Welcoming former Labour supporters to the Liberal Democrats

I joined the Liberal Democrats in July 2015 after many years as a Labour supporter and member. There were a number of reasons for this, including Labour’s inability to offer a realistic alternative to the austerity agenda, and the issue of union influence, which Ed Miliband attempted to address, largely unsuccessfully in my opinion. I feel that the Labour Party as it is now is no longer a home for centre-left people like me, even more so now Jeremy Corbyn is leader. The country needs an opposition (any opposition) to the Tories, and the Labour Party are currently too busy with internal arguments to form an effective one.

I am delighted at the way Liberal Democrats have welcomed me. I have already joined the executive committee of my local party as social media and web officer, where I will help with the Lib Dem fightback, both locally and nationally. I have encountered nothing but kindness and support since joining, for which I am grateful.

I do think the party could be more visibly welcoming to former Labour supporters who may need a little more persuasion to join than I did. One way is to provide a forum for social democrat views within the party, since many former Labour people have similar views to those who formed the SDP in the 1980s. To achieve this, George Kendall and I have set up a Social Democrat Group whose aim is to reach out to social democrats both within the party, and those outside who may be considering joining. The group has a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. Please have a look if you are interested.

It will certainly be a challenge to persuade some former Labour supporters to join us. Some are still put off by our years in coalition, but having seen this from both sides (as a Labour member for the first three years from 2010-13, and now as a Lib Dem member) I am convinced that we made the best of a difficult situation at the time. However, if we provide a forum where their views can be discussed, and if those of us who have already joined have a visible and welcoming presence, I think we can be successful.

* Rob Jackson has been a Lib Dem member since July 2015. He is Social Media and Web Officer for the Newcastle-Under-Lyme local party, and Social Media Coordinator for the Social Democrat Group.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • First of all, Rob – welcome to the party. Wonderful to see people both joining and becoming actively involved in the way you have.

    I think you are right in what you say. Many of us bare the scars of campaigning against Labour, but the Labour Party we have campaigned against since the days of John Smith is no more. Many currently within the truly new Labour Party would find themselves much more in agreement with LibDem values and history than what has become of their party, but because of the coalition will be wary of crossing the floor (so to speak). We need to keep on in the way we have since May, setting out clear Liberal/Social Democratic positions based on sense, reason and reality and hold out the hand of friendship 🙂

  • Welcome!

  • A big welcome!

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Jan '16 - 6:48pm

    I know I often sound like the residence’s conservative voice, but I’m fully in favour of getting Labour defectors over to the Lib Dems.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 14th Jan '16 - 7:50pm

    Massive welcome, Rob. Glad to see that you are getting so involved.

  • paul barker 14th Jan '16 - 7:59pm

    A big welcome to Rob. I agree that we could be doing more to put out fiendly feelers to Labour supporters, for a start I would reccomend keeping an eye on sites like Labour List, to see what Labourites are thinking.
    The latest Labour news is that Ken Livinstone has said that the review of Labour policy on Trident ought to be completed in “8-10 weeks”.

  • Welcome and thanks for having the courage to join us and to already contribute so much

  • Peter Millea 14th Jan '16 - 8:11pm

    former Labour supporters and members are welcome to join, but please don’t try to set up another SDP. I was a member of the Liberal Party before the merger and I believe the best way forward is for the Liberal Democrats to reassert our Liberal credentials.

  • John Marriot are you confident about the partys fortunes in the local Elections do you expect Labour are going to get a good thrashing?

  • Shaun Cunningham 14th Jan '16 - 9:42pm

    Rob….a very warm welcome. It can never be easy to move from one political party to another and must take some heart searching to take the leap. I am glad you have because people like yourself will bring a new dimension to this party, and the party needs that. I am sure many in the Labour Party who believe the centre is where political power is achieved are presently weighing up what to do, my hope is that they will follow in your footsteps, and a warm welcome awaits them.

