comments on LDV.

    @George. The words ‘broad church’ really resonates with me and that’s what I think any liberal party should be. I can sign up to that. I think it’s a message that members need to hear from the top too.

    @David. I take you point that there are mechanisms for expressing diverse viewpoints within the party, but changing one’s mind is not that easy once party policy has been set in stone.

    On the question of Mill’s harm principle, some things are clearly wrong, where there is only potential harm and no real benefit, for example drink driving – which is why we have legislated against it. On other questions, such as smoking, whilst the medical evidence might suggest that cigarettes should be banned (around 100,000 people die prematurely from smoking-related causes every year: Source NHS Choices), the liberal approach – which I generally agree with – is that people should be able to decide for themselves how they wish to live their lives, even if this results in serious harm to their own health. The trouble is that, as a nation, smoking-related illness costs the NHS approximately 5 billion a year – £5 billion which cannot be spent on medical research or getting people speedier operations. These choices are difficult, but even ideological arguments about our personal freedoms still need to be regularly scrutinised.

  • @Mary

    I don’t think that’s applicable to the posts I’ve had deleted recently. Any positive post I make get posted here, ones that disagree simply don’t make it through. Yesterday I posted on the Clegg/anti-censorship thread about this, but got censored. I have no idea if this was for purposes of irony, but I suspect not.

    It certainly feels like there’s very little room for debate or disagreement, which I believe to be one of the main reasons for most of the parties ills. If you can demonstrate where I’ve been rude or offensive I’d be only to happy to apologise for it; I genuinely don’t want to come across that way, but moderators don’t help me nor the debate by censoring it.

  • @ Sue S. Thanks for that support Sue. Much appreciated . In fact, I don’t mind people disagreeing with me at all and it certainly hasn’t put me off writing for LDV! I just think we need someone on high to say, “there are certain core principles we stand for and by, but we really welcome a diversity of opinion in our party and we will always listen to well argued and evidence-based arguments”. How liberating would that be? And if MPs who are in the public eye dared to diverge from their party line and say what they really thought a bit more too? I certainly wouldn’t be reaching for the Off switch as much when watching QT!

  • Thomas Shakespeare 21st Dec '15 - 5:24pm

    Can I ask why you believe that “people should be able to decide for themselves how they wish to live their lives, even if this results in serious harm to their own health” re smoking cirgarettes, but then when it comes to other soft drugs (like Marijuana) the risk is too great?

  • Thomas Shakespeare 21st Dec '15 - 5:24pm

    *@Judy not @Sue

    I made a mess of that!

  • @Mary Reid
    “As an editor/moderator I have never deleted a comment on LDV because I disagree with it, because it opposes party policy or because I just don’t like it.”

    I can only echo the comments of other posters and say that this policy is not applied universally by all moderators.

    Recently I have had some very innocuous posts censored, presumably because (I can think of no other reason) they contained some perfectly reasonable criticism of Tim Farron, expressed in very mild terms. What was particularly galling about one of them was that shortly afterwards somebody else posted a blatantly anti-Semitic comment on another thread – and it was allowed to stand.

  • @ Judy Abel “I supported Michael Gove’s education reforms which put a greater emphasis on formal English and Maths skills: my children’s generation weren’t taught spelling and grammar, which has put them at a significant disadvantage compared to graduates from other European countries)”.

    I’m surprised at that. It’s a widely held view that Gove was a dreadful Education Secretary – to the point where his unpopularity led Cameron to shift him to another job well before the election.

  • I agree that any significant political party has to be a broad church – a coalition if you prefer – of people who hold different views. Sometimes that’s little more than a difference of emphasis but sometimes it’s fundamental. The resulting rifts and debates are clearly visible in both the Conservative and Labour parties – for instance the long-running Tory split over Europe or David Davis’ strong stance on civil liberties.

    However, I find the Lib Dems much less of a coalition because the party’s structure and culture work to suppress meaningful debate, a tendency that’s replicated to some extent on LDV. (I too have occasionally experienced comments, umm, ‘being disappeared’ for no good reason).

    Lib Dems take great pride in the ‘democratic’ nature of policy-making at Conference but it’s really a self-absorbed top-down process that demonstrably (real votes in real elections) fails to deliver every time, has little real scope for most members to get involved (not even those with subject expertise) and clings to a bunch of party orthodoxies, many of very dubious liberality.

