What is a political Party?


Yesterday 700,000 people marched through London demanding a second vote. Lib Dems were at the heart of that protest and at the heart of a wider liberal movement. We now need to show that there are other major issues as well as Brexit where our values coincide with those of many, many more people

You may think I should know the answer to this question. After all I have been a member of one for 51 years. But recently two things, one negative and one positive have made me think again.

My definition of a political party has always been, “a group of people with common ideals who come together to seek power to try and get those ideals implemented”. However, I don’t see much of that today in the so called ‘comrades’ in the Labour Party either locally or nationally. I tweeted the other day, “I thought they hated me but they hate each other even more!”

At a national level I see Labour are now a deeply misogynist and racist Party with their treatment of those of the Jewish faith; women and people of trans identity. This is not me as an outsider saying this. It is what I see Labour members saying every day on social and traditional media.

These are not the only problems. Brexit has split the leadership from the membership. Every poll shows the majority of the Labour Party; a majority of Labour MPs and a majority of Labour councillors favour a referendum on BREXIT now that the facts of the departure from Europe are clear. Why isn’t the Labour Party uniting behind this majority? Because Corbyn and McDonnell don’t like and have never liked the EU. They believe it to be a capitalist cartel and want to replace it with a socialist cartel. It was an absolute disgrace that not one Labour Front Bencher was present as 700,000+ people marched for a ‘people’s vote’ yesterday.

Locally, women in the Labour Party are clearly not having their complaints dealt with probably. I bumped into 2 Labour Councillors yesterday and they told me about how hateful Labour meetings are with much talk, anger and plotting but very little work for the community. This, of course, happened in the 80s when Militant drove decent people out of the Party and left our City with a wrecked set of finances and reputation.

On the other hand, Vince Cable has started some very stimulating discussions with his thoughts about party membership; movements and supporters.

I personally believe that there is much support for a Supporters organisation around our Party. It builds well on what we do locally. I’d love to involve more people in our policy discussions both locally and nationally; I’d love to have a larger pool of people advocating on our behalf; I think it great to have people giving us information about local and national issues. There are some things that need sorting out but these are details. The Federal Board can make these decisions and we can get on with them. In fact, we already are!

However, I do not think that the idea that a Party can create a movement is valid. Political Parties can only be part of a movement. Labour is part of a wider labour movement; the Tories are part of a vested interest group; the Green Party is part of a green movement which in many ways includes the Lib Dems.

The only way that you can create a movement is by reaching out to other organisations and people. They are created by a fusion of ideas around common objectives. These ideas do not have to be as cohesive as those that come from a single Party but part of a broader stream of consciousness.

Somewhere, though there needs to be a clear demarcation between members and supporters. A line has to be drawn between those who want to help us and those that want to join us. I cannot see a system working where key decisions are made by people who do not join us and make the commitment to our ideals which is on our membership card and enshrined in our constitution.

I think that the way forward is to agree a set of relationships between supporters and the Party which might be part of making a movement. Those relationships will be forged best by us more clearly enunciating our policies. Not creating new ones because we have plenty of strong and radical polices which would shape the way our country is run and provide a very different way of running our finances; education; housing; health service; energy supplies et al.

We have the policies but we are not angry enough about the conditions which make those policies necessary. We need to be clearer about the threats to our environment; the abject poverty in which too many of our people live; about the appalling housing that people ensure which creates illness and burdens on the NHS; about the erosion of our civil liberties; about an education service which stifles initiative.

Make these things clearer and we can find allies, many of whom will not join us, but will work alongside us as part of a wider liberal movement. Yesterday 700,000 people marched sharing an ideal and we were at the heart of it because our policies on Europe are clear and consistent. When people know how clear and consistent we are with 5 more policies we will be heart of a movement for liberal change.

This is not just Vince’s job or the Parliamentarian’s job. It is the job of every party member to be angry about the problems our communities face and voluble about the solutions that we propose.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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