  • Welcome Rob! I hope many more Labour liberals follow your lead.

  • Dave Orbison 15th Jan '16 - 12:07am

    I see some 13,000 or so have left Labour in recent months though it is unclear for what reasons including ‘natural churn’ as it is referred to. On the other hand the Labour membership has almost doubled to some 388,000 since Corbyn stood for Leader. I don’t have the Libdem numbers but I’ll wager the net membership of those that left following the love-in with the Tories vs. the mass defections from Labour that some on LDV refer to from time to time are a little less impressive.

    Simon I’m glad you recognise that the phrase ‘hard left’ is being used rather cheaply. Can you list those specific polices that Corbyn supports which you believe to be genuinely hard left and thus presumably impossible for the LibDems to support?

  • Neil Sandison 15th Jan '16 - 1:03am

    I don’t think its about hard left or soft left it its about a conservative left so entrenched in its dogmatism and hatred of non conformity that it shouts down any and all real debate on reform or modernisation .They want to return to a brand of politics the rest of Great Britain moved on from in the 60s and 70s . As a social democrat I welcome Rob and I hope many others to our wonderful democratic and progressive party.

  • Dave Orbison 15th Jan '16 - 5:07am

    George – and where is the detailed economic policy from Tim Farron that will allow him to reverse some cuts, build thousands of houses and support huge infrastructure projects?

    McDonnell spelt out that he was appointing a team of highly reputable economists and wanted Opposition parties to be able to use the OBR to verify any alternative plans to the Government. Your denouncement of Corbyn is not based on differences of opinion on specific policy initiatives but just based on vague labels, rhetoric and suspicions. Meanwhile the fail to apply the same standard of analysis towards LibDem policies.

    Many have posted on LDV of the need for LibDems to state clearly what they now stand for including a clear and credible economic policy. Defining yourselves based on vague smears against Corbyn simply implies a reluctance to cosy-up to the Tories once more. If you think that will restore LibDems fortunes then good luck. You accuse of Corbyn of living in the past yet you casually ally him some some people you with references to violence. This is based on your personal experience of some 35 years ago. Perhaps it is you that is living in the past.

  • Dave Orbison 15th Jan '16 - 5:10am

    Typo – oh dear I meant to say ” a willingness not reluctance to cosy up to the Tories”

  • Alex Macfie 15th Jan '16 - 8:15am

    It’s Corbyn who was allying himself with men of violence in the past, and it’s relevant now because (i) he has not recanted his past links with them, and (ii) he continues to break bread with terrorists, always on one particular side of the conflict. So his worldview has not changed. I would be more understanding if he had changed his worldview since the 1980s, but he clearly has not. This is shown by the revisionist take of him and his supporters on his honouring Sinn Fein/IRA in the 1980s, that he was seeking “dialogue” and was proved right about doing so. The flaws in this argument are (i) Sinn Fein/IRA was not interested in a negotiated peace at that time; (ii) as mentioned above he called them his “friends” and did not talk to Loyalists, and (iii) any negotiation with terrorists has to have diplomatic or governmental backing to have any value at all.

  • Alex Macfie 15th Jan '16 - 8:16am

    PS Hi Dr Jackson ! (one of my lecturers at Keele University some 20 years ago)

  • Dave Orbison 15th Jan '16 - 8:29am

    Alex – this is old mud you are slinging. He has condemned anti semitism, islamophobia and has been unswerving in his support of peaceful settlements in conflicts as opposed to war. His critics recognise no contradiction in simultaneously throwing these smears of violence at him whilst alleging he is a pacifist.

  • Welcome Rob! I think we should welcome former Labour supporters put off by Labour’s infighting and leftward lurch AND any pro-European, socially liberal ex-Tories when they start tearing into each other over Europe

  • Interesting discussion.

