Throughout my - more years than I care to remember - in the Lib Dems, there has been a lot of chat about "Equidistance" - the need to ensure that we are neatly deposited somewhere between Labour and Tory in order to squeeze votes from both and, presumably, to be available to both if needed.
There is a legitimate argument that we should not allow ourselves to be defined by others…….I would agree, but in this brave new world the position surely has to be that we must be seen to be able to work as part of a Labour as well as a Tory coalition. To be perfectly frank, as Tim Montgomerie has pointed out on his blog, 68% of the party see themselves as centre left, social as opposed to economic liberals, so for two thirds of us the current sleeping arrangements are a tad uncomfortable!
Be that as it may, the reality is that we are where we are, a place where our leadership seem relatively comfortable, but a place where many of us are all to conscious of the lumps and bumps in the bed and wondering if we would be far happier in our own deliciously comfortable bed, or in someone else's?! And because our current sleeping arrangements allow for a certain amount of pillow talk with our new partner…….the consequent reality is that discussion about future policy direction inevitably involves them. And therein lies the rub. While we are snuggled up with the Tories, how can we truly be seen to be equidistant? While we rubbish Labour at every opportunity and seem to be meekly submitting to the Tories' every whim, how can we any longer make a case for being equidistant? It seems to me that the only way we can do that is to ensure that we keep the lines of communication well and truly open to the other parties. If we are committed to ushering in a new kind of politics, however much the current arrangements make me want to throw up, we surely have to be prepared to talk to everyone? If coalition politics is about the art of the possible, about finding common ground and pushing forward together on it, the fact is that as a party we do now, and I trust always will have, more in common with Labour.
For that reason I totally support the work Richard Grayson has been doing in bridge building. Frankly I don't see a problem in talking to anyone, including the Tories, if there is a possibility to make life better for the people we aspire to represent. Anyone who has served in local government knows that to be the case. If we have an opportunity to challenge and influence the policy of others it can only be for the good. So I think the criticisms of Richard are unfounded, illiberal and frankly counter productive – coming mainly from people who actually would be a lot happier it we morphed into a centre right party.
I, like Richard, am staying because this is my party too, because, the PARTY hasn't changed, because eventually we will get our party back. At the moment we may be a centre left party lead by the centre right, but that doesn't mean we don't continue to fight for those things we believe are important, those values enshrined in the preamble to our constitution. And I, like Richard, am more than happy to keep the communication channels open to Labour, to shut those channels down is, frankly, to risk our ultimate absorption into the Tory Party and the virtual extinction of all we hold dear.