Stick or twist? What’s your tearing-up-your-membership-card threshold?

by Stephen Tall on December 8, 2012

I wrote yesterday about the need for the Lib Dems to reclaim the idea of “coalition” as an effective form of government, given the unpopularity of “this Coalition” as the current Government. Along the way I caricatured some ‘known knowns’, including describing those Lib Dem members who’ve resigned over what were, for them, red-line issues:

Another tranche of members and voters deserted the party over the leadership’s U-turn on tuition fees or the messy NHS Reform Bill. These were the ‘red-liners’, the this-far-but-no-further group who are only ever one disappointment away from tearing up their membership cards.

Jennie Rigg took me to task for this in the comments section. And she got me thinking: about the nature of being a card-carrying member of a party and what my ‘red-line’ issues might be for leaving the Lib Dems. Here’s our exchange (her first, then my response):


Stephen: I think some of your caricatures are not only grossly unfair but bloody counterproductive. Painting those who left over the tuition fees issue as single issue fanatics when actually they are having a perfectly reasonable response to “no more broken promises” “oh you see this solemn promise, well we’re going to break it” – a personal pledge IS different from a manifesto commitment to be negotiated and it’s interesting that those mps who stuck to the pledge have seen nowhere near as much damage in local elections as all the rest of us.

The failure of the leadership (and, it seems you) to grasp that it’s not the specific solemn personal pledge that our mps broke, it’s the fact that they broke one is the number one frustration among ex members and supporters I have spoken to. And I have spoken to A LOT. The longer we fail to get it, the worse it will be.


Jennie – I’ve many friends among those you say I’m being grossly unfair about. I said it was a caricature, but it wasn’t a careless one. Everyone’s entitled to come to their own judgement but I don’t agree with those who leave the party over one issue, or even two or three tbh. Folk are doomed to disappointment if they expect to agree with their chosen party on every issue, including some that will matter deeply to them. They’re equally doomed if they expect parties always to be able to keep promises no matter what the circs. That’s just not how any deliberative process works, whether at home or work or in politics.

I couldn’t not be involved in politics – it matters too much – so I chose the party closest to my views, fully expecting it would sometimes take stances I disagree with. I guess it’s always possible I might get to my cumulative ‘red-line’ in the Lib Dems, but I’ve never been close to it, despite fundamentally disagreeing with some of our party’s positions in my dozen-plus years as a member. That’s because leaving changes nothing, except ensuring those who share your views become more of a minority.

I understand not everyone will share my tolerance threshold: fair enough, that’s their choice. My choice is to disagree with those who resign over a single issue (I’d make an exception for starting an illegal war).