    “Hard Left” isn’t (just) about the politics, it’s about the approach – a quasi-religious doctrinaire take on “in” and “out”, as exemplified by calling non-Corbyn Labour oderates “Tories” and seeking to expel them from the party.

    This isn’t unique to the Labour Party, I should add.

  • ………………As to your question reproduced above, what on earth makes you think that Lib Dems have to support or not support individual Corbyn policies? We’re not his poodle, you know……..

    Considering the regular threads pre and post 2015 reviling Labour for not backing LibDem initiatives that sounds rather amusing….8 to 231 is really the ‘tail trying to wag the poodle’….Why not support policies that coincide with our interests; would you rather oppose for it’s own sake? BTW…this is a rhetorical question as I don’t expect a straight answer….
    As an individual example….On the Calais situation Corbyn says…”These are human beings, these are people in desperate situations – they need our help and they need our support.”….That is no different from Tim Farron’s remarks …

  • @expats “would you rather oppose for it’s own sake?”

    Labour have been very good at that.

  • Neil Sandison 15th Jan '16 - 1:41pm

    If you want to see a good position statement for the Liberal Democrats on the economy see Vince Cables and the Social Liberal Forums motion to the Spring conference it mixes social market economics with intervention and enablement and recognises the emerging green and circular economy which will open up exciting new markets in remanufacturing .indeed industry is already way ahead of the classical conservatism of George Osbourne and the old demand side economics of Mc Donnell .

  • Simon Banks 15th Jan '16 - 4:58pm

    We absolutely need to welcome people coming from Labour and I’m delighted Rob’s been welcomed. We must not be sniffy about people coming from another party as many of our longstanding activists did long ago. However, we’re not necessarily the right place for right-wing Labour people who can’t stand Corbyn but hold illiberal views on social issues and civil liberties, or are essentially top-down centralists. The reference to the founders of the SDP and others who left Labour for the SDP doesn’t necessarily help as some of them like Jenkins and Williams very clearly held essentially liberal views while still in the Labour Party. Others didn’t.

    I’m still unclear about what exactly defines a Social Democrat and more specifically, what divides a Social Democrat from a Liberal. If it’s supposed to be support for equality, or for a degree of equality of outcome rather than just equality of opportunity and devil take the hindmost, I disagree that Liberalism is different. Might it be a lesser commitment to maximum devolution and empowerment down to the lowest levels? What is it that the Social Democrats in the Liberal Democrats feel a need to assert because it might otherwise be lost or downplayed, and who might agree with them but not consider him/herself as a Social Democrat?

  • Dave Orbison 15th Jan '16 - 5:16pm

    Simon re“Simon I’m glad you recognise that the phrase ‘hard left’ is being used rather cheaply.” To which you replied “I’m not sure why you think I recognise that”. I plead guilty to misread what you stated and you do think he is ‘hard left’. But I would also like to address your comments “what on earth makes you think that Lib Dems have to support or not support individual Corbyn policies? We’re not his poodle, you know” before then going on to talk about Hitler and comparing his transport policies and the LibDems.
    Dealing with each point in turn. You state that a diagnosis of ‘Hard Left’ can be made, not based on an inspection of policy but, by an examination of one’s state of mind. Really? Can you point me in the direction of the medical evidence to support this statement and how it specifically relates to Corbyn?
    Re ‘the LibDems as poodles” I do not recall ever saying the LibDems HAD to support Labour policy, that would be very silly indeed. What I have consistently argued for is that where there is commonality on policy issues, BOTH Labour and LibDems (and others parties where applicable) should co-operate and campaign in support of that policy. To me it doesn’t matter who first thought of the policy, what matters is the proposed policy itself. Isn’t such cooperation the very basis of a coalition, with a small ‘c’, and isn’t this something the LibDems support?
    In reference to your comments re Hitler…. well perhaps I’ll leave it there.
    Incidentally, I note that you take Catherine Royce to task in here article re junior doctors for failing to produce evidence of the crisis within the NHS. You insist that she or others produce hard evidence whilst seemingly taking issue with here using all of 800 words to set out here views. It seems your demand for fact-based conclusions is rather at odds with your attack on Corbyn where you imply ‘hard left’ is a state of his mind.