    Some presumably imagine that being visibly homogenous strengthens the party but of course it’s the exact opposite. Hence during the stresses of the Coalition years it just settled into a narrower and narrower rut that now leaves it in an existential crisis. Meanwhile the governance and policy-making consultations launched a few months ago have gone silent as I half expected they might. They may eventually lead to some changes being handed down from on high – but I’m not holding my breath.

  • @ David. I was only talking about greater rigour in the three Rs being important; I wasn’t commenting about Michael Gove’s overall performance! I remember my children’s work coming back with not one single spelling correction because spelling wasn’t thought to be important – it was only the ideas that counted. Consequently some European graduates can spell and write English more proficiently than UK graduates.

    @ Thomas. I take your point, but I think we shouldn’t legalise something harmful which is likely to increase its use. Cannabis is a mind-altering substance (which nicotine is not) and first-time episodes of psychosis have been linked to cannabis in a significant number of cases:
    Banning something which is already legal is harder to achieve, as its use is more widespread in society, but if it was a new substance coming on the market now we probably would ban its use.

  • @Gordon. Yes I did once submit a very critical piece about tuition fees and that never made it onto LDV. I was a bit disappointed!

  • Judy

    It seems to me that rather than banning substances the liberal solution would be to educate about the risks especially the risk of psychotic episodes among the younger users. By making it legal and taxing the substances it also permits revenue to be spent towards treating those who wish to stop without creating the added difficulty of a criminal record, legalization also allows greater control over the strength of the product and the safety of what else gets added to it.

    The party being pro Europe is one area that attracted me to it because in our current world we can no longer afford to pursue a policy of isolation.

    I hope you remain as an active member of the party.

  • @Ian Thanks for your comments. The power of education hasn’t managed to stop tobacco companies from selling cigarettes at great profit to themselves and at great costs to millions of people in terms of their health and lives – not to speak of the cost to the NHS. Maybe much higher taxes should be levied on companies supplying products which cause serious damage to health -along the lines of the polluter pays principle!

    @ Paul. Point taken Paul!

  • Peter Watson 21st Dec '15 - 10:04pm

    @Paul Walter
    I’ve never experienced any particular problem with censorship on LDV and I was with you up to point 3 in your list. But after that, and I’m not sure if it was your intention, you simply seem to be confirming what ChrisB wrote by indicating that you can and do censor on a whim and those that dislike it can go elsewhere.

  • Peter Davies 21st Dec '15 - 10:14pm

    It’s a sad fact that while the public claim to want politicians who think for themselves, they harshly punish parties that are seen as disunited. One of the advantages of STV is that it encourages parties to put up a range of candidates so voters whose views don’t quite match a party may match an individual candidate better.

  • Terrific article , and comments . Judy , keep the coalition mind set, I mean , maintain the view of coalition politics as not only the way you think , which is of the absolutely paramount importance , but utterly compatible with Liberalism , indeed , democracy ! I like what Ian said , although I have sometimes found myself to the right of a member or two on an issue , but have never met a communist inclined member of the party yet !! Oh , I don t know , come to think of it , Marxian philosophy s supposed to ultimately want the state to wither away , seems odd any time any of us come out with a view on a single issue like that ,it s the left point the finger and say AH ! ECONOMIC LIBERAL !!! And there s the point , different people, individuals , have various views , left , right or centre . We often share very many , though .

  • @Joe Otten
    If you didn’t personally break the moderation policy so frequently I expect LDV would have fewer problems.

  • @Lorenzo. Ah thanks Lorenzo. That’s really encouraging! You are right: it’s about welcoming free thought and where that takes us, based on knowledge, experience, conscience – and being open to other viewpoints. We can never be truly free, or true to ourselves, if we are stuck in any kind of ideological straightjacket.

  • @Joe Otten
    “I’ve checked a few of your recent comments regarding Tim and they seem to be unsubstantiated smears.”

    Could you email me an example? Since I am not aware of ever writing a “smear” about anyone, I regard your comment as a bit of a smear in itself to be honest.

  • @AndrewR

    Ironically enough, when I once tried to point out the same thing during another discussion about LDV censorship – my comment got snipped.

