Working with other parties in Local Government – What is it about Labour?

I have been fortunate, if that’s the right word, to have managed to stay a councillor at various levels of local government since 1987. However, with advancing years playing a greater role, I am currently only serving on the Lincolnshire County Council. For over 28 years I have had to work with colleagues of all political persuasion and some who profess to have none, so I have a fair amount of experience of how they react to the fact that I just happen to be a Liberal Democrat. Perhaps ‘true blue’ Lincolnshire is not a good example from which to draw; but it’s all I know.

There is no doubt in my mind that it is far easier to get on with Conservatives than it has ever been my experience with Labour members. Perhaps it is because Tories expect to rule around here and, indeed, since the County Council was established as a local authority in 1973, until two years ago, only once before have the Tories failed to form an majority administration, namely between 1993 and 1997 when Labour and Lib Dems ran the show. Although I was only a humble Town and District Councillor at that time, I do recall talking to my County Council colleagues and being told what hard work it was trying to get agreement from the larger Labour group.

Move forward some forty years and, as part of an administration consisting of 36 Conservatives, 4 Lib Dems and 3 Independents, I have to say that we non Tories are unfailingly treated with courtesy and respect at all times. I am not so naive as not to comprehend that our votes are needed; but, even when the Tories were running things alone up to 2013 the same respect etc. was accorded. Why, our Lib Dem group even managed to get the support of the ruling group for at least two motions, one on reforming local government finance and one on reforming local government structure. I can honestly say that not once did the Labour Group support anything we put forward.

I don’t know what is in the Labour DNA but they seem incapable around here of ever admitting that someone else might have an idea which is worth supporting. It seems that, if it didn’t come from them, you can forget it! In some ways you have to admire their tribalism; but it can often stand in the way of progress. I even wonder sometimes whether they take their orders from the national party rather than have the confidence to put forward ideas generated from their own caucus.

The more ardent appear to have an atavistic hatred and suspicion of ‘Liberals’ as we are often called, and particularly those of us who, in addition to being members of the Liberal Party, also joined those renegades, the SDP. If those who oppose the Conservatives ever do mount a challenge, a form of modus vivendi must be found. From my experience and from the recent utterances of the new Deputy leader of the Labour Party, it won’t be easy.

* John Marriott is a former Liberal Democrat councillor from Lincolnshire.

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50 Comments

  • That’s exactly my experience as well. There is a tribal identity within many Labour people which blinds them to the idea that good ideas can come outside of the tribe.

    I often hear (not just from activists but also on the doorstep) that “I AM Labour” but “I VOTE Conservative.” For Tory supporters it’s often a rational choice based on considering alternatives, for Labour it’s about identity and there’s much more party loyalty in my experience.

    Perhaps the trauma of the past few months might change this. The question “What is it to be Labour in 2015” has got very uncomfortable for some, and there are rich opportunities for the Lib Dems as a result. Interesting times!

  • “The more ardent appear to have an atavistic hatred and suspicion of ‘Liberals’ as we are often called”

    Labour have been trying to crush us since 1922. I find all of this unsurprising. What’s perhaps slightly more unusual about this article is that the author comes from a Conservative-facing area, whereas its usually those fighting Labour on the ground who are more aware of their true nature and don’t have the same sort of Corbyn-praising illusions of some.

  • I have worked with both Labour councillors and Conservative councillors. As a rule I find the Conservatives charming and obliging and then they stab you in the back as soon as you are not looking. Labour councillors are far more aggressive and tribal but at least they are up front and honour agreements.

    I think Nick Clegg’s experience of being set up by the Conservatives time and time again – for instance over the referendum – demonstrates this perfectly.

  • I agree that Conservatives are more charming – like snakes are charming. Labour is brutal up-front, just like Tom Watson. So I wouldn’t trust Tom Watson nor a snake, but which of these is Jeremy Corbyn? Is he a snake or like Watson? To be honest, I have not been tuning in to Corbyn until the Labour leadership election because he was off my radar and everyone else’s.

