A few days ago Luke Bozier defected from Labour to the Conservative Party. He got a lot of stick about it on Twitter that he almost certainly didn't deserve, he has his own reasons for defecting and I'm sure it wasn't an easy decision, but this blog post isn't really about him. It is however what prompted it.
I had first hand experience of defection a lot sooner than most political folk; I started campaigning for Neil, my local Lib Dem PPC and the only Lib Dem on our local council, in October 2009 but within a month of the 2010 election he was the newest Conservative Party councilor. We did okay in the general election, increasing our share of the vote from 2005 but still coming in third which wasn't a surprise given we were competing in a northern steel town with Labour incumbents since 1979 and a large number of villages on the constituency fringes meaning the Conservatives are the only viable challengers. That, added to the rather small number of local activists, meant we were never going to win but I was pleased with what we managed to achieve.
5 weeks after the election I received an email saying Neil had decided to leave the Liberal Democrat party. No mention of defection. I thought perhaps he couldn't approve of the Coalition government and assumed he would continue as an independent councillor. Not only did that prove to be wrong, he didn't even bother to tell us himself that he was defecting across to the Tories, I read it two days later in the newspaper. My original feeling was anger, that he didn't tell me himself, that we ran a whole campaign against the Tories then suddenly he's one of them, but as time went on I got less angry and just don't understand.
I know a lot of politicians go from being members of one political party at university to representing an entirely different one in the House of Commons, anyone who reads this blog knows I'm a massive fan of Chris Bryant who was a member of the Conservative Party at university, and I understand that the political views you hold as a teenager are almost certainly not the political views you have as an adult but I cannot understand someone who suddenly defects later in life and seeks to justify it as something other than a move for their career.
One thing I hated was the treatment Neil got after he defected, I didn't agree with what he did but he didn't deserve the abuse he got. I went to the first council meeting after the move and got chatting to the LibDem PPC for the neighbouring constituency (who also lost) outside when he asked me if I was joining the protest. I didn't know there was a protest going on so decided to sit on the opposite side of the chamber to avoid being involved in what turned out to be a lot of shouting and the unfurling of a 'Judas' banner. Somehow the PPC who couldn't be bothered to turn up to his own election night vote count, choosing instead to go on a pre-booked holiday without telling anyone and leaving us to deal with press questions, thought he was in a position to claim the moral high ground.
I've blogged before on the divisions within the Liberal Democrats and I can see from the people I follow on Twitter that they aren't 100% happy with the direction of the party in coalition; they either worry about the possible loss of our social democratic commitments or they aren't happy with the strength of our commitment to economic liberalism. These debates are had regularly, almost daily in fact, but always with both sides making valid points and refraining (at least in public) from petty name calling. All in all both sides agree to disagree but stay in the party, working from within to rebuild the party in an image they want through keeping up dialogue and the formation of groups such as the Social Liberal Forum.
Leaving a party because it no longer resembles the one you joined, as was Luke Bozier's excuse, is lazy: stick around and fight for what you believe in because no-one else is going to do it for you.
You picked that party for a reason so stick with it. It might not be quick and it sure as hell won't be easy but I for one will respect you a hell of a lot more for it.