  • Judy I’ve been a member since 2006 (and Christian). As with many areas of life, how one engages and what one gets out of being a member very much depends what one puts in. I have not experienced anyone tell me what to think, except online. the Lib Dems are still one of the most tolerant parties with a genuine opportunity to have input into policy, which does not happen in other parties.There is an active group for Christian Lib Dems which you may benefit from getting involved with. And if you have not already I really recommend getting to know your local group, and if you don’t have one I really recommend you start some local social activities. If your local group is not very sociable, ditto 🙂

  • Thanks Sandra. I’ve been a member of the LDCF for four years now and often go to their Westminster meetings. I helped them out at Conference in Spring 2015 and was very active delivering leaflets locally before the May 2015 election. Our Bath team are really great people. My qualms are not really faith-related. I was more posing the question of how much freedom people within any party have to dissent and that party politics can encourage a rather rigid way of looking at the world, as reflected in they way most MPs have to ‘toe the line’.

  • Judy, I’d like to thank you for wading in and actually replying to the comments here. It’s not always easy, especially when the usual suspects start whining about comment censorship and dragging the thread off topic. Personally I think the moderation on LDV is far too lax…

    Anyway, what I would like to say is: I do not know a single person who agrees with the whole of party policy, and as somebody above said, I would look with suspicion upon anyone who claims to. I firmly disagree with a few of your stated positions (while agreeing with others) and would happily debate them with you, and concede on the disagreements if I found you convincing. I find most fellow travellers within the party enjoy a good debate, and you seem to be in that ballpark too.

    The problem with a good debate, of course, is that people far too often use logical fallacies and improper methods (ad hominems, appeals to authority, and gaslighting are favourites) because they get the idea in their heads that winning or proving their point is more important than reaching a sensible conclusion. I’m by no means immune to this myself if I’m feeling that way out, although I try quite hard.

    You say that you feel 65% Lib Dem, 25% Labour and 10% Tory? I would say that you have differing views on some policy priorities but the fact that you have looked at things and applied your own knowledge and experiences and considered the evidence before you and reached a conclusion – even if I firmly disagree with some of your conclusions – makes you 100% Liberal.

  • Sandra’s emphasis (dare I say focus?) on what goes on on LDV is a very different perspective from mine. In my area lots of us are busy being Lib Dems and doing Lib Dem things without ever reading LDV. We are preoccupied with influencing local government to do things that affect local people in a way that reflects our values, and communicating with local people so we know what issues matter to them and they know how we would approach doing things in the future if they elect or re-elect us in next May’s local elections. When we are deciding what to say to thousands of households in our next Focus leaflet, or reading households’ replies to our surveys, there is an immediacy and a practicality about being a Lib Dem that is firmly grounded. Compared with that, the sort of arguments you get on LDV are remote. In the end it is about changing Britain so it’s more the sort of place we want than if we left it to the Tories who are circling like hyenas waiting for the chance to pounce and take control. Why not go out and campaign in you area, put what you want to say on a bit of paper and stuff it through a letterbox, stand for election. Just saying.

  • @ Jennie. Thank you for your comments – including that I’m 100% Liberal! I’ve never quite thought of myself as being that before, for the reasons I outlined in the article, but if being Liberal is examining all the evidence, applying one’s own knowledge and experience and coming to one’s own conclusions i am completely happy with that! Yes, I think we all use different techniques to justify our arguments and I am certainly not immune to that either.

    @Jo. Yes, in terms of getting things done, there is nothing better than a good Lib Dem team on the ground, and we certainly have that in Bath.

    Sometimes the arguments on LDV can seem a bit remote from reality, but it is also an important outlet for the expression of our ideas and values, including from our senior politicians, so I would say we are very lucky to have LDV and thanks to the very hard-working team who keep it going.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Dec '15 - 11:12am

    This is a good article Judy. I like the way you have picked policies from Labour and the Tories that you like, whilst also stating a preference. Of course, some have no preference, but it is useful to hear it when there is one.

    When it comes to censorship: I’ve had no problems with this recently, although I feel I’ve been close to the line a few times. Debate is important because often both sides have a point in a dispute. We should be able to have a disagreement on comment policy without it getting personal. I’m no angel here, but I can say that I respect the work LDV do a lot and usually any major differences get sorted out.

  • A Social Liberal 22nd Dec '15 - 11:18am


    is it a leap in logic too far to presume that the moderator who is on duty is the one who moderates the posts flagged for that moderation? Therefore is it not reasonable to assume that when you are on duty you will be the one responsible for the moderation of a particular post?