    But now I hear the Grandfather of Tim Farron speaking – and I can hear a family similarity. Let’s not jump over-board, colleagues, but what if Grandfather actually comes close to Tim and we can work with the family. Sorry, I was dreaming and it will not happen – because Labour will not let it happen. Without Grandfather, Labour is the party they always accused us as being – Tory Lite.

  • Those nasty Labourites, eh?

    Look at how well we worked with the Tories in the coalition…From the ‘Rose Garden’ onwards they were so, so nice EXCEPT, of course, when we wanted something from them ( like AV and HoL reform)….

  • @expats Labour had AV+ in their manifesto in 1997, won a thumping majority, and failed to implement it. The Tories have never made a secret of their antipathy to PR.

  • George Kendall 3rd Oct '15 - 10:29am

    @Tony Rown-Wicks
    You said: “But now I hear the Grandfather of Tim Farron speaking – and I can hear a family similarity. Let’s not jump over-board, colleagues, but what if Grandfather actually comes close to Tim and we can work with the family. Sorry, I was dreaming and it will not happen – because Labour will not let it happen. Without Grandfather, Labour is the party they always accused us as being – Tory Lite.”

    True, but aside from that, Jeremy Corbyn and John MacDonnell have made some incredibly foolish public statements, and if you listen to them carefully, they’ve still not really repudiated them. They even repeat a few of them.

    If we want to take seats off the Tories in 2020, we’d be very unwise to do anything to let the Tories paint us as Corbyn-lite.

  • John Marriott 3rd Oct ’15 – 10:30am…………expats, We were right to enter a coalition with the Tories. What we failed to appreciate was that the majority of the electorate did not understand how a coalition works, accustomed as they have been for most of the time we have had universal suffrage to “the winner takes all”. How often did we hear between 2010 to 2015 “That’s not what I voted for!”? Too true, mate. The trouble was that not enough of you voted for anything!……

    Yes, it was all that stupid electorates’ fault…Nothing to do with our leadership gleefully explaining that there was ‘little difference’ between us and the Tories; that ‘70% of the coalition policies were LibDem’ ….. Whatever the initial rights and wrongs of the coalition our leadership continued to ‘blur’ any difference between us and them…NHS re-organisation, Tuition Fees, Bedroom tax, Secret courts…The list goes on….
    I voted for the Policies put forward pre 2010; I didn’t expect to get much from the coalition and so I was not surprised by the policy balance…However, what surprised and sickened me was how our leadership made no attempt to explain that it was a forced marriage not a love match…
    That is what destroyed us as a political force…

  • @expats – not quite sure what the alternative was. Whomever was in power would have put forward something akin to the bedroom tax as it would have been iniquitous to private tenants. Social housing does belong to the people and although it was a sledgehammer to crack a nut there are elements that work in it. The days where people vote for parties that duck issues are well gone. Hence the conservative majority in Parliament.

    Unless of course you want the Lib Dems to be a sort of left wing protest movement?

    The way it was handled was poor I agree – though lessons have been learnt.

  • John 3rd Oct ’15 – 11:45am ………………[email protected] – not quite sure what the alternative was. Whomever was in power would have put forward something akin to the bedroom tax as it would have been iniquitous to private tenants. Social housing does belong to the people and although it was a sledgehammer to crack a nut there are elements that work in it. The days where people vote for parties that duck issues are well gone. Hence the conservative majority in Parliament. ……………Unless of course you want the Lib Dems to be a sort of left wing protest movement? …………..
    The way it was handled was poor I agree – though lessons have been learnt……………..

