Why More United’s MP network could lead to a much better politics

While I was away, I kept my eye on what was going on in the world. It was good for me to have a few days when I didn’t even open my laptop to write about it, though.

But now I’m back, I want to highlight some of this week’s key events.

One which caught my eye was the launch of the More United MPs’ Network. From Politics Home:

The group said MPs in the newly-established network will lead campaigns on issues such as poverty and homelessness, responsible technology, mental health and climate change.

The campaign has vowed to capitalise on the “clear appetite” of the public to use online petitions, and has vowed to attract more than 250,000 members, including 100 MPs by next year.

Those who lead and support More United campaigns will also be eligible for money raised by the wider campaign at general elections – with almost £500,000 given out to supportive candidates via crowdfunding in 2017.

Conservative former minister Nicky Morgan and Labour’s David Lammy are among the group, which also includes figures from the SNP, Change UK, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the Greens’ Caroline Lucas.

More United CEO Bess Mayhew said: “People see cross-party working as a proxy for trust in politics. When polling shows that only three out of ten people believe they can make a difference by getting involved in politics something has to change.

“By uniting MPs who can find common ground on divisive issues we want to show there is a way to move Britain forward and work together to build a fair and thriving country.”

Our Christine Jardine was one of three MPs who co-wrote a piece for the Huffington Post about the initiative:

Members of the More United MP Network have already expressed an interest in exploring new ways to prevent poverty, future-proof the rules that regulate giant technology companies, inject urgency into efforts to tackle climate change and do more to tackle growing mental health issues.

There is a strong desire throughout the country for politics to be done differently. For some people this means the need for a new political party. That’s not an option any of us will consider but we do hope we can work with colleagues from all parties to try and stake out long-term solutions (or at least positive improvements) on issues that otherwise risk becoming short-term political footballs in our adversarial atmosphere.

That atmosphere can be changed. It is possible to have a pluralist politics where people are able to disagree fundamentally on a range of issues but also agree wholeheartedly on others. After all, that is what it is to be human. At a time when some politicians are fearful for their own safety we all need to be able to show our human side and cross-party working is one way of doing that – here’s to much more of it.

In their article, they raise the example of how a campaign on immigration worked out a consensus on some policy proposals from some very differing views.

They emphasise that they are all committed to their own parties, and don’t see the need for any new party, but they will co-operate to further key values of openness and fairness.

It has been great to see so much cross-party co-operation in this Parliament, particularly among women MPs who have collaborated on issues like abortion for women in Northern Ireland and period poverty as well as Brexit. It’s important because it’s very difficult to spew vitriol on people you have a good working relationship with at election time and that is bound, in some areas at least, to improve the quality of political discourse. It should also make it more difficult to oppose something you agree with just because the other lot thought it up.  And when you have worked together to achieve something, it makes it more likely that when you do disagree, you will do so well. And we really need some good current role models in the art of good disagreement.

In this context, the More United discussion on tribalism with Stephen Kinnock and Heidi Allen will be intersting, particularly as Ms Allen leads a party that has decided not to co-operate with others for the European elections while at the same time styling itself as the home of the Remain Alliance. There seems an inherent contradiction there.

We have to hope that this sort of collaborative working will be habit-forming and will continue even if the first past the post system delivers a large majority for one party,

The rise of extremist politics of division and fear means that those of us who want to see a diverse, open, free society have to work together whether we like it or not. We need to stand against the clear racism and xenophobia of the likes of Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson as well as those in the Conservative Party who think that the only way to save themselves is to embrace their divisive rhetoric.

I suspect that we Liberal Democrats will think of some of the initiatives supported by the new network will be a little timid and won’t go as far was we would like. And we’d be right to think that. But if this group can drag the Overton Window back towards progressive values, we can argue loudly where we want to go further. We can’t let our policy making come down to the lowest common denominator approach. That would mean we would never get any good radical reforms.

