by Stephen Tall on May 10, 2013
Vince Cable published an interesting piece in the New Statesman last month (I missed it at the time): My advice to young Lib Dems — rise above the tribalism.
It’s a biographical reflection on his political journey — from Young Liberal to Mr Wilson’s ‘White Heat’ Labour to the breakaway SDP and finally to the Liberal Democrats, where he joined “some of the descendants of Grimond and Crosland”.
However, it also has a very clear political message. At least, I think it does. Tell me below-the-line if you think I’m over-reading, especially the third point.
First, the danger of formal mergers even where the missions seem aligned. Vince’s efforts to unite the Liberals and Campaign for Democratic Socialism “were a disaster, as both sides formed obscure theological points on which to disagree, proving themselves every bit as sectarian as warring Trotskyite sects. I was disowned and the warriors went back to their tribal armies.”
Secondly, that party loyalties rule, especially where the points of difference are small but significant (the closer you are, the louder you shout): “having walked along both sides of the dividing line for half a century, I recognise the bitter intensity of these small differences and the strength of tribal affiliation.”
And thirdly — and I think most significantly — Vince brings the story up-to-date, with what sounds to me like a call for Lib Dems and Labour social democrats to work together to challenge the Right, as historically represented by the Tories but also now by Ukip:
My own descendants are aspiring Liberal students faced with hostile Labour social democrats. They no longer have the moral superiority and innocence of opposition; but they do have the understanding of a party of government. I trust they will not repeat my mistake, dissipating energy into an attempted merger. But they should rise above tribalism, not least because many shared beliefs and values are being challenged more than ever.