Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Do former SDP members really not care about Tim Farron's attempts to rewrite history?

Twenty-seven years ago, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party merged in acrimonious circumstances.  It was a genuine merger, rather than a takeover of one party by the other, and for an interim period the former leaders of each predecessor party served as joint leaders of the new Social and Liberal Democrats.  Even that name had been carefully chosen to ensure there could be no appearance of a takeover - the thinking was that putting the word 'Liberal' in the middle ensured the name couldn't be lazily shortened in common usage.  To some extent that proved to be a spectacular  delusion, because within just eighteen months the name had been officially changed to 'Liberal Democrats'.  But at least the retention of the word 'Democrats' was a symbolic reminder of the merger, and of the party's SDP heritage.

But now, for some bizarre reason, the likely new Lib Dem leader Tim Farron seems to want to "change the name back" to the Liberal Party.  If I was a former SDP member (like Vince Cable, Shirley Williams or Charles Kennedy), I'd be thinking : "How can you change 'back' to a name that has never previously been used?  You're talking about an entirely different party.  If I'd wanted to join the Liberal Party, I would have done so, but that's not what the merger was about."

Perhaps after the best part of three decades, such people are used to having their social democratic roots trashed, and are unlikely to walk off in a huff now.  But at the very least, Farron seems to be gratuitously going out of his way to alienate a significant number of his own members at a time when you'd think he'd be desperate to maintain as broad a church as possible (if you can call a party with eight MPs a 'broad church').  The idea that he's going to gain anything by way of brand identity is risible - does anyone seriously believe that the word "Democrat" is deterring people who would otherwise be gagging to vote for "the party of Gladstone and Lloyd George"?

One thing that has always irritated me about both Gordon Brown and Alex Salmond (and even Nicola Sturgeon) is their habit of referring to the Liberal Democrats as "the Liberals". It's like a calculated act of disrespect : "You're so insignificant that I can't be bothered remembering what you're calling yourselves this week."  But I may have to withdraw that complaint now, because if even the party's own leader has no respect for the official name and what it symbolises, why should anyone else?

38 comments:

  1. cf. "Scottish Nationalist Party"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Scottish National Party,just in case somebody never knew.Why would it bother anyone? I know you mean my party,SNP, and is that not what language is about transferring knowledge or meanings,I don't care much for the avid spellers or the must always have correct grammar,as long as I get the meaning I am happy with whatever anything is called,even myself been called lots of things over the years.

      Delete
  2. He's probably trying vainly to head off those of us who call them the FibDems on account of that broken vow (not that one, the first one), but I will just call them the Fiberals instead. So it is futile.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I tend to think of the "New Liberal Party" as more of a "broad pew".

    Can they not just join the Tory Party like their predessors "The National Liberals" did in the sixties. (Michael Heseltine was one of them).

    That would fix their dilemma - sorted!

    ReplyDelete
  4. The SNP has often been described as a broad church, even when they had only six MPs.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Aye, I've long said I'd like the SNP to remove the word nationalist party as, rightly or wrongly, it has a negative connotation.
    FWIW, I voted SNP and support independence but i'm not a nationalist.



    Mandela

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The word "nationalist" isn't in the party's name.

      Delete
  6. No your headline question, as a Lib Dem and someone who was old enough to vote SDP : not really, no.

    The SDP was 4 people, lasted 7 years, and 6 of those years were in an alliance with the Liberal Party, which has been around for about 200 years, give or take.

    There are people old enough to have voted in multiple general election who weren't even alive when the SDP ceased to exist as a separate party.

    So overall, meh. Lib Dems? Fine. Liberals? Fine. I'm more worried by the fact Tim Farron is an evangelical than I am about what name they put on the placards.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. *On* your headline question, sorry.

      Delete
    2. "as a Lib Dem and someone who was old enough to vote SDP"

      That was not the criteria!

      "The SDP was 4 people"

      Come off it. They had 29 MPs and thousands of members. In the early years, they were the senior partner in the SDP-Liberal Alliance. They may only have existed for seven years, but a lot of them had been social democrats in the Labour party for a lot longer than that. That's the heritage that is being trashed by Farron.

      Delete
    3. You're including the Liberals in that number as well though?

      I thought they had 6 MPs in 1983, and a quick shufty at Wikipedia says there were only 22 Alliance MPs in 1987.

      I admit it was a long time ago and I may well be mistaken, but I never remember the SDP having 20+ MPs...

      Delete
    4. No, I'm not including the Liberals in that number. I actually underestimated the figure - the SDP had 30 seats between 16th June 1982 (when our old friend George Cunningham belatedly defected from Labour) and 10th February 1983 (when Michael O'Halloran resigned the whip).

