Neal Lawson and James Graham: All your base are belong to us

The cat is now well and truly out of the bag and it will be interesting to see how the blogosphere responds. Beyond the usual “OMG!!1! YOU’VE SOLD OUT TO ZaNuPFLieBore!?!11!” of course.

I thought I’d add a few comments here in a vain attempt to clear a few things up and prebut some of the more predictable criticisms.

The first thing is, we are calling for a coalition of ideas and thus social liberal-minded (and liberal socialist-minded) individuals from all parties and none, not some kind of pact or deal between the Lib Dems and Labour. I am personally quite sceptical about how a coalition between the two parties could be steered in the event of a hung parliament next year. But this isn’t about positioning and all the sorts of things which obsessed the architects of the “Project” in the 1990s. It is interesting to note that Neal Lawson and I were on differing sides of that particular debate. Neal has become deeply sceptical of what he called that “coalition of five individuals” approach at our joint Social Liberal Forum/Compass fringe this evening. Meanwhile I have come to learn the importance of developing a cross-party dialogue between people with shared goals across the political divide. The right are much more effective at that (look at the chumminess between Nigel Farage, Dan Hannan and Mark Littlewood despite the latter’s principled and fundamental disagreement with the former two on the issue of Europe).

The second point is that this is certainly not on my part in any way about making excuses for Labour’s horrendous record on civil liberties. I broached this with Neal at our fringe this evening, challenging him on (for example) the failure of Compass No Turning Back statement at few months ago to offer a critique on Labour over civil liberties. While acknowledging that he sees Liberal Democrats has providing a valuable critique for Labour members regarding the civil liberties agenda (just as Labour members can offer a critique when it comes social justice), he did state that for him, Tony Blair’s attempt to impose 90 days detention without charge is the one issue which nearly caused him to resign from the party. Compass did indeed mobilise a grassroots campaign in opposition to that proposal which played a major role in stopping Blair from getting his own way on that occasion. If I didn’t believe Compass were allies when it comes to reversing the database state and this attack on civil liberties (even if they do on occasion require a little jostling), I would have resisted us even beginning this dialogue.

Anyway, those are the two most obvious brickbats hopefully broken. What do have to say for yourselves blogosphere?


  1. Perhaps you are right, but the post seems rather defensive. It is a little depressing should an ideas debate be seen by many as threatening to ideological or partisan purity, and your contrast with the right in being able to cooperate across areas of disagreement is a good point. Eg, I thought the two Fabian events this weekend in which there was a good bit of common ground on the public argument for universalism was a good thing.

    The piece is fine, as far as it goes, but very much at the level of high generalities, perhaps inevitably given co-authorship.

    An interesting question over time for both Compass in Labour and for the Social Liberal Forum in the LibDems is how far this little tents idea will turn out to mean pluralism both within and between the parties of the centre-left. I suspect there could some chance (perhaps in one or other party, rather than both) that the primary appeal of cross-party cooperation is that it could help to pursue factional arguments within the respective parties.

  2. Perhaps you are right, but the post seems rather defensive.

    Come on Sunder, you can hardly be surprised at my prebuttal mode when the instant response from the organisation you have been working with for the past three years to promote Lib Dem-Labour dialogue has been to denounce us as freedom-hating, pessimistic socialists?

  3. Makes perfect sense to me. I loathe this government as much as anyone, but the Neal Lawsons and Sam Tarrys and so on within the Labour party I have a lot of time for. We’re meant, after all, to be advocates of PR and inter-party co-operation.

  4. And yes (just saw your post on Twitter) I can see the relevance of this to the stuff I had to say about ‘big tents’, but I like the ‘camp site’ metaphor. I have no problem at all with working *with* Labour – it’s working *for* them I don’t like.
    Now if you can just get the commenters on that article to see that distinction…

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