Standing for public office on behalf of the Liberal Democrats is a team game, not a solo enterprise.
There’s a lot that rests behind that simple point. One is about candidate support: they may be the front person, but the rest of us are the team who should be supporting and helping them.
Another is about campaign choices: what one candidate chooses to do or say has an impact on others, standing elsewhere. That’s why I’m in the millimetre-perfect camp of bar charting: it’s right in principle, but also right as a team player because what you put out in your campaign can get quoted back to your colleagues standing elsewhere.
That’s why for me one of the red lines in any discussions about whether the party should stand in particular seats is that the decisions need to be made by the team, not the individual. What one person, or one local party, decides to do has implications for everyone else. All those volunteers slogging their guts out in other election campaigns deserve to have their perspectives and interests taken into account to.
There are definitely things the party needs to learn about how the Unite to Remain talks and consultations were carried out internally. But the basic approach – that the party overall agrees a package – was the right one.
That’s why therefore it’s regrettable if an individual Lib Dem PPC decides unilaterally to stand down. If someone feels strongly that standing in a seat is the wrong move, then, of course, they’re free not to go for selection and even also to decide to quietly spend their time campaigning in another seat.
But once you decide to opt in to being a member of the team of candidates, then there’s an onus of respecting that in what you then do next.
That matters of course at the moment in particular because any Lib Dem candidate who pulls out in favour of Labour is, in addition, doing three other things.
First, they risk making it much harder for their colleagues contesting other seats to win. Quite simply, giving the Conservatives the opportunity to say in all the many Lib Dem – Conservative battles to say ‘the Lib Dems are standing aside for Jeremy Corbyn’s candidate’ is making the work of those fellow candidates, their volunteer teams and their staff colleagues much harder. The bitter irony is that by doing that, the risk is that the net effect will be to reduce the number of Remain MPs in Parliament.
Second, they are taking a huge gamble over Britain’s place in the EU. Don’t forget what Labour’s policy is: it is to have a referendum in which Jeremy Corbyn has – repeatedly and directly – kept open the option of him campaigning for Britain to leave the EU. Labour’s policy is one that deliberately leaves open the choice of a Labour PM campaigning (cheered on, of course, by the right-wing Tory Brexiters) to leave the EU. That’s not the policy of a party fully committed to Remain.
Third, racism is abhorrent. We need to stand up to it. I know many people in the Labour party have struggled with the conflicting pulls of their own party loyalty and the macabre reality that the Labour Party’s own record is now so shockingly poor that it is under official investigation by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. But if someone is choosing to stand under the Labour name, they are choosing to stand in the name of a party that has failed so badly on racism. Remember, the EHRC isn’t exactly a body to investigate political parties lightly. In fact, the EHRC and its predecessor has only ever investigated one other political party: the BNP. Which means simply saying ‘let’s not stand and let’s support Labour instead’ comes with a heavy cost in terms of what it says to the victims, friends and colleagues of such racism.
Where seat deals have been mutually negotiated with parties that are fully committed to Remain and who are not under investigation by the ECHR then, of course, the above doesn’t apply.
As for Labour…
If Labour had been willing to have seat talks, who knows where they would have ended up – though any mutual deals would have at least provide a benefit to help cancel out the drawbacks above and could have been limited only to candidates clearly committed to Remain and to implementing the EHRC’s recommendations.
But Labour spurned talks and instead has gone for the snobbery and privileged route of saying – you’re awful, we hate you, we won’t talk to you… but we expect you to do just what we want.
They’re free to behave in such an elitist way if they wish. And we are absolutely free to respond, ‘no thank you’.
Two links of relevance to the above:
- The new Lib Dem candidate for Canterbury.
- High Peak’s Labour MP has a record that should make liberals pause.
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