I remember a conversation which I had some time ago, which may actually just have been with myself, about the alliance that made up the Gladstonian Liberal Party after it formed in 1859.
It was said then and now to have been an alliance between the Whigs, the Radicals and the Non-conformists.
Presumably, I said, the conformist radicals joined Labour, as the conformist Whigs became Tories…
That was hardly fair. But even so, I thought of it when last week I heard that Neal Lawson, the founder of the Compass thinktank was facing an investigation and possible expulsion from the Labour Party, because of a tweet he is supposed to have sent back in 2021, in favour of a local Green Party candidate.
Now I don’t know Neal particularly well, though he’s always shown a healthy interest in my thinktank activities.
Yet I believe that the Compass line on the importance of getting progressive parties together locally may in the end be the only way forward for anyone who does not regularly vote Conservative.
As a lifelong Liberal, I have to be persuaded every time to include the Labour Party in my personal list of ‘progressives’ – but Neal always does that for me.
I note that the Compass website lists the parties he wants to co-operate with as including ‘social liberals’, Greens, Plaid Cymru, the WEP and SNP.
I’m not sure why there is that distinction between Lib Dems, but I can overlook that.
The thought that there is a unit in the Labour Party that would take two years to uncover a tweet by him – which, as I understand it, was simply a retweet of one by Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, saying that they had agreed a local pact with the Greens in west Oxford.
The French philosopher Jacques Ellul – the man said to have coined the term ‘think globally, act locally’ – used to argue that, to fight someone, one tended to become like them. That may now be true of Labour who, in fighting the Tories under Johnson, now risk looking increasingly like them.
The decision to think about expelling Neal Lawson from the party he has given so may years to is deeply depressing. It’s like trying to link up with Tony Blair’s New Labour project, only to find yourself shackled to John Prescott – a scenario horribly familiar to Paddy Ashdown’s experience in 1997.
I had a dream that the next UK government might be a little more pluralist than it now appears that it is going to be.
I’m wondering now how long it will be before we are confronted by ID cads and other authoritarian horrors.
I also found myself agreeing with every word of a blog by Mark Perryman, from Lewes Labour Party in Sussex, written in Neal’s support.
“And Neal?” he wrote. “No, he didn’t choose the best example of cross-party co-operation to retweet and it was understandable in 2021 if some Oxford Labour members in 2021 were upset. A quiet word then yes, but wait two years to totally misrepresent his intent, no. And he’s gone public too – but this is what is known as ‘politics’. An intolerant party culture that can only be challenged behind closed doors? I’m sorry, but to put it politely, that’s an oxymoron.”
Meanwhile, this is what Compass believes after it threw its membership open to people of all parties and of none:
“We strongly believe that while Labour remains fundamentally important, no single issue or party can usher in a Good Society alone.”
I quite agree.