    1) Bedroom tax…It was supposed to save £500 Million and to facilitate ‘under-occupiers’ to downsize…It failed miserably on both counts…IMO it was just another Tory ‘divisive’ policy…We’ve seen the affects of ‘strivers/skivers’ and on the disabled….
    2) If left wing means a more socially aware, caring party then I’m all for it. Trying to be ‘Torylite’ didn’t work and making ‘bad bills’ a little less bad e.g. NHS reorganisation is not what we should be about…
    3) We can agree about how badly coalition was handled but as for lessons being learned…The jury is still out…

  • Shaun Cunningham 3rd Oct '15 - 2:15pm

    Cannot vouch for Labour, they have been extinct here in Fareham for over 10 years and after the grand spectacle of Mr Jeremy Corbyn being exhumed from the back benches to lead the party, Labour will require some regeneration. Hopefully someone will have had the good sense within the party to stash away some genetic code in the hope at some point in the future a mastermind will be able to re-establish some life form from it. At the end of the day democracy is served by a vibrant political system, sadly Labour gone into hibernation. The question though, will they wake up? My tortoise never did.

    Here the conservatives believe one needs a blue passport to enter the town and see anyone challenging them with ideas or forward thinking to be erased before they can enter the ninth floor of the tall white building. There is no love here between political groups, the conservatives like to mock because they lack the intelligence to debate. They believe in quantity and not Quality .

  • Tony Dawson 3rd Oct '15 - 4:35pm

    The only two-party coalition there has ever been in Sefton MBC was (although they still deny this) between the Labour Party and the Tories. It only lasted for a few weeks before they backed off on some joint silliness and brought the Lib Dems back into the three party ‘grand coalition’ which lasted something like 19 years in total.

    The funny thing was, they were both desperate to have us back as they seemed to agree with each other on so many things that it embarrassed them both severely that they were in bed together and we would”t play with them while they were being nasty to us jointly.

  • SIMON BANKS 3rd Oct '15 - 8:11pm

    I think there is a Labour attitude that comes from their experience of industrial conflict but has survived the decline of assembly-line industry and coal mines. The attitude is that there is one right line which everyone must follow (hence their vicious factional battles over which line is right, instead of accepting that several might be partly right) and loyalty to Labour must be absolute – almost a wartime mentality. On top of this there is their experience of damaging splits, one of which happened because of proposed co-operation with other parties – Macdonald and the National Government. Typically Labour activists try to take over multi-party campaigns and make them “Labour campaigns”. I don’t think we or the Tories do this to anything like the same extent.

    However, my experience is that in areas where Labour is relatively weak, many of their activists are quite open to anti-Tory co-operation. But in the higher reaches of the party, of course, people dominate from strong Labour areas.

  • John Marriott 3rd Oct ’15 – 6:50pm ……Expats….. Clegg and Co were quite brave if somewhat naive. At least they saw it through, backed by a mandate from our members, unlike certain people who displayed a corbynesque attitude to collective responsibility and now expect us to follow them into no man’s land……

    Your mention of ‘no-man’s land’ sums up our performance in the coalition exactly….Clegg and Co. were brave in the same way that the WW1 officer’s who led their troops to certain death were brave…We, the PBI (Poor Bloody Infantry) were more afraid of questioning where we were being led than seeing the carnage of Polls, Councillors, MEPs, etc. and saying “NO”!….The pervading attitude, with a few notable exceptions, was to keep doing the same things and hoping for a different outcome… I remember, week after week, on LDV, reading how a ‘late surge’ would prove all us ‘gainsayers’ wrong….

    Well, it didn’t come and, reading some posts here, I seriously wonder if any lessons were learned…

  • David Evans 4th Oct '15 - 10:37am

    John Marriott – Capisce? No. To me your explanation simply adds confusion. Are you saying to me that Nick’s leadership is to be applauded because he saw it through even after it was clear he was leading us to the biggest disaster our party have ever suffered, while Tim, because he didn’t always vote to follow Nick’s kamikaze tactics is somehow not to be trusted?

