Thursday, 21 February 2019

New Party or new politics?

Who among you has ever heard of a Scottish politician called Alan Rennie?

Me neither.

But at the 1983 General Election, Mr Rennie, a Liberal, stood, as part of the SDP/Liberal Alliance,  as a candidate for Parliament. Those of you old enough will recollect the general platform on which Mr Rennie would have then been standing. For devolution. For social liberalism but economic responsibility.  For continued membership of the European Union and NATO. For a considered political dialogue within which your opponents did not necessarily need to be your enemies. 

So, good chap (probably) Mr Rennie. Except that his fellow candidate in this local contest, Monklands East, (I'm beginning to give away my punchline here) was none other than John Smith. Who triumphed comfortably, I suspect to the not inconsiderable relief of Mr Rennie himself. For they stood for almost exactly the same thing!

I wasn't for the SDP. Never even really thought seriously about it. And, to be honest, I never,until recently, really had to seriously even think about voting for them or their successors, the Lib Dems. For until the Tsunami of 2015, I had always lived in safe Labour seats and, even now, live in one where Labour is the only conceivable alternative to the SNP. (A point to which I return).

But I live in Kilsyth. And just to my west lies the East Dumbartonshire Parliamentary Constituency.  Where, in 2017, I would have faced the choice as to who to vote for to remove the then SNP MP, John Nicolson. Labour was represented by one Callum McNally, who came a heroic fourth but who may well have been as worthy a person as Mr Alan Rennie. However only person who had any chance of beating Mr Nicolson was the Lib Dem, Jo Swinson,  As she then did. So, here is my confession. I would have voted for Jo Swinson.

I might have woken up the next day thinking that her 5,000 plus majority hadn't needed my contribution but I wouldn't have swapped that for worrying, the night before, that sticking to Party might have seen Nicolson returned by a single vote.

So, even I get that I'm failing to come to the point.

This week, eight Labour MPs and three Tories have formed a new "Independent" Parliamentary group. The suggestion is that others will follow.

There are those who think that the logical conclusion from this is a new political Party which stands "everywhere". But mibbee it is not.

Why conceivably should it stand against Amber Rudd, if she stays with the Tories? Or Yvette Cooper, if she stays with Labour? Why, even if it does not reach a formal arrangement with the Lib Dems, should it want to shave off votes from the existing Lib Dem MPs?

"The BBC rules" is kind of the answer. "If you don't stand everywhere, you are not entitled to equal coverage". How's about calling out these rules? As the SNP have already done.

So, if the Independent Group goes forward as a Party, how's about it only stands where the likely winning candidate of one of the major Parties stands on its extremes? And otherwise says vote for Amber Rudd. Or Yvette Cooper. Or Tom Watson. Or Justine Greening?

And in Scotland, where the further fragmentation of the "unionist" bloc serves only one purpose, how's about it doesn't stand at all?

Because here is my final and most shocking confession. Never mind voting for Jo Swinson in East Dumbartonshire in 2017. Had I lived in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweedale, I'd have voted for David Mundell.

New politics requires new thinking. First past the post, traditionally applied, serves only the interest of Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn. And I'm not inclined to vote for either of them.