  • Dave Orbison 15th Jan '16 - 5:41pm

    Hi George, I think it is simply far too early to take a considered view on Labour or LibDems alternative economic plan to the Tories. They both need time to regroup following the General Election and determine the details of their economic policy. That is only fair and reasonable for both parties. However, I think some LibDems are chomping at the bit to attack Corbyn and are jumping the gun. When he has published his plans by all means dissect them if you will. But the current premature mudslinging thrown at Corbyn is in my opinion more a symptom of anxiety with some LibDems as to the state of their party mixed with the unease that the media insistence of a Labour meltdown is somewhat at odds with Labour have gained some 200,000 members since Corbyn stood for leader.

    Simon Banks – I support much of what you say. Those disloyal Labour MP’s who are undermining Corbyn do so because they were pro Syria and Iraq war, pro cuts in benefits, pro Trident, pro curtailing of civil liberties and are aghast at the idea the Corbyn should allow Labour party members a proper say in determining party policy. They really believe they should be all powerful in this regard.

    If I am wrong in any of their positions, please correct me. Now it occurs to me that on these broad band of specific and major policy issues, they are almost diametrically opposed to the LibDems’ positions. Taking cheap shots at Corbyn fueled by these egotists is opportunistic though some may argue its fair game for the LibDems. But isn’t it all going to get a bit confusing for the electorate when LibDems come to spell out their own policy issues in these areas. More to the point, should any of these right-wing authoritarian Labour MP’s jump ship and join the LibDems, would you be happy that they bring along with them their authoritarian approach and demands that they alone should determine Party policy?

    As others have said, be careful what you wish for.

  • @Simon Shaw 15th Jan ’16 – 9:48am

    “It’s so pervasive among many in the Labour Hard Left that they end up supporting some profoundly illiberal regimes around the world simply because they “stand up” to the US, as they see it.”

    I’m curious – do you have names for these many?

  • Dave Orbison 16th Jan '16 - 6:07am

    George ” As we are seeing with the Trident review, existing Labour policy is pretty much irrelevant”

    You infer as others have that there is something inherently wrong with Corbyn changing Labour’s policy on Trident. A theme echoed in the media and with some right wing Labour MP’s. It’s as if he has no right to change an existing policy. But this is nonsense surely? Are you suggesting that Tim Farron should maintain the same policies as adopted by the LibDem’s during coalition? Of course not. If it is OK for Tim Farron to change direction on any given policy, why should Corbyn be forever locked down on this one policy?

    Also, you suggest the policy has simply changed by virtue of who has been appointed as Shadow Defence Minister. But you know this is not true. Corbyn has consistently committed the party to adopt greater democratisation than at present in terms of policy formulation. It is the current system that gives too much power to a few MP’s to determine policy which is the problem. Assuming Corbyn consults the party membership, that must surely be a more satisfactory way of agreeing party policy on this subject. Until that time comes we will shall have to wait to see what the policy position will be going forward which seems perfectly reasonable to me. Personally I hope the policy is changed and the Labour Party does not support the renewal of Trident. If some Labour MP’s find this so unpalatable then LibDems may get a few new members. But if you want to accept such pro Trident, authoritarian egotists that would be fine by me.

  • The strapline at the head of the Lib Dem Voice site states that this site is “by and for Lib Dem supporters”. As Liberal Democrats, we are not afraid to grapple with, and react to, “comments from everyone”, but posters on the site who are not currently Lib Dem supporters and who post multiple comments on the same thread (as in this thread) ought to be sufficiently self-aware to realise that they test our patience.

