Saturday, 24 May 2014

How to solve a problem like inertia

For a party that prides itself for being level headed in nature with a predilection for calm and open discourse, we Lib Dems aren't doing very well at the moment. It can't have been easy for all those candidates and Cllrs that lost on Thursday. It was difficult enough watching the vitriolic glee on Twitter throughout the past few days. Our response thus far seems to be to grab the nearest knife and reach for the net.

At this point you'll be assuming I'm about to launch into a lengthy diatribe on the fate of Nick Clegg, but frankly I don't care that much either way at the moment. We have a far bigger problem to deal with. The party has always had its various wings. Being a party that believes in liberalism will do that to you. It's a difficult concept to pin down to a single definition or outcome. But at the moment we have two wings that seem determined to tear us asunder, and I think most of us are stuck in the middle.

On one side we have the idealists. "We should never have entered the Coalition. Clegg and the Orange Bookers are dragging us inexorably to electoral suicide. UKIP are stealing our votes because of tuition fees. We need a new leader now, or better yet yesterday. Stop blaming us."

On the other side we have the pragmatists. "The Coalition was a marriage of necessity. We need to be grown up about this. Parties in Government lose Cllrs. Accept it. Only we can change it by working harder. Put your knives away and fire up your Risos. Stop blaming everyone else."

Both arguments have some merit. HQ does seem to have lost the ear of a lot of activists, not least because it is kind of obvious that being grown up works for the larger parties because they can better afford to take the electoral hits. The coalition may well have been the only way to get as much done as we have, it isn't that difficult to see there have been some real successes if you're looking. There's plenty more they're both right on. Ultimately though, the two sides of the argument appear so extreme at the moment that they risk tearing the party asunder and creating chaos among those caught in the middle.

I'm not entirely sure where I stand personally. Looking on social media, I can tell I'm not alone in this. Some of the discussion feels pretty personal though, a fact that worries me. Whether the ultimate outcome of the next few weeks is more of the same, or a new leader, the most important thing is that we mend fences with ourselves, or better yet we don't break them in the first place.

Being discontent with HQ or the leader isn't a sign of laziness or childishness, and supporting them isn't a sign of being delusional or a closet Tory. Ultimately it's really very difficult to know what to do for the best at the moment. Many activists are resilient enough to be able to carry on regardless, but many more are feeling completely demotivated and without hope. Instead of attacking each other for being in either camp, we need to be looking for the happy medium. That is after all what we're allegedly good at.

So I would encourage everyone to give the net and the knives a rest for a few days and spend some time doing something other than internal party politics. The problems will still be there when we get back, but maybe the perspective will be too. It isn't as if this hasn't been bubbling below the surface since 2010, so a few days away from it probably won't hurt. There may or may not be a solution to our current electoral nose dive, but we won't have a chance to find it if we tear ourselves asunder.


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