  • expats “Well, it didn’t come and, reading some posts here, I seriously wonder if any lessons were learned…”

    Yes reading many of the comments on LDV since May, it is absolutely clear to me that the Party has not adjusted to its new position as a very small party with very few MPs which most of the country just ignore. I don’t see any understanding or acceptance of how the public view the Party. I do see a attitude of entitlement that “homeless” voters will have no other option than to vote Lib Dem. I don’t think the Part pay can rely on this. I agree that there is a gap in politics somewhere between IDS/Osborne and Corbyn/McDonnell, however Lib Dems have been tainted very badly by their behaviour in government. After such a colossal defeat, the Party needs radical measures and to show openly that it “gets” why it is failing and repents. I’m afraid I see no evidence that Tim is providing that.

  • John Marriott 4th Oct ’15 – 11:48am…….Dear Mr Evans,
    I like people who stick to their guns. Clegg and Co made a deal with Cameron and Co. The ‘and Co’ is important here. Although many Lib Dem members had doubts about the deal, they went along with it.

    I don’t! I respect people who keep their promises or, when circumstance prevent the promises being kept, explain that it is the circumstances not the beliefs that have changed …..

    ……………….Just as, if I were a Labour Party member, I could never follow a Leader, whose record of opposition to his party over thirty years is second to one,…. ….

    (I think you mean none) but he hasn’t changed. He, in your words, “Has stuck to his guns”………..

    ………………. Call me naive if you wish; but history may yet record that our nation owes a great debt of gratitude to our party for helping to dig us out of the financial hole into which the banking crisis and Labour’s enthusiastic kowtowing to the bankers led us……………………………

    From 2010 on the financial situation is a slow motion disaster.
    UK debt £1.5 trillion; 80% of GDP and growing
    UK deficit £80 billion, 5.5% and growing
    UK liabilities £6 trillion, 500% of GDP and growing
    Structural budget and current account in deficit and growing.
    Corporate debts and liabilities transferred to government debt and growing with uk taxpayers subsidising interest repayments of £250 billion/ annum and growing for government debt through financial interventions year on year.

  • David Evans 4th Oct '15 - 1:32pm

    That’s fine John if that is your view. However, I regard Liberal Democracy (and Liberalism before that) as something precious that was left in our stewardship by previous generations. As a result, I regard its long term viability and success as massively more important than keeping to a badly negotiated agreement, with a badly advised leader making repeated mistakes over five long years; implementing illiberal policies with no regard for the future. A leader who described what he is doing as “grown up politics” as a way of demeaning those who had the good sense to point out his abject failure to get anything like a good deal for us, our party and, more important still, those who trusted us with their vote.

    I’m sure there have been repeated examples in history of people who so believed in a misguided leader that they were prepared to sacrifice themselves for that leader’s dream. However to sacrifice Liberal Democracy itself for future generations just to avoid facing up to abject failure, and to portray it as some great matter of principle to be applauded is truly breathtaking in its arrogance.

    You may be willing to contemplate continuing to sacrifice Liberal Democracy to justify a deal with David Cameron and merely hope history records a debt to us that will never be repaid. I am not.

  • John Marriott,

    It does amaze me that there are still people who cannot see the difference between a manifesto policy (undeliverable in coalition) and a pledge made to voters to vote in a particular way (completely deliverable, as 21 MPs showed).

    Tim Farron stuck to his guns. Nick Clegg did not. I respect the former more than the latter.

  • David Evans 4th Oct '15 - 2:08pm

    @John Marriott “The problem lay in many respects in the fact that most electors did not understand how coalitions worked.” So your answer is, blame the voters! Brilliant!!

  • John Marriott ” Comments such as “I never thought that, when I voted Lib Dem, I would get a Tory led government””

    Maybe they thought that because they were told by the Lib Dems ” Vote LIb Dem to keep the Tories out” ?

  • Jayne Mansfield “I still feel incredibly angry about the speed at which the Liberal Democrat leadership were prepared to sign up the the National Health Service and Social Care Act. Billions that cold have been spent health and social care has been spent on destroying our NHS.”