  • Peter Watson 16th Jan '16 - 9:19am

    @Hugh p “posters on the site who are not currently Lib Dem supporters and who post multiple comments on the same thread (as in this thread) ought to be sufficiently self-aware to realise that they test our patience.”
    To be fair, I think that the contribution of Dave Orbison and petermartin2001 to this thread has been much more helpful than your own.

  • Peter Watson 16th Jan '16 - 9:27am

    @George Kendall “Broad churches win elections under First Past The Post”
    I think this is an important point but it creates a problem for a “centrist” party like the Lib Dems. It must be easier for a broad church to either the political left or right to maintain a reasonably consistent position on a range of policies with most of the internal argument being about emphasis and priorities. For Lib Dems a broad church means that on individual policies the party must reconcile diametrically opposed views (even if they are close to the centre) and risks presenting to the electorate an inconsistent lucky dip of polices which would make the party’s default position on any issue difficult to predict.

  • Mick Taylor 16th Jan '16 - 9:44am

    Mr Orbison clearly misunderstands the Lib Dem policy on Trident. A very narrow majority support the current party policy, but a substantial minority would scrap Trident. Of course this vote was based on the rules that existed prior to Autumn conference 2015. Who knows what a one member one vote conference or a ballot of all members would decide? I suspect that there are many more members who are nearer the Corbyn stance on this issue than Mr Orbison thinks. We shall see. This unilateralist pacifist hopes so.

  • In a 2013 Youguv survey….”The United Kingdom should give up nuclear weapons altogether” showed….Con 8% Labour 26% LibDems 33% UKIP 12% in favour

    However..”Should the government decide that they will go ahead with their ‘Like for Like’ Trident replacement then…..”The United Kingdom should give up nuclear weapons altogether” showed….Con 13% Labour 37% LibDems 50% UKIP 18%…

    Now, unless the year on year fall in support for Trident has reversed, it looks as if a majority of LibDems now prefer NO ‘Trident’ than a like for like replacement….

  • Peter Watson 16th Jan '16 - 11:33am

    @Mick Taylor and Simon Shaw
    Thank you both for illustrating my point about a lack of clarity and agreement when it comes to the Lib Dem position on important issues. 😉 If members cannot be sure then have a little sympathy for those of us on the outside!

  • Peter Watson 16th Jan '16 - 11:40am

    @Hugh p
    Sorry if my earlier post seems rude. I was struck though by the irony of your comment in the context of a thread about welcoming Labour supporters. Dave Orbison and petermartin2001 seem to be exactly the sort of people with whom Lib Dems should be engaging, particularly on specific issues of policy where there might be agreement.

  • Dave Orbison: The contradiction is in Corbyn himself, for claiming to be a “pacifist” while allying himself with warmongers. He may have condemned anti semitism but he still honours anti-semites. At best this shows poor political judgement.

  • Peter Watson 16th Jan '16 - 2:42pm

    @jedibeeftrix “So if you are looking for an historic opportunity to launch the liberals on a path back to prominence (and relevance), then look left my friend, look left.”
    … light the blue touchpaper and retire! 😉
    For once I find it hard to disagree with you, but I think you are raising a dilemma that Lib Dems have not resolved in the 8 months since the General Election (or the 8+ years before it).
    It would be a reversal of an approach that Matthew Huntbach used to rail against on these pages which is summed up by an article I recently came across by Richard Reeves (which I suspect is the one to which Matthew regularly referred): “Social liberals should join Labour. … Social liberals in the Lib Dems have a perfectly respectable set of political principles, but they are the principals of another party.” (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/sep/19/libdemconference.liberaldemocrats) This seems particularly relevant given the subject of this thread.

