Mark Thompson quits Lib Dems. Is this the death of party politics? Not so fast!

by Stephen Tall on November 16, 2013

Mark Thompson, winner of Lib Dem Blog of the Year 2012, has announced he’s leaving the party. You might be thinking, “Ah, another one who’s so annoyed with what the party’s doing in coalition that he can’t face renewing his membership.”

But you’d be wrong. As the title of Mark’s piece makes clear – Why I am leaving the Lib Dems – AKA This is not a Flounce – it is not the party he is disillusioned with but party politics:

The impetus for me to leave is really because politics is broken. The Westminster Village is obsessed with who managed to shout the best for 5 minutes and get their friends to jeer and point at the other side just after midday on a Wednesday. … The tribal nature of much of what goes on drives me nuts. Labour have been the worst for this in recent years castigating the current government for doing things that they would almost certainly have done themselves and in a number of cases were actively planning to. But none of the main parties are free from this sort of thing. …

None of this is specifically the fault of the Lib Dems. But they are complicit in it. They have 57 MPs. They are part of the government. They have tried to change some of this but on the constitutional and political reform front they have utterly failed. Again I am not blaming them particularly. The forces of conservatism in Labour and the Tories closed ranks to ensure AV (what would have been a very minor, positive change) was a failure and they killed Lords reform too. Those who sneer that the Lib Dems are to blame themselves for all of this fail to recognise just how far the status quo will go to preserve itself. …

I have become convinced that real change needs to come from outside of the three main parties now. I’m not calling for a Brand-esque revolution or telling people they shouldn’t vote. That was totally irresponsible. I will certainly be voting at the next election and I may well vote for the Lib Dems. I have been interested in some of what the Green Party has to say although some of their more statist policies turn me off. I am also interested in the nascent Pirate Party philosophy. But the truth is I have had enough of being a member of a party for now. I only joined at the age of 34 having spent the previous two decades as a highly politically engaged lone wolf. Perhaps that is my natural state.

I think that love them or loathe them groups like 38 Degrees and the TPA have shown how much outside groups can influence things. The power of political parties is waning. The financial crisis has shown the limits of business as usual and yet nothing his really changed yet. We have a political system that was designed hundreds of years ago and it is utterly unfit for the world we now live in. But I see and hear very few people agitating for the sort of fundamental change we need. And I include myself in that criticism. …

I will miss attending the conferences and being part of a strong movement with very deep roots. I have made some good friends in the party and I hope to keep in touch with them all. I expect some will be disappointed that I have not chosen to continue to fight the good fight from inside but I hope they will understand my reasons.

It’s well worth reading Mark’s post in full (the above is only an extract).

I’m sorry to see Mark leave, as I’m sure are many others. I know him a little, and he’s a natural liberal. The blessing and the curse of natural liberals, though, is that we’re not very tribal: we’re sceptical and (self-)critical, both great attributes, but also ones likely to lead most thoughtful people frequently to question their loyalties.

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

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.

Party politics isn’t the only way to make a difference by any means. But it’s the place where people of like minds comes together, both to agree and disagree, and find a way forward.

And for all the laments about the death of party politics in the last month, let’s remember one thing: non-voters are still the minority. Which, given few elections turn on any individual’s sole vote, and even less so under first-past-the-post, is pretty remarkable really.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.