    How do we tell who is on duty. Well, for instance, when Caron is on we get a plethora of articles about Scotland. It is quite simple to work out who is on duty.

  • @Joe Otten
    My post about LDV censorship was off topic for a thread entitled “Free speech must not be the victim in fighting extremism”? Instead of stimulating debate you shut it down to two agreeing voices.

    That explained much, thanks. I understand what you’re saying, I merely wanted to be able to debate with other Lib Dems instead of Labour members, but if that’s not possible I’ll take your advice. I hadn’t realised you’d considered this website in terms of the BBC or The Times and that’s what you’re aiming for – an artificially limited quantity of moderator cherry-picked positions.

    I’ll admit I’ve never tried to get a letter published in the Times, it’s not the sort of media process I engage with. I’m more interested in democratic systems that self-moderate, where workload is distributed like Reddit and I think that produces better quality discussion – hence the popularity. AFAIK The Times letters page dates back to the seventeen hundreds and is half as popular as it was a decade ago, I don’t consider it a great conceptual role model for liberals or communication.

    Thanks for having me, cheers everyone and a Merry Xmas!

  • @ Eddie – thanks Eddie. Like your comment that on LDV major differences usually on get sorted out! (So come back ChrisB!). Wishing everyone a very Happy Christmas.

  • Thank you Judy, and a merry Christmas to you too

  • Oh I think you may, Paul xx

  • Thanks very much Paul! Hope you manage some time away from LDV over Christmas!

  • David Allen 22nd Dec '15 - 3:17pm

    Lib Dem Members may like to look at the (unmoderated) Members Forum, which contains a long thread “LDV Censoring Negative Comment Yet Again”. I have just added to it, with a simple question I asked in response to one of Paul Walter’s lengthy contributions on this thread. It was refused publication on the open site but can be read by paid-up members.

  • Judy , good to here from you , like what you say and how you say it . Jennie , keen to know how LDV should moderate more , in your view , is it as a result of experience of anything you ve disliked from comments on here by others ?I am struck how truly offensive , re Paul s very correct statement calling them a sesspit , some other sites are , love it how this site is nt !!!

  • Thanks Lorenzo. Hope to be posting more in 2016!

  • Simon Banks 22nd Dec '15 - 7:50pm

    I thought a “coalition mindset” was going to be something quite different – a love of coalitions or of the last one specifically.

    The answer has to be YES. No thinking person agrees 100% with any one party’s policies. After all, there are always losers in conference votes or less public conflicts. Ask ten Liberal Democrats to say what they consider the basic philosophy of the party to be, and some will say things others reject. The same goes for any other party.

    I joined the Liberals at the end of ’66 and the Liberal Democrats at the merger, but in the last election I tried a few of those tell-me-what-party-I-most-agree-with sites and most of them had me as Green, narrowly ahead of Liberal Democrat, except one that didn’t take account of where I was and made me Plaid Cymru and one that explored not particular policies but attitudes and approaches. That made me a Liberal Democrat. But I knew that two or three of the policy choices that apparently made me Green ahead of LD had been the subject of close votes at Glasgow 2013 and if those votes had gone the other way, my LD score would have been higher than Green. For a person not deeply into politics to decide how to vote, that sort of site would be useful; but for membership and the long haul, you need to look more at philosophy, approach and culture.

    Anyone should be happy to join a party if (s)he is broadly in agreement with the philosophy, is reasonably happy with the culture (compared to other parties) and does not find her/himself having to agree to something that deeply offends his/her conscience.

  • @ Simon. Thanks. Yes I think the title didn’t quite reflect the content of the article. I realised that afterwards. I am picking up from the responses here that, as you say, no one can agree with every party policy and that it’s coming to ones own conclusions that counts – and so long as one is roughly in line with the ethos of the party and quite a few of its policies that is perhaps as much as one can realistically hope for. One also has to be prepared to stand up and be counted if one fundamentally disagrees with something – “to thine own self be true” etc.

    @ Gareth. I think I will sign up again in the Spring. I am encouraged by the responses I’ve had.

  • Judy is so right about the tribal nature of politics. Labour for example have a turf war going on for control of their party. They could of course split into two parties, a Socialist and Social Democrat one, and each of them could have a role in Government, but NOT until we achieve Proportional Representation. The two sides in Parliament being a swords length apart in the Commons chamber is no accident and PR would allow a more pluralist and civilised approach to issues. Polls show that PR is now preferred to First past the Post by voters so why is the centre left not campaigning for it?

