Thursday, 12 July 2007

A Tale of Rats (and Sinking Ships)

I can't believe it's been three weeks since I last posted. It's been a thoroughly hectic time at home and at work and on top of that I've managed to fit in a couple of visits to the by-election at Ealing Southall. If you're a Liberal Democrat and reading this, go if you can to either Ealing or Sedgefield and help Nigel Bakhai and Greg Stone respectively who are worthy candidates and would make great MPs.

I spoke to a Lib Dem by-election veteran at Southall and he said the campaign reminded him of the Littleborough & Saddleworth by-election of 1995. In that contest, the incumbent Conservative MP died but the constituency battle was between Labour and the Lib Dems. In the end, the LDs won narrowly though Labour managed a significant increase in its vote share. I couldn't get a strong feel of what was happening on the ground but an LD win with the Conservatives a close second and Labour a poor third isn't entirely implusible. I'm going for Polling Day so I may see some of you there.

The Ealing Southall campaign has been dominated by the defection of five Labour Councillors to the Conservatives. These include Gurcharan Singh who had contested the Labour candidacy and had failed to be adopted. We were then led to believe he and his colleagues had defected "on principle" to the Tories.

I'm sorry but that's a complete load of rubbish and most serious political observers (as distinct from Tory bloggers) will know this. Defections are rarely about principle or policy - they are far more often about pique and personality. Personal differences within Council groups have seen these groups implode such as happened to the Tory group on Tendring DC earlier this year.

Parliamentary defections may be wrapped up in the high language of moral indignation and principle but usually they are fairly tawdry examples of frustrated ex-ministers, failed backbenchers or those who have never been seen worthy of advancement jumping ship. I fear that may be true of most of the key defections of the past twenty years.

To be fair, even that Tory icon, Winston Churchill, defected not once but twice. Elected a Conservative, he crossed the floor to join the Liberals in 1904 before returning to the Conservatives in 1924.

Let's be honest - few defectors ever seem truly at ease in their new party though I note Emma Nicholson and Shaun Woodward as obvious exceptions and it may be that Gurcharan Singh will find the Conservatives more to his liking but I suspect not.

As for me, I've been a Liberal and Liberal Democrat since 1978 and I've never seriously considered joining another party though the local Tories did "court" me on a couple of occasions in the mid-80s and again, through an ex-SDP friend who crossed over to them in 1991, in the early 90s.

IF I were ever to resign my membership of the LDs, it would be to leave active politics completely and sit on the sidelines and re-consider my views or allow the parties to re-consider theirs. That, to me, seems the principled thing to do.

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