The creation of The Independent Group by seven former Labour MPs comes, of course, with all sorts of interest for the Liberal Democrats. The reaction has generally been a warm one, and also comes with some lessons for the party.
First, that although many people have joined the party recently, including from both Labour and the Conservatives, there is a real limit to the power of saying ‘well, just join us then’. Plenty of people share, to varying degrees, the party’s values but do not, currently at least, finding the idea of joining the party that attractive.
That’s part of why creating a registered supporter scheme is so important. It is a way of building bridges with and drawing in some of those for whom the answer to ‘well, just join us then’ is ‘no thanks’.Second, however things turn out, the stronger the Liberal Democrats are, the more likely they are to turn out the way we would like. That makes May’s local council elections even more important – a point particularly worth bearing in mind in parts of the country with plenty of party members but no local elections themselves in May. (Hello, London!) May is a crucial opportunity to both provide the party with momentum and demonstrate what the party can offer.
Third, there will be plenty of difficult decisions to make about who is welcome, who is to be worked with, who is to be tolerated and who is to be shunned. That is best done in the context of robust but good-natured internal debate. There’s a lesson to remember from the experiences of the Alliance and the amount of damage that can come from failing to do that.