Is the Friday Room falling under the sway of Labour?

There has been an email correspondence which we feel ought to be accessible to all Friday Roomers. Here is my rendering of it.  You to can add your comments at the end of the article (on the website)!

Steve Coltman started it off with a comment about the FR programme:

With all due respect , this is not exactly going to appeal to the average Lib Dem is it? Indeed, I don‘t know why any self-respecting Green* should be bothered with this stuff.

Although I grumble about my party from time to time (every week even) it is at least positive and constructive in its outlook, Labour isn‘t and this group is falling under the sway of Labour more and more.

He clarified later:

Regarding the proposed agenda:

  • “A Future that Works — the TUC‘s call for an anti-austerity march in London on 20th October 2012. We will be discussing local organisation for the march.
  • Links with local Unions — how can we improve the local activist network to include trade unions.
  • Community organising — a look at Unite‘s idea for community union membership — see this article in Red Pepper magazine for some background. An anti-austerity general strike — is there a case?”

These are all Labour-orientated topics. I generally dislike protest marches (even though I went on my first ever, about Bombardier, recently) and the country has enough economic problems without having a general strike make them worse.

“A look at the relevance of Gramsci‘s ideas for the left today” – how many people have even heard of him? He might be brilliant but is it worth giving up an evening on the off-chance?

“A discussion on the role of charity and charities in UK society” – yes, I can see this would have wide appeal.

“What should be in the Labour manifesto?” – I admit that my knee-jerk reaction to this was misplaced. I can think of a few things that Labour should put in their manifesto, there are a number of issues that would benefit from a cross-party approach. Science policy for one, I have attached our policy document recently accepted at conference. Another issue is
defence, especially Trident. A full debate about this waits on the publication of the review of alternatives, due out early 2013, but Nick Harvey, former defence minister, said last weds that we (the Lib Dems) need to come up with a policy that we can persuade Labour to adopt, even if we can’t persuade the Tories (I suspect we may persuade some of them though). Industrial policy might be another area where a consensus might be reached.

Philip Leicester replied:

I‘m sorry you feel the FR is falling under the sway of Labour. I‘m sure many of us would be concerned were this the case. Apropos the subject of unions was proposed by me — not a Labour member. Misquoting Halfon (Stop the Union-Bashing: Why Conservatives Should Embrace the Trade Union, Movement, London, Demos. 2012), progressives do damage themselves through a knee jerk allergy to trade unionism.

I did hope you would provide some balance and Lib Dem input to the programme. In fact recently I wrote (15-Sep) :  ”Steve, sorry I‘ve taken a liberty –  please keep involved•, with reference to my proposing [that you co-ordinate the informal meeting] on the 30 November. This offer still stands by the way. It would be ludicrous, from my perspective, to imagine that in including [an invitation to Matthew Callaghan, Labour Party Candidate for Loughborough] a similar invitation to the Lib Deb candidate would not ensue. But perhaps this should have been made explicit!

I think you are right — the lib dems are positive and constructive, but, in my view, with sadly destructive effect. Meanwhile all Ed Milliband appears to be able to claim is ”the right to be listened too whilst we wait for Crudas to come up with something constructive.

We should be having this discussion on the blog by the way — all articles have a comments box at the bottom. We need a deliberative society — make it public! To this end I‘ve cc‘d others.

Geoff Gay joined in:

The Friday Room – News Does the “average Libdem” think the Trades Unions ( whether or not affiliated to Labour ) are not important ?

To claim, in that categorical and black-and-white way, that the Libdems are “positive and constructive” – while Labour is not – smacks of a tribalism that is even worse than some such that we find in the Labour Party. I attach my report of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform AGM which I think demonstrates that there is a developing body of Labour opinion that is firmly anti-tribalist. Also, a new ( small ‘n’ ) Labour body “Labour for Democracy”, led by MPs John Denham and Paul Blomfield, is being launched at the Labour Conference. I quote from John Denham’s launch paper :

” Support for progressive values and policies is not restricted to a single political party….. A real desire to see progressive change means working with supporters of other political parties…… A tribal, sectarian approach to other parties and their supporters will weaken the chance of progressive change at all…… Pluralism is about a willingness to put making a difference above narrow party politics.”    And from a contribution by Paul Blomfield :  ”  Existing structures encourage tribalism, but Labour’s history has often been of working with others for progressive goals – in community organisations, solidarity movements and in defending the environment, as well as the trades unions.” I should add that I am working closely with Libdems within the group which has emerged from the local AV Campaign. At the moment its called “Unlock Democracy Leics.” although we will be discussing the name among many other things at the next meeting [at 7.30 pm on Saturday 6th Oct. at the Secular Hall Leicester followed by a drink in ‘The Ale Wagon’].

By the way, are Friday roomers aware of a move to revive a Compass local group based in Nottingham but determined to work in such a way that people outside Notts. will be welcome ? : the launch meeting is this coming Tuesday 7.30 pm at the Unison office on Vivian Avenue ( off Sherwood Rise  near the Mansfield Road/Gregory Blvd. entrance to The Forest Rec. Ground ). I intend to be there  – afraid I cannot offer a lift as I have to be in Nottingham from midday for something else.

John Greenwood chipped in:

I sympathises with Steve. We are stuck with the party system like it or not, but I think Friday Room topics should be concerned with the way things work overall rather than specific party issues. And I would like to see more of Green issues.

I agree strongly with Philip that this discussion should be on the FR blog. We could put it on retrospectively.  (Which is what I am doing now!)

Steve came back with:

I seem to have struck a raw nerve here. It’s partly the fault of the Lib Dems for not being more involved with FR; I should not complain about a lack of content interesting to Lib Dems if Lib Dems are not there to contribute. I will make more of an effort to gee up my colleagues.

Regarding the Trade Unions, I suspect Geoff will not like this: we (the Lib Dems) simply don’t think or talk about them much, they are largely off our radar. There is an Associated Organisation called the Assoc. of Lib Dem Trade Unionists, not very active I think, and we do invite trade union leaders to our party conferences (Fringe meetings that is, not the main conference), but the trade unions are pretty absent from our thoughts and deliberations.

Evelyn Kerslake then said:

I’ve been following this thread with interest and would love it to be the subject of one of our FR ‘responsive meetings’ at the very least. This sort of debate is, to my mind, just what the FR should be about. It’s vital that we on the progressive end of politics discuss our differences, not to smooth over them, but to work out how to acknowledge them and continue to work together for the general good as we see it.

Steve raises some fair points about unions and the Labour Party or so it seems to my Green Party perspective, and – raw nerve or not – we have to keep talking about this. Let’s think about how we do that.

Finally I, (John Greenwood) agree with Evo [Evelyn Kerslake] and would like to see this discussion made more open.

If you want to have your say please click on “leave a comment” below and write your comment in the comment box, or if you feel daunted by this, just email us with your comment and we will post it on the this site for all to see.

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