  • Lorenzo: I would have moderated at least half of the comments on this thread, including several from moderators, as being off topic. I wouldn’t have deleted them, merely moved them to a special thread for questioning mods’ decisions.

    There’s a time and a place for incessant whining about “censorship”, especially when it’s not ACTUALLY censorship, and it’s not where somebody is trying to talk about a specific topic. It’s derailing the topic people actually want to discuss, it’s entitled, it’s rude, and it’s annoying to everyone reading.

    And here I am doing it myself. Sorry Judy.

  • Jennie (most recent comment) – Well said.

    The LDV team would do everyone a favour if they would run an “Open thread” post at regular intervals – at least once a month but preferably once a week to encourage folk to comment on whatever they like. It’s all very well to say that comments policy is well thought out, based on long experience and detailed in the fine print somewhere but it feels like mushroom management and that, inevitably, doesn’t go down well. The way this thread has gone shows that a degree of unhappiness is bubbling under as a result. Lib Dems are supposed to support open, transparent, inclusive debate so let’s have it.

    Oh dear! Now I too must apologise to Judy for also going O/T.

  • Jennie , thanks , I get what you mean ,interesting point about a special section , I guess the only conundrum might be how far off topic comments would need to be to be posted elsewhere and might involve yet more effort for the LDV volunteers .

  • @Jennie
    The only reason LDV moderation was brought up at all was because a poster mentioned it as an example of behaviour that doesn’t quite match up to Judy’s sentiments in the original article. That seems definitely on-topic to me (though I agree with you that this would not be the appropriate place for a wide-ranging discussion on site moderation).

    The part of the comments policy that has been transgressed most on this thread is the section about politeness.

  • George Kendall 24th Dec '15 - 8:01am

    I don’t like getting involved in debate about moderation. But I’d like to put on record my gratitude to the LDV team for the huge amount of unpaid work, and the fact they care about giving both sides of a debate a chance to have their say. like us all, they are fallible, and make mistakes. But we’re very lucky to have them.

  • The below are the only three quotations from this thread I have been able to identify which blatantly fail to comply with the comments policy on politeness:

    “a few of your recent comments … seem to be unsubstantiated smears.”

    “Please go to the Guido Fawkes site. Please do. “Cess pit” is a kind description.”

    “Your allegation … is risible.”

    All three comments were made by LDV staff.

    Happy Christmas!

  • @David Allen

    I’d add to your list the comment where would-be posters were dismissed as having a “sense of entitlement” – again by a member of LDV staff.

    On the “unsubstantiated smears”, needless to say I haven’t been given an example of one.

    On the whole I agree with George – the mods do a superb job of maintaining a high standard of debate here and deserve thanks and congratulations, but that doesn’t mean they should be immune from having people point out when the odd decision seems petty and inconsistent.

    Unexpectedly dragging this back to Judy’s original post… I couldn’t agree more. One of my biggest pet hates in politics is when people condemn other parties as being “hopelessly split” or “in a state of civil war”, just because of a difference of opinion. I’m afraid Lib Dems indulge in this kind of thing just as much as anybody else.

  • @Stuart Thanks for bringing the discussion back to the main theme. Yes, imagine if politicians – and everyone really – said what they really thought on every issue (unless it incites violence or is gratuitously offensive etc) , and that was perfectly normal.

  • George Kendall 26th Dec '15 - 7:08pm

    Hi Judy,

    I know a lot of people get annoyed that elected politicians often follow a party line.

    I think it’s a shame if party members feel restricted by party membership. So you should be free to say and think as you wish.

    But if someone is elected under the party banner, I think some collective decision-making is important. Otherwise the party label loses meaning, and, more importantly, if they are to form an administration or government, they’ll be able to achieve very little without some kind of whipping system.

    There will be conscience issues, and politicians have the right to rebel. But I think there needs to be some coherence in party policy.

  • @ George. Yes, I know you’re right really. Without collective decision making things would fall apart quite quickly and people do need to know what they are voting for (although ironically that didn’t make a difference in 2010 on some pretty solid Lib Dem commitments).

    I was just imagining how Question Time or the Commons might sound if politicians spoke their minds a bit more rather than quoting the party line verbatim, which makes political debate so arid after a while. And when someone does step out of line, it’s almost a scandal. More productive policy might come about with a better debate of the issues.

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