Stephen’s sectarianism…..

Stephen Tall is not impressed with the Compass campaign for a referendum on Proportional Representation. He says that the Liberal Democrat leadership won’t be supporting this campaign and rightly so because it is ‘self-serving’ and it’s agenda is to ‘save Labour’.

Welcome to politics where things often happen not in the interests of higher principle but in the interests of expeditious need. It is not as if the Liberal Democrat leadership is above this kind of behaviour; witness Clegg’s embarrassing flip-flops over Afghanistan or the relegation of Euro entry into the Never-Never Land of ‘not right now’. So, this isn’t exactly a newsflash and it isn’t exactly true; Labour is doing reasonably well in the polls right now without the assistance of PR or the promise of it and maybe, just maybe is starting to claw back lost ground.

So, PR may well not be needed to ‘save the Labour Party from extinction in the first place. Self-interest may well be what prompts the Labour Party to;

 deliver on the election promises they made – both on reforming the electoral system and the unelected House of Lords.

A dozen years ago there was not this powerful motivational force to concentrate Labour minds. However, there was for the Conservatives and we all know that didn’t prompt them to think, even for the tiniest of seconds, that electoral reform would be a good idea. Stephen’s article reeks of sectarianism and it is a sectarianism that will ultimately damage the cause he seeks to promote.

This is further evidenced in the ‘low tactical reasons’ he gives for supporting the decision;

The plain fact is that it would be – in the words of a close adviser to Nick Clegg I spoke to – “electoral suicide” for the Lib Dems to be seen to buddy up with an unpopular Labour party in demanding a PR referendum.

If we were being ‘low’ and ‘cynical’ we could suggest that the only reason the Liberal Democrats consistently hold out for electoral reform is to increase the power and influence of this party. No doubt were we to ‘go it alone’ and be the only ones supporting such a move that line would be suggested by opponents of change. Refusal to support such a move also clearly arises from delusions of grandeur;

the Liberal Democrats stand ready to take Labour’s place, and take the fight to the Tories on a progressive platform promoting social justice, civil liberties, environmental action, fair taxation and democratic reform.

Of course, the opinion polls we still have a long way to go on that one and electoral math still tells that the Labour Party will not become ‘extinct’ at the next election and we won’t supplant them in terms of seats (unless something truly breathtaking happens) so right now the notion that we can go it alone on electoral reform and expect to magically make it happen is unrealistic. This is also what makes Stephen’s line sectarian; we should support the campaign as best we can, even if the motivation is less than ‘high-minded’….


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2 responses to “Stephen’s sectarianism…..”

  1. Stephen Tall says :

    Thanks for the response, Darrell – a little less shouty than the contributors at Comment Is Free!

    I’ve no problems with dealing with the politics of pragmatism/expediency (delete according to taste). What I think would be dangerous – and the central thrust of my article – would be for the Lib Dems to latch-on to a campaign that’s clearly being orchestrated by those who have Labour’s interests at heart first and foremost, rather than democracy’s.

    If Labour sprung a referendum on PR on the British public now in a naked attempt to save their own seats, it would be defeated, and defeated big. That would be a disaster for the cause of electoral reform. If the Lib Dems supported Labour in doing it, it would also be a disaster for the party.


  2. darrellgoodliffe says :


    Thanks for the comment.

    I can see the point but I think there is a wider one that needs to be addressed and that is even pragmatically speaking the Labour Party offers the best hope we have of electoral reform. Plenty of democratic reform has happened out of the expediency of preserving the status quo but the point is that if things get to that point then usually it’s a forced concession.

    Therefore, if a strong campaign involving both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour left were to force this from below as it were then that would fundementally change things and the very nature of the concession. If we stand aside then we miss that chance to shape something for what I think are sectarian reasons because we are putting the interests of this organisation (or our antipathy to another) before the wider cause.


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