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):

Jennie:

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.

Me:

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).

10 comments

New from me > Stick or twist? What's your tearing-up-your-membership-card threshold? http://t.co/T8gx6NNx

by Stephen Tall on December 8, 2012 at 9:37 am. Reply #

New from me > Stick or twist? What's your tearing-up-your-membership-card threshold? http://t.co/T8gx6NNx

by Nick Thornsby on December 8, 2012 at 9:40 am. Reply #

New from me > Stick or twist? What's your tearing-up-your-membership-card threshold? http://t.co/uEGlmTgF

by Stephen Tall on December 8, 2012 at 12:37 pm. Reply #

New from me > Stick or twist? What's your tearing-up-your-membership-card threshold? http://t.co/uEGlmTgF

by Ruth Smith on December 8, 2012 at 12:53 pm. Reply #

The importance of politics and the near-impossibility of having influence outside of a political party means that it would take a lot for me to leave the Lib Dems because I’d need to go somewhere else. I have always identified more with the Lib Dems than the other two main parties, and whilst I suppose on many issues I am nearer to Labour than the Tories, Labour are a worse prospect than the Lib Dems even after our most troublesome cave-ins.

I was deeply saddened by tuition fees and even more so by the NHS Act. But the only place I could go was Labour and despite their rhetoric they would have offered little different on these issues and I would have sacrificed everything else that I find important and made me a Lib Dem in the first place (civil liberties, constitutional reform, environmentalism etc).

I suppose, in short, the ‘tear up the membership card’ moment for me is as much about other parties as it is about our own.

by Richard Baum on December 8, 2012 at 12:53 pm. Reply #

If I wasn’t employed by the party, I probably would have gone some months ago. When we went into coalition, I made a list of red lines and said that if five of them were crossed I would leave. I think the party leadership are up to seven red lines crossed now… I gave up counting. So you can thank (or blame) Carl for giving me a job for the fact that I’m still around.

Unlike Richard, I can see me having a home in another party, although admittedly it’s not one of the big ones (Yarrrr!)

by Jennie on December 8, 2012 at 1:17 pm. Reply #

What’s interesting in this is that Stephen has revealed nothing about what his line(s) might be.

My multitude of lines were crossed a while back, whilst it’s the party I still feel closest to, I’m not sure I could vote for it again without substantial change. Joining a party for a single issue is probably going to be disappointing, but surely someone willing to compromise on anything holds no value? How we managed to ensure electoral reforms are off the agenda for a generation is beyond me, issues like this made me realise that in some cases we were doing more harm than good.

I think leaving beckons the demise of the structure you dislike and likely hastens the creation of one you deem more acceptable. As the number of outsiders accrue, it is ever more likely that a reborn social and liberal democratic party will emerge in the UK.

by ChrisB on December 8, 2012 at 2:42 pm. Reply #

New from me > Stick or twist? What's your tearing-up-your-membership-card threshold? http://t.co/lhCKR12c

by Stephen Tall on December 8, 2012 at 3:45 pm. Reply #

Me at the weekend > What would make you tear up your party membership card? http://t.co/T8gx6NNx

by Stephen Tall on December 10, 2012 at 11:20 am. Reply #

[...] Almost a year ago, I wrote a piece, Stick or twist? What’s your tearing-up-your-membership-card threshold?: [...]

by Mark Thompson quits Lib Dems. Is this the death of party politics? Not so fast! on November 16, 2013 at 11:24 am. Reply #

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