Alliance must clarify precise relationship with LibDems

Alliance MP Naomi Long went on Nolan to explain her opposition to the Coalition Government’s tuition fees proposals. In the end, however, she spent most of the interview explaining that she wasn’t a Liberal Democrat.

She did it quite well too. She did indeed stand as Alliance and nothing else, she has voted largely against the LibDems since election, and she was right in pointing out that in any case the LibDems (and indeed Conservatives) were scarcely united on the issue themselves.

However, questions over this relationship will remain, and the confusion will only be added to by the UUP’s relationship with the Conservatives. People will come to assume the Alliance Party has a similar relationship with the Liberal Democrats.

Quite evidently to those of us in the political world, that is not so, although only in the sense that the nature of the relationship is different. The UUP MEP takes the Conservative whip, the Alliance MP does not take the LibDem whip; Conservatives may compete against the UUP at local level, the LibDems do not compete at all against Alliance; UUP members may not be members of the Conservative Party (although I suspect a few are), Alliance members may be members of the LibDems. The truth is that neither party is truly defined by its position along the ideological spectrum.

However, most people live (indeed most voters) outside the political world. There is an assumption that the Alliance Party may be equated with the LibDems in the same way the UUP is equated with the Conservatives. This may or may not be a positive thing, but for the sake of clarity of choice to the electorate it does need to be clarified beyond dispute.

Most particularly, given that the Conservatives are now not seriously competing at NI elections and seemingly the Labour Party has opted not to at all, is there any reason a member of the Alliance Party should not also be a member of the Conservative or Labour Party, in the same way they may be members of the Liberal Democrats currently?

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21 thoughts on “Alliance must clarify precise relationship with LibDems

  1. Seymour Major says:

    I happened to read the Alliance General Election Manifesto. The template was the Lib Dem manifesto, adapted by APNI to suit, where appropriate.

    For example, one policy was that the UK should adopt the euro currency, when the conditions are right. No real thought was put into that policy at all. That is a policy issue on which I feel so strongly about that, for that reason alone, I would not join the APNI.

    The Alliance Party needs to be a bit more honest about what kind of party it is. Is it a Lib Dem party or is it just a “cut and paste” party?

  2. Well, it’s a Liberal party (remembering the PM himself is happy with that designation), with a focus on the individual which disallows community labels and such like.

    I have to say I long wondered why this all assumes, say, a pro-Euro or anti-hunting stance which seems, for no real apparent gain, merely to cost the party support it would otherwise get.

  3. fair_deal says:

    You omitted the seeking of and gaining of Lib Dem/Nick Clegg endorsement for Alliance candidates especially of Naomi Long

  4. Chris Nelson says:

    Speaking as an English Liberal Democrat, the attitude over here seems to be – rightly or wrongly – that the Alliance Party are our sister party, but one which in many ways is an unofficial branch of the Party. I’ve heard the phrase that “the Alliance are basically Liberal Democrats under a different name”. While that is perhaps overly simplistic – when so many Alliance Party members are also members of the Lib Dems – such as Lord Alderdice sitting in the House of Lords as a Lib Dem or David Ford holding a Lib Dem membership card – a perceived link with the Lib Dems was, however consensual, quite unavoidable.

    Your logic is tempting, Ian, but I think the flaw in your argument is that you have always wanted Northern Irish politics to become more ideological rather than sectarian. And the problem is – if the Alliance Party were to become officially neutral between the big three UK parties as you suggest, wouldn’t that also mean Alliance giving up its Liberal character?

    • I’m not actually arguing one way or t’other, just saying it needs clarified. But it is very hard to associate the two parties in any meaningful way while the Alliance MP generally votes against the LibDems.

      The idea I’ve thrown is would essentially mean the Alliance Party being what it says on the tin – an alliance. That said, it must by its very nature be “Liberal” in the broadest sense, focusing as it does on individual rights/responsibilities, and that surely includes an inclusive (ie socially progressive) focus.

  5. Chris Nelson says:

    Naomi Long’s votes aren’t too dissimilar to that of a Lib Dem rebel, it should be recalled. The main difference seems to be simply that Lib Dem MPs are subject to the Coalition Agreement, while Naomi Long clearly isn’t. Were the Lib Dems still in opposition, I suspect it wouldn’t be possible to notice much difference.