    Yes I feel the same. I would even have forgiven “tuition fees” if the Lib Dems had stopped the NHS Bill. I actually said to my husband when the Bill was paused – “thank goodness for the Lib Dems! THIS is EXACTLY what they are for – to stop the Tories doing their worst”. There was no reason to support the reforms and so many reasons to oppose it.

    Of course now I, and most of the country, wonder what the Lib Dems are for.

  • David Allen 4th Oct '15 - 4:18pm

    “What is it about Labour?” Well, it’s that there are quite a lot of rather nasty people in local politics. Many are Labour, many are Tory, and not a few (whisper it) are Lib Dems. Tribal conflict is endemic, and destructive.

    We have just replaced an indisputably pro-Tory leader. Tim Farron now has the opportunity to set a new tone. Some Lib Dems are determined that he should not be allowed to do so.

    One way to stop our revival happening would be to maintain the public stance of the Clegg years – a constant onslaught on everything Labour say, alongside cooperation tempered by occasional disagreements with the Tories.

    That is why we now see this stream of LDV articles calling for us to fight Labour. Well, we should certainly take issue with Corbyn when we think he is wrong – I and other “preamble” Lib Dems have done so. But let’s be clear. If we just concentrate on fighting Labour, we will be identified as allies of the Tories.

  • Peter Watson 4th Oct '15 - 5:44pm

    @John Marriott
    I think you are conflating “going into coalition”, which many people supported (however reluctantly) since it is silly to support a minor party like the Lib Dems and not accept coalitions, and “being in coalition” which Clegg and other senior Lib Dems handled surprisingly badly since Lib Dems promote an electoral system which would deliver more coalitions so should have been better prepared than anybody else to be in one.

  • David Evans 4th Oct '15 - 7:54pm

    Ah John There’s the difference. You believe in PR. I believe in Liberal Democracy and building and safeguarding a fair, free and open society. PR is a mechanism that could have helped build it, no more and no less than a building block to delivering liberal values. However, even there Nick managed to make a mess of it all by making such a mess of being in coalition that it was easy to campaign against it on the “Get Nick” ticket. Labour did this ruthlessly and David Cameron just stuck the knife in at the end.

    But even after that and lots of warnings from those with experience in the party of dealings with the Conservatives, Nick thought he could get something out of coalition by just giving ever more to David Cameron. Learn the lessons is a great motto. Sadly, only four months after the electorate delivered its verdict, so many still don’t even want to own up to the scale of the defeat.

  • John Marriott 4th Oct ’15 – 1:29pm …………….Expats,The problem lay in many respects in the fact that most electors did not understand how coalitions worked, and still probably don’t……..

    Perhaps, John, the reason they still don’t understand is that, as Jayne Mansfield succinctly points out, both sides have ‘red lines’ that will be respected in order for the coalition to work…..
    We had no ‘red lines’…..

  • It’s fascinating to me how much the Lib Dems dislike Labour but not the Tories, and how much and how very deep,y Tories dislike Lib Dems. I say this because for a while I hung around Conservative Home and the hatred of Lib Dems on there was visceral. Lib Dems, on the other hand do not have this visceral hatred for Tories, on the whole Lib Dems like the Tories. Their hatred is for Labour and the SDP. I’m not sure what this tells us, apart from the fact that any alliance between the progressive left in the UK is well-nigh impossible.

    Anyway here is an article which encapsulates what Tories think of Lib Dems:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11578163/Watch-out-for-Liberal-Democrat-dirty-tricks-campaign-Tories-warn-candidates.html

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Oct '15 - 3:20pm

    Phyllis

    Lib Dems, on the other hand do not have this visceral hatred for Tories, on the whole Lib Dems like the Tories.

    No, I hate them. I always have done. I first got involved with the Liberal Party because I thought it was a more effective opposition to the Conservatives where I lived, and so able to beat them where Labour couldn’t. Across the country, to a large extent that’s what the Liberal Democrats and Liberal Party before them were about – being the main opposition to the Tories in places where Labour never stood a chance.

