Jonathan Wallace reports the news of 37 Labour members defecting to the Lib Dems in Margaret Beckett’s Derby South constituency. This seems to be based on a press release from the national party.
I have reservations about this sort of thing and fear that the short-term publicity boost is not worth the longer-term problems. We have a little experience of this in Watford.
In the first place, single-issue defections are a worry of themselves. How deep is someone’s philosophical commitment to the Liberal Democrats if their reason for defecting is not being converted to a Liberal worldview from a Labour one, but anger over an issue which, although very important, is hardly central to British party politics. The concept of a mass defection, 37 people suddenly finding they have simultaneously decided to switch parties, makes me feel uneasy, too.
Lastly, I would be worried if views on the Middle East became a dividing line in British party politics. Traditionally all three main parties have included both Israeli and Palestinian sympathisers in their ranks. All three have maintained relatively bi-partisan views on the Israel/Palestine question, albeit with differences of emphasis in precisely how this was expressed. In so far as Britain can hope to do any good when in intervenes in issues in the Middle East it helps that this degree of bipartisanship exists regardless of which party is in government.
It would be an unwelcome development if Labour and Conservative Parties were strongly identified with support for Israel and the Liberal Democrats with support for Palestine and with British Jews and Muslims choosing their party allegiances accordingly.
I would advise the Lib Dem hierarchy to tread cautiously if there are more offers of mass defections on single issues.