The perils of being Lib Dem Chief Whip in the next Parliament

In a typically thoughtful piece about the Liberal Democrat election strategy, Stephen Tall made this point about the risks of fighting the next election as a series of Parliamentary by-elections:

As MPs come to realise that their brand is more important than the party’s there will be ever more temptation to project themselves as independent Lib Dems. Sometimes this will be for entirely principled reasons — disagreements over policy — other times because it’s the locally popular thing (the two may may or may not always be the same thing). Either way it could become much harder to project a coherent vision of what it is the Lib Dems stand for.

In many ways this wouldn’t be so much new as a return to the party’s past – or rather that of one of its predecessors, the Liberal Party.

Accounts in their memoirs from former Liberal MPs such as Paddy Ashdown and Paul Tyler paint a far from flattering picture of how many of their Liberal colleagues in the House of Commons behaved. Teamwork was not exactly a priority of good number of them, nor was concern for the party outside their own constituency. The contrast with the current Parliamentary Party, facing far greater strains yet also showing a far greater willingness to try to work together, is striking.

However one of the reasons for that change is also one of the reasons why the job of the next Liberal Democrat Chief Whip (for current incumbent Don Foster is standing down in 2015) may not be quite so hard as you might think from Stephen’s point.

It’s that many of the current MPs have been helped in election and re-election by far greater party resources coming in from outside their constituency – above all members travelling to help – than was the case for the Liberal Party prior to the targeting revolution taking hold at Westminster election level.

That direct understanding of how much your fate has rested on the help of others in the party is a powerful prompt to being less isolationist and myopic than the sort of figures who cause Ashdown and Tyler to shudder so much in their recollections.

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