      Delete
    5. Yes, but those were all Labour defectors. You can't be claiming those as part of a proud SDP tradition, surely?

      They were all elected under a Labour rosette, the first time they stood as actual SDP candidates they got hammered and ended up with only 6 MPs left.

      Delete
    6. That is the social democratic tradition - it's a tradition that existed within Labour for generations before the SDP was even founded. That's the tradition that the Liberals merged with in 1988, and they were surely under no illusions about that.

      As for the SDP getting "hammered" in 1983, I'm not sure that's a claim that any supporter of proportional representation could possibly sustain. Labour got 29% of the vote, the SDP-Liberal Alliance got 26%.

      Delete
    7. Your point on the vote share is well made.

      But I do feel that overall the SDP are a pretty minor footnote in the two-century long annals of the Liberal party. Having said that, if you want to switch parties and campaign for the Liberal Democrats to be renamed the SDP in honour of their contribution in the 80's, then I offer my wholehearted support.

      We could do with another member, it's been so lonely...

      Delete
    8. In fact, I'll split the difference with you and we'll call them the Whigs.

      It'll get the hipster vote if nothing else...

      Delete
    9. The SDP aren't part of the annals of the "Liberal party" - that's the whole point! They're one of the Liberal Democrats' two predecessor parties - the Liberal party was the other.

      If I'd lived in England in 2005, I probably could have voted quite happily for the Lib Dems under Charles Kennedy (a former SDP MP, of course). But you're a very different party these days. Probably Farron will be a step in the right direction in some respects, but unfortunately he seems to have a severe attitude problem about Scotland.

      Delete
    10. Farron will drag the party left, which I wholeheartedly support. We've lost our way in recent years, as you can see from the comments below by former supporters.

      But he's a jesus freak of the highest order, and that I do not like one little bit.

      (This is Anon, I just thought for the benefit of clarity I'd use a name, and this the one my MI5 handlers game me).

      Delete
    11. Farron is described by Wikipedia as "a church-going Anglican"; doesn't exactly sound like he's got a compound in Wyoming. Anybody who claims to be worried by his supposed "evangelical" leanings really needs to make some serious studies of religion, what it is and what it's not, and mere "church- going Anglicans" are not something you put in the same basket as IS.

      Delete
    12. Farron's religious views aren't my specialist subject, but having done a quick search, he does seem to have been repeatedly quoted as saying he believes in the literal truth of every word of the Bible. I'm hoping that only applies to the New Testament.

      Delete
    13. If he was just a 'church-going Anglican' then I'd agree with you.

      But I won't editorialise, his stance on issues like gay marriage, faith healing, and some of his more 'interesting' quotes on the subject of religion are all pretty easily sourced. People can make their own minds up.

      Delete
  7. Mandela: You voted SNP yet you think they're called the Scottish Nationalist Party? Aye right, have you even been to Scotland?

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm a founder member of the SDP and I couldn't care less what Fallon calls the libdems. I was driven off a couple of years ago by the fanatical and suicidal anti-Federalist leadership who took us into Better Together instead of using being in government to force through a third option on the ballot. Like every other Scottish federalist I still know, I'm now in the SNP.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Speaking for myself; Be they Social Lib. Dems, Lib Dems.or Libs I don't give a shit.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Well, at least it injects a degree of honesty into the name. I have found the Liberal Democrats in recent years to be not particularly liberal, and deeply undemocratic in the things that they have said.

    I have always been an SNP supporter but long considered the Lib Dems to be a party that I might vote for if there were no SNP. That has changed over the last five years or so and they will never get my vote as long as I live. The only other party that might ever get my vote are the Greens. I find myself struggling to argue with a lot of what Patrick Harvey says.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed. I think the greens will take over that ex Lib vote and I can see a lot of their voters going green.
      For us up here , I think there will be a strong green showing at HR election as they get their rewards on the list vote for supporting indy.

      Delete
  11. I'm told there were some really distressed elderly Liberals at the Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale count last week. Old school Liberals from pre-David Steel days, who had campaigned for the party all their lives. They used to own the territory. They lost their deposit last week with only 2.7% of the vote.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I enjoy Liberal Democrats of the Menzies Campbell vintage. They're a special kind of openly born-to-rule patrician, alarmed when the lower orders speak without leave, that you otherwise don't get in politics anymore.

      Delete
  12. James, your concern for the democratic tradition in the Liberal Democrats is commendable, coming as it does from an open opponent with a declared party loyalty.

