Non-Tribal Tribalism

Just before the election, Anna and I were in the car listening to one of Martha Kearney’s lunchtime discussions on the World At One. The question arised of whether her guests – who included David Owen and Cecil Parkinson – had ever voted for another party. Even over the airwaves, you could hear the guests shuffle in their seats. Vote – gasp! – for another party? Even as a youthful indiscretion, such an admission betokens the death knell for a party politician’s career. Even Nick Clegg squirmed a bit when asked about his voting record during the campaign. We, or at least the media, seem to expect our politicians always to have known where their bread was buttered. Are you now, and have you always been, an automaton?

This depressed us both – what is the virtue of such tribalism? The idea that, if Cecil Parkinson had always voted Tory, he would somehow be a better Tory for it seems absurd. A more unthinking Tory, perhaps; a more blinkered Member of Parliament. Never to have considered another position (even, horror of horrors, allowed oneself to see sense in it) is surely not a desirable quality in anyone paid to consider issues. Political parties should not be treated like football teams.

All of which is by way of introduction to saying my Labour Party membership card arrived today. Friends will know I’ve been considering joining since at least the 2009 European elections; I’m a bit disappointed in myself for joining the nevertheless welcome influx of support following the 2010 General Election defeat. I distrust the leftist flocking to Labour’s troubled, if far from sinking, ship – we should not enjoy Opposition when every day we are in it is a day in which the Tories damage the communities we care about. Losing is not more righteous; defeat doesn’t make Labour Party membership any more or less valid. In the spirit of suppressing tribalism, allow me nevertheless to say that I still have big issues with what is now my party; but those issues are a reason to join – to stop carping and to do something.

I wrote in April: “I was ready to be won over by the Lib Dems; that tax problem I found in their manifesto felt like a deal-breaker. Vote For Policies, meanwhile, showed – confirmed – that on most issues I am over-whelmingly with Labour. This almost-but-not-quite match is all you can expect.” That sort of honest fellow-travelling might be out of fashion, but it is the spirit in which I join Labour: as the only meaningful vehicle for social justice in this country, even as it falls short.

Never fear, regular readers: I’ll be refraining from using this blog to go on about activist politics. Music, SF, books and history still the focus.

2 thoughts on “Non-Tribal Tribalism

  1. Even as a youthful indiscretion, such an admission betokens the death knell for a party politician’s career.

    Not convinced. Plenty of people have defected into powers (Woodward and Adonis spring to mind) and surely that is far more of a stigma to overcome than merely your voting record.

  2. You would think. And yet witness the contortions I mention. Parkinson in particular did a nice little squirm – he of course was a Labour supporter at university. ‘Death knell’, yes, was a bit of sarcasm – but there’s a definite shifting of the bum when a politician is asked about particularly his or her political youth.

    MPs crossing the floor (and SDP/Liberal defections are even trickier) is a separate issue to voting record, and you’re right that it can sometimes pay dividends for the crosser. But I’d also point out that Adonis and Woodward both experience real distrust within the Labour Party. You might also want to look at the experience of – ha! – Quentin Davies.

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