I'm fast becoming a fan of the blog of Richard Osley, the editor of one of the best local papers in the country, (the Camden New Journal). It really is a must read for Camden gossip and takes an often scathing journos-eye-view of local politics.
Recently he wrote a piece taking a gentle dig at Camden's Lib Dem Parliamentary candidates (sorry, shadow MPs, snigger) for taking opposing views on a very serious issue, Israel. He points out that;
Well, it may be that Labour and Conservatives politicians find this discrepancy irritating but this pluralistic approach to politics is entirely appropriate. Richard does describe this as "fair enough, all very democratic" but I don't think it would be unfair to say that he dishes this up with a large spoonful of lovely cynicism. That's one of the reasons I'm enjoying his blog.
In the north of Camden, Ed Fordham has been said to be ‘courting’ Jewish voters in Hampstead. He’s actually just back from Israel, a trip which Labour unkindly called a “publicity tour” during last week’s council meeting.
And in the south, Jo Shaw has signed her name to leaflets demanding that Britain no longer helps to arm Israel and denouncing a ‘lacklustre’ response to last year’s air strikes in Gaza.
However, in this case I think he might be wrong.
The public are rightly tired of the tribalism of politics where a bunch of hacks subsume their own personal opinions into the hive mind of today's party policy. Politicians from the same party taking different positions on the same issue is a sign of a healthy internal democracy and we shouldn't be encouraging a culture where it's seen as some sort of problem.
There are lines, of course. There comes a point when someone might be better suited to a different party, but no party that seeks to represent a political movement rather than just a political current has to incorporate difference as a safeguard against doctrinaire tribalism.
I was struck by this when, at a selection meeting for Lewisham Green Party's council candidates, two hopefuls unashamedly announced that they were in favour of nuclear power. A delicious frisson went round the room as everyone there realised we were being asked to select candidates who disagreed with a core part of Green Party policy, and we did.
That could have gone very differently and I was really pleased with the open minded approach we took to these people who were clearly in a minority. It doesn't mean I wouldn't vigorously defend the Green Party's anti-nuclear stance if people tried to change our policy - but the fact that policy is not some sort of thought control also has to be defended, even when people are wrong, I mean disagree with me.
It's to the Lib Dem's credit here that they have two prominent members that have wildly different views on an important issue without coming down on their candidates for daring to have political opinions of their own.