I remain as bemused as ever by the use of the expression ‘ a party of government, not a party of protest’ by our Westminster representatives.
It is generally used to criticize the grassroots, when they kick up a fuss about MPs (or indeed Peers) actively supporting legislation which appears to deliver the opposite of party policy (although not, as we shall see, exclusively so).
The latest MP to use the term is of course Jeremy Browne in his interview in The Times, and ironically enough, the target of his ire on this occasion is not the membership but Nick Clegg. Apparently Jeremy’s sacking was a direct result of his trying to make the party look like a ‘Party of Government’ and his removal represents a swerve to the left, which is apparently where the Party of Protest lives…
I’d make a number of points about all this.
One of the problems all 3 of the main parties have is that the electorate increasingly sees them to all be the same. There was a time (up to around May 2010) when the Lib Dems were seen as rather different to the other 2 big parties, in terms of position, approach and tone. Indeed, we promised a different type of politics. People seemed to like it – which was why we gradually built a share of the vote. We have now lost that differentiation, largely as a result of our desire to be seen as a ‘Party of Government’ (like Labour and the Tories). The ‘not like the rest’ mantle seems to have been taken up, ironically, by UKIP. In polling at least, it seems to be working rather well for them.
Secondly, what is the point in being in government if you don’t deliver policies that reflect your central beliefs. There is of course a long list of stuff we have delivered in government – may I suggest that this is what will stand us in good stead come the next election, as will the long list of Tory initiatives we have stopped. Those things we have largely swallowed against our will are not going to benefit us, however much some may think we look like a ‘ Party of Government’. Sure, we may have HAD to do some of them to get some of the things we wanted to happen – but to pretend we’re glad of that would make us look like a bunch of hypocrites.
Thirdly, there is a touch of irony is there not that Jeremy, as a result of his fight to make us look like a party of government, finds himself removed from government. Surely there is a lesson there? I guess he didn’t get the differentiation strategy memo?