    I think you are drawing false conclusions, Phyllis, perhaps from a few loud-mouths who are over-dominant on this site but not representative of the party as a whole, or because you are just seeing what you want to see, and ignoring all of us who don’t fit into that picture.

  • @Matthew Huntbach “Phyllis – Lib Dems, on the other hand do not have this visceral hatred for Tories, on the whole Lib Dems like the Tories.”

    No, I hate them. I always have done. I think you are drawing false conclusions, Phyllis, perhaps from a few loud-mouths who are over-dominant on this site but not representative of the party as a whole, or because you are just seeing what you want to see, and ignoring all of us who don’t fit into that picture.”

    Sensible Lib Dems do not have a “visceral hatred” for anyone. Hate is a negative emotion that clouds judgement and leads you to see the world only in terms of black and white. It leads to Tribalism, in and out-groups, and the sort of thinking that eventually leads to the Gulags or the Concentration Camps.

    The sort of Lib Dems who “hate” the Tories tend to overlook the equally bad aspects of Labour.

    Those of us on the right of the party who don’t “hate” the Tories do not overlook their many failings; indeed that is why we are Liberals and not Conservatives. Sadly, as the pro-Corbyn postings on here illustrate all too well, that critical facility does not extend on the leftward fringe of our party.

  • Matthew Huntbach

    I’m largely going by the coverage and comments on LDV. I’m sorry if I have formed the wrong impression of you but I could have sworn I saw a comment by you not so long ago saying you liked Tory councillors or at least enjoyed working with them and disliked Labour ones – you gave good reasons for this (if it was you, it may not have been). But what strikes me is that Tories put on a nice façade but what they really think of Lib Dems is quite different.

  • Peter Watson 5th Oct '15 - 9:36pm

    We’re two days into the conference of the governing party with barely a mention on Lib Dem Voice (one article with one comment by my reckoning) and still the People’s Front of Judea is more worked up about the Judean People’s Front than it is with the occupying Romans. Splitters!
    (With apologies to Monty Python)

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Oct '15 - 9:37pm

    TCO

    Sensible Lib Dems do not have a “visceral hatred” for anyone. Hate is a negative emotion that clouds judgement and leads you to see the world only in terms of black and white.

    Well, I hesitated about using the strong word which Phyllis used, and it’s not a word I would otherwise have chosen. However, I did want to get across to her how very, very wrong her assumptions are, her idea that the Liberal Democrats feel themselves to be natural allies with the Conservatives is completely contradictory to what I have experienced in my lifetime’s experience of membership of the party and its Liberal predecessor.

    Now, TCO, if the words you wrote are how you really feel, would you not also feel insulted by Phyllis’s claim about us having a visceral hatred for Labour? So, why did you attack me but not her?

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Oct '15 - 9:42pm

    Phyllis

    I’m sorry if I have formed the wrong impression of you but I could have sworn I saw a comment by you not so long ago saying you liked Tory councillors or at least enjoyed working with them and disliked Labour ones – you gave good reasons for this (if it was you, it may not have been).

    You are referring to a comment I wrote, yes, I know the one you mean, but you have COMPLETELY misrepresented what I wrote there, and this is you all along, isn’t it? You have this “nah nah nah nah nah, you just rolled over and propped up the Tories because you love them and what they stand for” notion, and you just see everything in that blinkered way.

    You missed out the bit in what I wrote about how in policy terms I felt closer to Labour, and in what you wrote that I am quoting here deeply insulted me by suggesting I like the Tories and what they stand for and would prefer to be in some sort of alliance or coalition with them. No, no, no, no, no, NO, NO, NO, NOO, NOOOOOOOO!

  • @Matthew Huntbach Phyllis is a self-declared Labour supporter whereas you are a party member. I expect her to be tribal.

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