I guess the art is knowing where to compromise. We wouldn’t have a Scottish Parliament now if the Scottish Constitutional Convention hadn’t come up with a proposal that everybody could agree on – and Liberal Democrats helped shape that by persuading  Labour towards a larger slice of proportionally elected MSPs. We would have preferred even more, but we ended up with something broadly sensible that delivers something like the Parliament people asked for.

It is important that we preserve our own, liberal identity. The country needs a strong liberal voice, now more than at any other time in my life and we’re it. But part of that liberalism is our capacity and desire to work with others to deliver change – and this country is in dire need of reform..

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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5 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 28th Apr '19 - 2:34pm

    More United could work on prison reform.
    Current Ministers are minded to do something, but what?
    Listen gently to Private Passions on BBC Radio 3 (Sundays 12 noon) which is a sort of posh equivalent of Desert Island Discs without the shipwrecks.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HM_Prison_Grendon was the desired destination of many prisoners when I was in the Lifer Unit at HQ. They had firstly to accept that the lightest touch on another prisoner meant automatic exclusion from the project.
    Under a communist dictator in Albania there had been no suggestion of a free trial prior to imprisonment, nor of any trial at all. Understand also that today’s guest was lent to the Albanian prison service, but decided that their prison/s were better than ours, not oubliette/s.
    In post-communist Albania there was a riot which destroyed the prison, although the Italians promised to build them another one and pay for it.
    Meanwhile the criteria for refusal under the 1951 Refugee Convention were undermined, but my colleagues in IND did not want to know that.

  • I’ve been a supporter of MoreUnited for a while now. I’ve been impressed by some of their work, but a bit underwhelmed that some of their early commitments, such as for PR, have become somewhat optional. They also come across as a bit white, middle-class and “nice”, and at risk of following fashionable ideas rather than pushing the agenda forward.

    Nevertheless, I think they’ve got something to offer and providing a mechanism for cross-party working is invaluable. And just because some of the ideas seem a bit ‘obvious’ doesn’t mean they aren’t important, and low-hanging fruit is fruit after all. Some of the collaboration between MPs of different parties reminds me a bit of coalition working, and hopefully this will expose MPs from the big two parties to why it’s not such an awful concept after all, and that things can and do get done. The danger is that when politicians from different background agree on something workable before it gets to a vote in the Commons is that those working on it don’t get the credit in the media, or come next election. That’s where we suffered in the coalition. People saw our MPs vote with Government on hard negotiated policies, and didn’t see us fighting them on their original proposals.

    But in terms of getting things done, this could work well, and I like to think that there are still a decent number of MPs of all political parties who are in it to make things better, not just to be seen angrily protesting the Government of the day.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 28th Apr '19 - 5:55pm

    Structures need to support people and people support structures.

    The name comes from the speech of the late great Jo Cox, reason enough to like More Uinited.

    I therefore joined them to remember that wonderful mp, and to support and to align with our mps and this initiative.

    I advice others to…

  • Katharine Pindar 28th Apr '19 - 6:52pm

    Good that you have caught up with this important group, Caron. I wrote about it on Thursday, April 25, 9.33 pm, as a last comment on my thread, Change for change’s sake wouldn’t be worthwhile. I had read about it in The Times, and as I wrote in my comment felt enthusiastic at the possibilities it presents. Given the recent disappointments about Change UK (though hopefully their lack of co-operation is temporary) it was pleasant to hear about.

  • ONceALIbDem 28th Apr '19 - 7:56pm

    Though one piece of legislation on which all three parties agreed and (to an extent) worked together was having the EU referendum. I also remember Charles Kennedy warning of the dangers of simplisticly wishing that ‘politicians should just agree’ by referring the the (also fairly consenually agreed) CSA legislation.

    There are also things like the Immigration Act 2014 – passed with just 16 votes against (Commons Third reading)

    As you point out with examples this sort of cross party working goes on all the time. It’s not new and not all that rare.

    It’s really a form of populism that ‘if you’d just all agree there is a common sense solution’. It also doesn’t necessarily lead to good laws or liberal legislation as proper scrutiny is limited.

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