Mark Argent
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Politics:: articles since 2015 General Election
Defecting or coming home?

24 September 2015, first published in Liberal Democrat Voice

Jeremy Corbyn’s election has brought speculation about people on the right of the Labour party switching to the Liberal Democrats. Some of those comments make sense, but others don’t.

At its best, there are times when a genuine change of conviction makes a change of party into a home-coming. I think of the authenticity of Jacob Whiten, writing in Liberal Democrat Voice on his move from UKIP to the Liberal Democrats, and the enormous contribution of people like Shirley Williams, who came into the Liberal Democrats by moving from Labour to the SDP.

But defections can backfire, and the language of encouraging them can play badly, as in the case of a recent spoof email from Tim Farron to Chuka Umunna encouraging him to switch, written by Amol Rajan in the Evening Standard.

With Labour and Tories both apparently moving away from the centre there is sense of pressure on the people towards the middle ground in both parties. But we should be wary of making a grab for the disaffected. Both parties have strong centralising tendencies: that is a long way from Liberal Democrat culture. We’d be in danger of playing along with the myth that we are a bland hybrid of left and right when the preamble to our constitutional points us in a much richer direction which is not quite on that scale. In a party which affirms the “fundamental values of liberty, equality and diversity” there is bound to be a lively debate on how the preamble translates into specific policies, here are four pointers to distinctive territory:

It’s great to welcome people who realise their natural political home is the Liberal Democrats, but it would be bad if we allowed ourselves to be painted as the sanctuary of those who have had a short-term falling-out with their own parties. Both Labour and Conservatives are likely to undergo big upheavals in the near future. It is essential that we remain faithful to our own core because it is something that will be needed — both by the UK and the EU.