In defence of "tribalism"
You would have thought that after his disastrous political misjudgement in calling for tactical voting, thus boosting the Lib Dems who went on to form a government with the Tories, Neal Lawson would be keeping his head down.
But no, he's at it again with a piece in the New Statesman attacking "tribalism" and advocating "pluralism": http://www.newstatesman.com/uk-politics/2010/06/pluralist-party-labour
Actually this is a thinly veiled attack on putting the Labour Party first and being loyal to it.
Like Neal I'm in favour of proportional representation and I accept that because Labour does not command a majority of votes in most places and certainly not in the UK as a whole, if we have a more proportional voting system we'll have to work with other parties. I don't think Labour has a monopoly of good ideas or the best people. Within the Party I don't think my strand of opinion has a monopoly on good people or ideas.
But I am a "tribalist" as Neal presumably intends to pejoratively put it in that I want Labour to maximise its vote at the expense of other parties, to maximise its power relative to them in any government and to maximise the number of public offices we hold and the number of our policies we get implemented.
This is surely the position of any rational member of any political party in any democracy whether the model is a pluralistic European one or a majoritarian Anglo-American tradition one.
Because if you didn't think your party was better than the others and deserved more power, more of its policies implemented and more of its people holding office on merit, why would you be a member and activist in that party?
Neal's starting position seems to be one of being ashamed of Labour, embarrassed by our record and apologetic that we exist. He seems almost neutral about whether we are a better party than the Lib Dems or the Greens, presenting them as somehow morally equivalent to Labour or in the case of the Greens morally superior.
I don't understand why anyone would stay in the Labour Party if they didn't feel it either had the best (not necessarily the only good) ideology and policies, the best people and the best claim to be in government; or at least the potential in a strand within it to have and be those things.
My starting point is that I love my Party. I'm not blind to it's faults or mistakes or flaws but at the end of the day I am loyal to Labour and want it to grow and thrive. I love the people in it, the people who vote for it and the values and history and hope for the future it represents.
I worked with Neal for years in the LCC (Labour Co-ordinating Committee). That organisation suffered from some of the up-itself-ness of Compass but was working to make Labour electorally successful again.
I no longer know if Neal has any residual affection for Labour or just grudgingly accepts it exists and isn't going away. I don't get any impression he sees our success as a worthy objective in itself. He seems ashamed of the Party he is a member of and the people who loyally vote for it.
The deepest flaw in Neal's attack on "tribalism" is that the pluralism he wants to see is great in theory but requires political partners on the left to be plural with - and the largest possible partner - the LDs - just decided it was part of a rightwing government. Who does Neal envisage we should be pluralist with?
I am sure Neal intends "tribalist" as an insult to a culture within Labour of loyalty and amongst millions of voters of voting for Labour come what may. I wear it as a badge of honour. Without the loyalty of the people Neal disparages as "tribalist" Labour would have died many years ago. Because of them it lives to fight another day.