The dangers of country before party

It’s just as well that Labour reduced the election slogans on the placards to one word. I hope that Keir Starmer’s verbal repetition of the “country before party” slogan is quickly forgotten. It comes with its own dangers. Patriotism is fine, provided you and your hearers understand what you mean by that word. Unfortunately it is easily confused with nationalism.

The sleaze, cronyism and breaking of rules by government ministers and MPs over the past decade were offences committed by people, elected as Conservatives who put themselves before the country and indeed before their party. If only these miscreants could have been reprimanded in the style of an old-style school head by someone saying “You have let Parliament down, you have let your constituents down, you have let your country down and you have let yourself down.”

We should add “You have let politics down.” Sometimes as political activists we are tempted to despair when we hear a growing number of residents in some areas proclaiming that they are not going to vote because “they are all the same”. Some of those who tarred everyone else with the same Tory brush voted for Farage and his nativist/populists, which is one reason why Starmer’s vacuous slogan should trigger flashing warning lights. Vote switching Conservatives worked wonders for the Lib Dems but I have a certain grudging respect for those lifelong Tories who really did despair, understood that they had no party to vote for and therefore stayed at home.

A weakening of belief in the need for political parties, an indispensable component of democracy, is dangerous, even if it is unintentional. Pragmatism has its place but it has to exist within a context of principles and transparency. There are times when we have to challenge party political opponents to abide by their own principles. You rarely get that option with independents. We need to know where politicians are coming from. That is part of the accountability process.

The 2024 General Election returned an unusual number of independent MPs of various hues. Whatever concerns we may have about Jeremy Corbyn, like his constituents we know where he is coming from! In that sense he may be seen as one of the more honourable independent members – not necessarily in the same class as Martin Bell, the one time MP for Tatton, although we should remember that the latter was a one issue campaigner against Conservative sleaze. Ultimately I will have no truck with those who want to see independents as somehow cleaner that dirty party politicians.

Putting country before party is a fatuous notion that people who regularly change the name of their party feel comfortable with. How many labels has George Galloway espoused over the years? The extreme right is notorious for its name changes. However much Reform insist that they are not the heirs and successors of the BNP, the racist element is still there.

I am proud to be a Geordie by birth and Yorkshire by adoption. I am proud of so much of England that has nothing to do with an imperial past and goes way beyond football and cricket, starting with the arts, our beer and the BBC. I would love to reclaim full-hearted pride in our European heritage.

I am proud to have been a Liberal party political activist since 1963. I look forward to our own party using its success as a basis for campaigning for serious change in this country. However all the mainstream parties, including a Conservative party which returns to traditional Tory values, must see the next couple of years as requiring a calling out and resistance to supporters of the limited company calling itself “Reform” and their ilk as part of day-to-day party politics. In that context Keir Starmer’s “country before party” does not help.

* Geoff Reid is a retired Methodist minister and Bradford City Councillor 2010-2022 who now lives in Barnsley.

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6 Comments

  • “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” stayed at home.
    “Very Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” voted Lib Dem.
    “Disgusting of Tunbridge Wells” voted Reform.

  • Excellent post.
    Ideology is one of the great Human inventions – it starts with Values & goes on to how those are to be put into practise.

  • I met Geoff at the very start of our fight back, Oldham West by-election November 2015, remember that? Or the rain drenched campaign!
    That fight back is perhaps now done and the next phase begins, whatever that might be, I hope a rebuild in Labour areas.
    Geoff’s comments are spot on, please do listen our new parliamentarians!

  • Mark Frankel 11th Jul '24 - 8:33am

    ‘If only these miscreants could have been reprimanded in the style of an old-style school head by someone saying “You have let Parliament down…’ This is precisely what happened to Boris Johnson at the hands of the Privileges Committee. https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainer/privileges-committee-investigation-boris-johnson.

  • Mark Frankel – The Privileges Committee only dealt with Johnson’s offences against Parliament and you rightly remind us of the appropriate judgement. However there are also much wider problems with this man’s activities in the public domain – not least the ethics of his behaviour in the run up to the Referendum.

  • Peter Martin 13th Jul '24 - 10:23am

    The ‘country before party’ argument is trite to put it mildly.

    When the young Keir Starmer first joined the Labour Party he would have considered that the policies of the party were the best for the country. Why wouldn’t he? If he hadn’t he could have chosen some other party.

    So there shouldn’t be any conflict for him. Or, for any other politician.

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