Tag Archives: defections

#LDConf: Defective Nuance

After years of being ignored and disparaged, the Liberal Democrats are suddenly the place to be. As well as a successful by-election, over the past few months a total of 6 MPs have joined the party, 3 ex-Labour and 3 ex-Conservative (the careful balancing suggests that there is a certain amount of stage management going on, and that there may yet be more to come), swelling the parliamentary party from 11 to 18.

This has caused a degree of consternation among the party faithful, not to mention some high profile resignations. It’s certainly given me pause for thought, especially with regard to the Conservative defections.

Now, to a large extent, I’m willing to give these people the benefit of the doubt. Philip Lee has apparently stated that his proposals to ban HIV+ asylum seekers was motivated purely out of health concerns and the desire to give asylum seekers the proper treatment; okay (that isn’t what his amendment actually says though). He claims that his abstention on same sex marriage was because he is in favour of all marriages being treated as civil unions and that the state shouldn’t be involved in marriages at all; that isn’t a million miles from my own position (not believing in letting the perfect be the enemy of the good however, I still would have voted in favour of the 2013 Act in his position). Sam Gyimah’s filibustering of the legislation pardoning Alan Turing and other people convicted of scrapped anti-homosexuality laws was a party political bid to ensure that the government’s own (lesser) version of the legislation could be passed instead; that is parliamentary party politics.

I can go further, and say that people must be allowed to change their minds. People grow, especially when placed in different environments. Party politics is a shocking place for tribalism and blinkered attitudes. Defecting to another party is a brave step which inevitably leads to people’s voting records and statements being trawled over with a fine tooth comb; you have to make some allowances for people to not be perfect. What’s more, there is the good of the country to think about. With Labour as weak and divided as it is right now, looking very much like a spent force, high profile defections aimed at boosting the Liberal Democrat’s profile and widening its appeal is a potential way out of this mess.

So I don’t want to rush to judgement on the voting records of individual ex-MPs, can see why there are a lot of positives about these defections, and why the senior party is so keen to encourage them.

But I still hate it. Really hate it.

I hate it so much that, at the height of the party being at it’s most self-congratulatory on Saturday night, as Sam Gyimah was revealed on stage during the conference rally, I had to go on a Twitter break as it was upsetting me too much (I might give it another go after conference is safely over). I had another sleepless night. And hey, it’s 2am now so I guess I’d better make that 2 sleepless nights.

Whatever good reasons there are to promote these defections, the fact is that it has caused massive ructions within the LGBT+ Lib Dems, resulting in its Chair Jennie Rigg, Vice Chair Zoe O’Connell and exec member Sarah Brown to all quit the party, along with several others.

These aren’t people known for their disloyalty to the party. Many of the people most angry about this round of defections actively supported the party during the darkest days of the coalition, when people like me had long abandoned it. The fact that previous regimes had managed to keep them on board, only for it to fall apart now, suggests a very significant failure in both communication and empathy from the current senior Lib Dem team.

A lot of, to use the modern garbage phrase, “the optics” have not been great. Philip Lee’s first response in an interview on BBC News was not to be conciliatory but to imply legal action, stating that “they’re defaming my character and they should be careful about what they say”. A later statement put out by Baroness Liz Barker and Helen Belcher, while making some fair points, frames the controversy as emanating from “a small number of activists” who, as well as accusing Lee of homophobia and xenophobia, felt that “they should have been consulted” – no mention is made of the fact that these activists included the chair of the party’s officially recognised Associate Organisation representing LGBT+ members, let alone any regret that they felt the need to resign.

I feel that too much of this controversy has focused on individuals and not looked at broader trends. We’re still reeling from a party leader who not only declared that homosexuality is a sin (a point that a number of his fellow Christians would take issue with), but that his failure to reconcile that with his leadership of a political party espousing liberal values was liberalism’s failure, not his.

But Tim Farron is ancient history now, even if he remains on the party front bench and will presumably continue to abstain or obstruct any future legislation for gay rights (we’ll have that fight if and when it happens). The swathe of rightwing populism that has resulted in Trump in the US and Brexit in the UK, has also resulted in a nationwide campaign against the rights of transgender people, leading to a massive spike in hate crime. It has lead to an ongoing campaign in Birmingham to ban the teaching of acceptance of LGBT+ people in schools, a campaign actively supported by at least one Labour MP, who remains under the party’s whip (a fact which automatically denies any Labour supporter from taking the moral high ground over the Lib Dems’ own current situation).

Let’s be clear here: we’re seeing a concerted effort to see, in effect, a return of Section 28 – the homophobic legislation banning local authorities from providing any material designed to “promote” homosexuality. And at the same time, we have a national government shutting down parliament and openly attacking the very concept of rule of law.

None of these fights are lost, but I know I’m not the only queer person who can feel the walls closing in on them right now, and is deeply concerned about where all this leads. Having visited Berlin over the summer, I was reminded how the rich, diverse and progressive Weimar-era Berlin culture was snuffed out within a few years. The ease with which the progress we’ve made over LGBT+ rights over the past couple of decades could go into reverse feels very real to me.