  • Dave Orbison 16th Jan '16 - 4:29pm

    @Hugh p “posters on the site who are not currently Lib Dem supporters and who post multiple comments on the same thread (as in this thread) ought to be sufficiently self-aware to realise that they test our patience.”
    Hugh how do you expect to win former LibDem supports back to the party unless you engage with others who may not currently class themselves as LibDem supporters? Or are you suggesting that LibDem members should be entitled to more posts in a debate than those who have yet to be one over? I post on LDV on selective topics only and I’m sorry I test your patience if your comment was aimed at me as opposed to other ‘frequent posters’. I guess you could exercise your right not to read mine or other comments, perhaps a more proportionate response that any form of censorship.
    The reason I post is because I believe that an essential part of politics is ‘the debate’ whether that be with people within the party you support, OR with those who are yet to be won over. I do not see political support as a binary issue i.e. you must either be “for or against” any given party.
    Trident are perfect and topical example where it would be wrong and simplistic to represent one party has having a united party all standing behind the perceived ‘right solution’. It is not as simple as that and the role of debate is essential in reasoning policy and scrutinizing the details of any proposed policy. When an issue such as Trident splits opinion in many parties what is so wrong in debating this across parties?
    I post on LDV not, as you seemingly think to irate LibDems, but to argue the case for policies I support. If you like I campaign for small ‘c’ coalitions across parties based on policies not personalities. For this reason, I consistently urge LibDems and Labour and other parties to work together where they can on common policy platforms. I feel that politicians shouldn’t just focus on trying to promote their party solely but should use their skills and access to the media to campaign together to help inform and shape public opinion on certain matters.
    I stand corrected on Trident and LibDem policy. I thought conference had voted to get rid of it as opposed to keeping the missiles so long as the submarines just do not go out to sea. (If that’s right).

  • @Simon Shaw 15th Jan ’16 – 8:24pm

    “However, what I have just done (at least to reassure myself) was to choose three members of Labour’s Hard Left at random and do a Google search for “XX anti American”. In each case it turned up quite a number of results.

    I’d suggest you can do something similar.”

    Thanks. Following your suggestion I’ve just tried “Simon Shaw anti-American”. Turned up 390,000 results. Unfortunately, I haven’t got time to check them all but I presume you’re not one of the anti-American Simon Shaws listed?

  • Helen Dudden 18th Jan '16 - 8:35am

    I take different view of the situation. What will someone do for me?

    Promises, empty promises. If political parties spent less time on worrying about expenses, and concentrated on those who elected them, things could be so different.

    My previous MP got one comment, and that was me.

  • David Allen 18th Jan '16 - 4:37pm


    “Do you not see the opportunity on the left?” … “While I personally applaud every time the lib-dem’s do something sensible like taking less of my money to spend on windmill subsidies, I do not think that the party has a successful future couching itself under the umbrella of the centre-right.” ….”If you are looking for an historic opportunity to launch the liberals on a path back to prominence (and relevance), then look left my friend, look left.”

    I fear that this can probably be translated as “I’m a Tory supporter, and so I’d like the Lib Dems to help see off our Labour opponents.” I think we should instead repent our travels along that road under our previous leader!

  • @George Kendall 17th Jan ’16 – 12:18am

    I think if you’re going to argue “a softer term, like socialism, would be insulting to socialists”, then you come into conflict with your cited blog, where Jonathan Proctor claims “treacherous sub groups forming like momentum who’s sole aim is to turn Labour into a party of socialists”. Hard Left is currently used as an insult thrown at anyone who agrees with Corbyn by those on the right of the Labour Party, on the right of the Lib Dems, or anywhere among the Tories. Frankly, I struggle to notice Hard Left policies among those espoused so far. But if wanting the railways nationalised makes me Hard Left, then fine – I can live with that. If anything, I tend to find that use of the term Hard Left enables me to tell the Orange Bookers, Blairites and Thatcherites apart from the rest of us.

    That said, by Simon Shaw’s figures, the Lib Dems appear to have been rather heavily infiltrated by Hard Leftists, if 27% want to scrap Trident. But I send comradely greetings to that 27% of Red Army Reservists!

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