On Friday former Liberal Democrat policy director and Parliamentary candidate Richard Grayson announced more details of his response to Ed Miliband’s invitation to encourage Lib Dems to take part in Labour’s policy review.
The details came in the form of an article due to be published in Liberator:
I saw that invitation as part of an effort to move Labour away from the tribalism which has been such a feature of its past. I have long been committed to pluralism and have a history of working with people from other parties. I have done that for some time through Compass, and will be speaking at the Green Party conference in February. Consequently, I was very happy to accept, although I would not have done so unless I believed it was a genuine act of pluralism.
I appreciate why many Liberal Democrats have reservations about this offer. I understand the why some clearly in the centre-left mainstream of the party wish to remind the public of the failings of the previous Labour government. So they should. I would counter some of the more florid comments (such as the party’s formal response, ‘why would any sane progressive even give them [Labour] a second glance?’) simply by pointing out that Liberal Democrats already engage with Labour on an almost daily basis through think tanks. We have even recently learned of parliamentary discussions between Labour and both the Leader and Deputy Leader of our parties. However, many of the criticisms of my role are based on misunderstandings about what it involves.
The key part of his explanation is the view he takes of Ed Miliband:
Some in Labour have long been against the tribalism which has dominated the party, but they have seldom been in positions of influence, let alone leadership. Consequently, when Liberal Democrats have considered co-operating with Labour, the Labour leadership has been a barrier. However, I believe that Ed Miliband is different. He is clearly on the centre-left, firmly rooted in the territory inhabited by social democrats and social liberals. He is also different because he has opened the door to co-operation with people in other parties over policy development. He said last year, ‘Wisdom is not the preserve of any one party. Some of the political figures in history who I admire most are Keynes, Lloyd George, Beveridge, who were not members of the Labour Party.’ I am not sure how far Liberal Democrats have understood the significance of this. For the leader of the most tribal party to say it is groundbreaking. For him then to act on it by calling on people from outside Labour to engage in Labour’s policy process, while remaining in their own parties, is nothing less than revolutionary. Indeed, it goes further than the Liberal Democrats have ever done. While our policy process routinely encourages ‘experts’ to engage with policy working groups, we have never gone out of our way to seek contributions from people from, for example, Labour or the Greens.
After stressing that he is, and fully intends to remain, a Liberal Democrat member Grayson gives details of who else is joining him in this venture:
Thus far, in addition to myself, there are seven other former parliamentary candidates: Dr Ron Beadle (Newcastle-upon-Tyne North 2010), Ruth Bright (Hampshire East 2005), Linda Jack (Luton North 2005, Bedfordshire Mid 2010), Margaret Phelps (Cynon Valley 2005, Witham 2010), Nick Rijke (St Albans 2001), Tim Starkey (Chesham and Amersham 2010) and Prof John Howson (Reading East 2005). They will make contributions on issues such as public services, crime, the environment and business. They are joined by others with specific expertise: Prof Stephen Haseler (banking and finance), Simon Hebditch (charities/voluntary sector) and Dr Jo Ingold (labour markets). Some of these people have expressed concern about the coalition and the direction of the party, some are relatively happy with both and are engaging because they believe in pluralism. All can be relied upon to sound the alarm at the first instance if this is anything other than an exercise in political pluralism. But we can never know that unless we engage in the first place.
Given the previous reactions to news of Ed Miliband’s invitation, I’ve no doubt that Richard Grayson’s moves will provoke lively debate in the party. There should however be wide agreement on his final point, which is that nobody in the Liberal Democrats should want working with the Conservatives to be the only conceivable option in the party’s future. The question is more about what the best route is to avoid being trapped in a one-choice only future.
You can catch a discussion on the Today program with Richard Grayson 1 hour 20 minutes in at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00y5ckx/Today_11_02_2011