    It does however sit uneasily alongside your long-running dispute with many commenters here about the tactical use of list voting in next year's Holyrood election. As a democrat with independence as your priority you seem to have confused party advantage with the achievement of our common goal.

    Your argument is already known. My point is that in order to run a government it may be no bad thing that - as a party - the SNP lose relatively in the percentage makeup of the new chamber and be under far more pressure to be more than just pleasant to the Greens and the SSP. in order to run an administration.

    The Libdems look doomed in Scotland, how their vote will split is anyone's guess. But there is a huge tranche of ex Slab voters in some parts of the country who might try giving the SSP a punt if they can really get their act together.

    Getting Tommy to rejoin the band might get them a hit - on to Eurovision!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "It does however sit uneasily alongside your long-running dispute with many commenters here about the tactical use of list voting in next year's Holyrood election. As a democrat with independence as your priority you seem to have confused party advantage with the achievement of our common goal."

      Rubbish. My primary concern about the misguided view that "tactical voting" on the list is even possible is that it will reduce the number of pro-independence MSPs at Holyrood, and perhaps even directly lead to an anti-independence majority (even if the SNP cling on as a minority administration). How that brings our common goal forward is beyond me.

      Delete
    2. Thank you for that reply.

      You know the intricacies of the d'Hondt system far better than me and I would be grateful if you could provide a provable rule that will apply in all circumstances that numerical disadvantage to the independence cause is the inevitable outcome of tactical voting.

      I am genuinely undecided on this matter and rely on sites like this to inform my opinion. My point was that if a slight loss of party advantage to the SNP is offset by an influx of Green and SSP representatives that would be a widening and strengthening of support for independence.

      Delete
    3. "if you could provide a provable rule that will apply in all circumstances that numerical disadvantage to the independence cause is the inevitable outcome of tactical voting"

      That's not the claim I made - I never said "in all circumstances" and I never said "inevitable". But for tactical voting to be rational, people need to have well-founded confidence that it's unlikely to backfire. That isn't possible on the list vote, because there are too many variables. You'd need advance knowledge of the result of nine or ten constituency elections (even if you were only wrong about one or two that could prove disastrous), and you'd need very precise foreknowledge of how both the SNP and the Greens are likely to fare on the list.

      Delete
    4. Your analysis is sound if we were discussing a theoretical scenario in an evidence free environment. Fortunately we have evidence from past elections on which we can can base our judgements about what is the best course of action in the future.

      Surely, given the current mood, plus the trend from past elections, it is not beyond the wit of man to agree to vote SNP in all constituency votes and to apply local knowledge to effect the maximum advantage in the list vote?

      Now that we have the prospect of a whole summer of British and Scottish Labour tearing themselves apart while the Tories take a blowtorch to the rights of the poor, the Scots and human rights the independence movement has a golden opportunity to embed a new politics here as entirely the way things are done.

      WRT the niceties of the d'Hondt system, how, for example would a result of all constituencies voting SNP, then the list vote being:

      SNP - 45%
      Slab - 25%
      Tory - 15%
      Green
      or SSP - 10%

      compare to;

      SNP - 35%
      Slab - 20%
      Tory - 15%
      Green
      or
      SSP - 30?

      ( I left out UKIP for simplicity's sake)

      Delete
    5. "Fortunately we have evidence from past elections on which we can can base our judgements about what is the best course of action in the future."

      Indeed we do. The clear evidence from the last two Holyrood elections is that opinion polls are likely to significantly overestimate Green support on the list, thus creating the danger that SNP supporters will be tempted into "tactical voting" on the list, and that it will backfire horribly.

      Delete
    6. With all respect James, you are stacking assumption upon assertion upon speculation based on the rather shaky foundation that the accuracy of pollsters should be some kind of determinant in making a political decision.

      If we begin with an assessment that pro-independence parties can expect around 60% of the vote ( SNP, Green, SSP) and the opposition about 35% (Slab, Scon, Slib, Ukip) with the remainder going to independents or campaign groups, is there no way that the numbers can be made to maximise the independence effect of the vote?

      Delete
    7. With equal respect, there's so much wrong with that comment that it's difficult to know where to start. I'm on my mobile at the moment, I'll address it in depth when I get a chance.

      Delete
    8. I rather suspect the LimpConDoms have few of the original SDP members active. I was involved in the SDP at the start, amazed at the 'lets do something' fervour and quite swept up in it all. From the moment it merged with the Libs, the movement fizzled and for me, the reason was simple. The Libs were all about politics whereas the SDP was about change and the future.
      Finally, we've seen what happens when the political politicians face the judgement of an informed electorate, despite MSM's best efforts.

      Delete