Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How not to cross the floor

I cannot imagine that I would ever change political parties. But some people do, and of those some are honorable individuals. Indeed those who have moved from one party to another include both examples of the most distinguished politicians, such as Winston Churchill, and some of the worst.

I had extremely mixed feelings about what happened to Bruce Douglas-Mann in the early eighties. Of all the defecting MPs who joined the SDP he was the only one who fought a by-election - and the Conservatives won it. As a Conservative I cannot be other than pleased when we win an election but I will admit to a twinge of regret that Douglas-Mann lost out because of his courage.

When people change parties, the main thing I look at to assess wehther they are doing so for honorable reasons is how they treat those who used to be their friends and allies. Honorable people who cross the floor usually want to keep the respect of those who voted for and supported them. I can think of one MP who changed parties in the last parliament, shortly before stepping down, and made it clear to his new party that he was not prepared to campaign against the PPC who his old party had selected to succeed him. The candidate concerned had treated the MP with great respect and the retiring MP would have considered it a personal betrayal to repay this by working against him.

In Copeland in recent weeks, I was disappointed when one councillor who had been elected as a Conservative changed sides to Labour. I won't say that his defection had no effect on my opinion of him, but what cost him most of the respect in which I had previously held him was an unpleasant letter to the local papers attacking former colleagues, including one item of gossip going back nine years, another which was totally trivial, and a third attack which was mendacious.

As a contrast, I quote below an extract from the statement made this week to Conservative Home by a former Lib/Dem councillor, Denise Summers of Aylesbury Town Council, explaining why she has joined the Conservative Party. It is entirely positive and there is not one word of criticism of the people she worked with when she was a Liberal either in the sections I quote here or in the rest of her statement on Conservative Home.

“This was a decision which I thought long and hard about, and I don’t make it lightly.

"When David Cameron became leader of the Conservatives he described himself as a Liberal Conservative and that's very much how I see myself. But I needed to be convinced that he could change his party, and now I am. This was highlighted at the recent Conservative Party Conference which persuaded me that he is a leader who has changed his party, and will change this country.

"I see these changes at a local level as well, and am deeply impressed by the work which the newly elected Conservatives Cllrs and Conservative campaigners across the town are carrying out. They are putting into action locally, what David Cameron talks about nationally. Initiatives such as litter picks, street surgeries to chat to people, fundraising to provide bikes for our PCSOs, holding Forums to allow people to talk about what matters to them, and actively and vociferously standing up for residents.

"I joined the Liberal Democrats because I wanted to be involved in the community, I wanted to help out my community. Now, the people who are doing that in Aylesbury - in positive and progressive ways - are the Conservatives. And nationally, the people who are holding the Labour Government to account and offering real plans for change are the Conservatives.

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