More mundanely, there’s the Lib Dems’ own ambivalent experience of defections from the Conservatives in recent years. With the exception of Bill Newton-Dunn, I can’t think of any prominent former Conservative who has managed to make a happy home within the party, and a lot of who have shat the bed while they were in the party. I joined the Lib Dems in 1995, shortly before Emma Nicholson defected to the party; she now sits as a Conservative in the House of Lords. We had the whole debacle of the Pro-Euro Conservative Party joining the party en masse in 2001 after their failure to win any seats in the previous European Election. Among them was future IEA director and prominent, um, Brexiteer Mark Littlewood. This brief excitement about the thought of masses of Tory defections lead to the creation of the Peel Group, but no more prominent actual defectors. You can draw a direct link between this network and the Orange Book, and of course between the Orange Book and many of the most damaging decisions the Lib Dems made while in coalition between 2010 and 2015.

For me, that’s the background: the prospect of the party re-examining its identity once again at a time when the basic rights of LGBT+ people are more open to question than they have been for years. Yet despite all that, I can see the potential wins and I can see the bigger picture. All I’d really like to see is reassurances rather than the contemptuous dismissal we saw in the Barker-Belcher statement, or waffle about Lee having “a very nuanced position”.

Fundamentally, if the Lib Dems are to take a moral stand against supporting Labour over its failure to tackle antisemitism, we can’t then start telling our own LGBT+ members that when it comes to discrimination against them, it’s all a question of nuance and pragmatism. I’m sure a lot of this debacle has been provoked by egos rubbing up against each other, but ultimately I don’t give a fig about that. The party needs to sort this out, and fast.

Tories lose 4 MPs in less than a year – will James Gray be number 5?

Quentin Davies – defected
Andrew Pelling – whip withdrawn over allegations of wife-beating
Derek Conway – whip withdrawn over expenses scandal
Bob Spink – whip withdrawn before he could resign. Now a member of UKIP.

My prediction at the start of the year that Cameron would have a bad year has remained unfulfilled, but this has mainly because Labour are having such a God awful year that Cameron’s problems have faded into the background. But losing 4 MPs – 2% of the total Parliamentary Party – in less than a year suggests a shambles whichever way you look at it.

How long before we see Cameron having to sack number 5? One MP who has survived scandal up until now has been James Gray. But for how long? The Mail reports:

Only last month, MPs of all parties were being urged not to hand out jobs to family members because of the scandal over Conway receiving taxpayers’ cash for his sons when they weren’t actually doing any work.

Now Gray, an ex-shadow defence spokesman, appears to have ridden roughshod over Cameron’s demand by putting Mrs Mayo on the payroll.

It is the latest twist in a sorry tale – and another act of bravado by the 53-year-old MP for North Wiltshire.

Last night he confirmed that mother-of-three Mrs Mayo, 45, was on his staff. “It is true, but I am not prepared to go into detail about my private life,” he told me.

In the wake of his split from Sarah, 53, it was disclosed he continued to pay her £2,400 a month from his staff allowance even though she had stopped work as his secretary two years before in order to undergo cancer treatment.

He secured permission to pay her until the terms of their separation were agreed last April. It is not known how much he is now paying Mrs Mayo.

See also: Wiltshire Gazette and Herald, Derek Conway: Shades of Gray?

EXCLUSIVE: I’m confused about who is a Tory and who is Labour

Can someone sort this out for me. Earlier today, Pravdale was claiming that the Tories had claimed another Labour scalp in Ealing, but Comical Tommy is claiming this is balls. Yet Pravdale still hasn’t issued a correction – which in fairness to him he usually does do relatively promptly. Either way, this potentially explosive story doesn’t appear to have had the same impact as Shappgate, which is odd.

So who is telling the truth?

In some respects, this is entirely understandable. I can’t tell the difference between Tories and Labour at the best of times these days, yadda yadda yadda…

Turning to the Dark Side

What a bizarre article by Iain Dale!

First, he makes a big deal out of the fact that Mark Oaten, apparently, came “very close” to defecting to the Tories in Autumn 2005. Work that date out in your head for a minute. Posterity records that Mark Oaten wasn’t exactly of sound mind at the time, and was apparently rather more interested in something else that is spelled very similarly to defection, but has an extra ‘a’.

Defecting to the Conservatives may well be a degrading form of self abuse, but I’m not sure it was Iain’s intention to make the link quite so explicit.

Oaten was apparently disappointed by the Lib Dems’ opposition to his ‘tough’ stance on crime. Yet Nick Clegg, also considered a prime candidate for defection, has done more than anyone else to bury Oaten’s ‘tough liberalism’ stance. So which type of Lib Dem do you want?

He goes on to talk about the need for secrecy when it comes to defections, and that careless talk costs them, only to reveal that Ed Vaizey has been given the job by Cameron to co-ordinate it all. Good job that’s still a secret, then.

And then there’s all those strange innuendos, that make it all sound rather like “Confessions of a Career Politician”. “[Vaizey’s] recent trip to the Arctic Circle with Nick Clegg may not have resulted in a defection, but eight hours a night in an igloo can hardly have failed to bring them closer.” F’narr f’narr! “[Shaun Woodward] was promised all manner of rewards (none of which has materialised) and made to feel wanted. But, at the last minute, he wobbled and the seduction turned into a brutal rape.” Err, we are still talking about defections, right?

This article can hardly have helped the Tory plan to get us all to sign up, and indeed makes it sound like the Tory frontbench spend rather too much time obsessing about it. It’s very flattering, but it does rather suggest that they aren’t feeling too confident about how they are likely to fare in the run up to the General Election, and need us to bail them out.

Liberal Review has more.