    • These are fair points, although the reverse is also true – just because she would’ve happened to vote with the LibDems in opposition should not have implied any more affinity than there would be, say, between Labour and the SDLP (actually a good degree less, for the SDLP did sit on the government benches from 1997-2010).

  6. I don’t see any evidence in the linked release to Alliance *having sought* Clegg’s endorsement, merely of his having offered.

    This would equate, for example, to the DUP’s endorsement of Sylvia Hermon. But I don’t think she would be counted as having sought that endorsement, nor assumed to be a DUP MP.

    • fair_deal says:

      Was the endorsement of Sylvia Hermon issued by herself or the DUP? DUP.

      Who issued this endorsement the Alliance party or the Lib Dems? The Alliance party.

      So no they are not the same.

      • Think you’re clutching at straws there. The endorsement of Sylvia included quotes by the DUP (and not Sylvia); the endorsement of Naomi carried quotes by the LibDems (and not Alliance).

        It is not unreasonable for Alliance to point to an endorsement, but other than drawing attention to it they did not even comment on it. So I think the idea that they specifically “sought” the endorsement is somewhat overstated.

        As for taking a short-term position before the election which was then quietly dropped afterwards, I refer you, for example, to the entirety of Sammy Wilson’s comments on finance and the economy during 2010!

  7. corb Lund says:

    I just can’t see how your argument works. As you make clear Long has not taken Lib Dem whip and has proved to be consistently independent in votes. Surely this is the best way to clarify any confusion, if such confusion exists? Also – how exactly would Alliance clarify their relationship with the Lib Dems? Are you suggesting David Ford and Naomi call a press conference and make a clarifying statement?

    Your claim that: “There is an assumption that the Alliance Party may be equated with the LibDems in the same way the UUP is equated with the Conservatives.” needs to be backed up. Are the voters of East Belfast really preoccupied with the question of Long’s relationship with the Lib Dems? The DUP may try to make much of this, but on the ground I suspect it’s a non-issue. Especially when Long continues to demonstrate a commendable independence in her voting record.

    • Firstly, I provided evidence of the confusion in the blog itself – Stephen Nolan spent more time talking to Naomi about her supposed links to the LibDems than he did about the issue itself; likewise again yesterday with Mark Devenport and David Ford. So the Alliance Party is constantly being questioned about the issue, at the expense of actual policy. My suggestion, although it’s only that, is that the ongoing link between the UUP and Conservatives will only mean these questions about the LibDems being asked more of the time, not less.

      The DUP is already making something of it. Nigel Dodds referred to it in his Conference speech. A DUP supporter is making an issue of it right here (overplaying it, in my view). Anyone who underestimates the determination and expertise of the DUP in making an issue of non-issues has never competed with it electorally!

      It is up to the Alliance Party how it clarifies the issue, likewise on the constitutional question. If I were doing it, but obviously I won’t be, I would include in the manifesto reference to being a broadly Liberal but entirely independent party; and I would also include clear support for power-sharing devolution within the UK with cross-border cooperation where appropriate alongside the principle of consent (as opposed to outright “agnosticism”). In my judgement – but it’s only that (and it’s often flawed!) – Alliance supporters would have no problem with such a position and it such clarity would attract significantly more votes (notably from people inclined to vote Alliance but wary of doing so because they are not entirely clear what they are signing up to).

  8. fair_deal says:

    “the endorsement of Naomi carried quotes by the LibDems (and not Alliance).”

    It isn’t a Lib Dem statement. It is an Alliance statement, they issued it. They didn’t repeat what was already released by the Lib Dems, they are the source of it.

    I find being expected to believe that in the midst of what was supposed to be an electoral breakthrough for the Lib Dems with unprecedented support in opinion polls that Nick Clegg decided to take 10 minutes out of his day because he was feeling generous, up to date with how things seemed to be going in East Belfast and his own volition ridiculous.

    As to Sammy whether we believe in the scale of the cuts or not it remains our job to implement them, that is the nature of the political structures in the UK. Practical realities not short-termism.

    • I think you are digging there. Alliance carried a statement by the LibDem
      leader. Had Bono endorsed Naomi, I am sure they would have carried that too!

      As for Sammy, the clear implication pre-election was that the DUP could stop the cuts he is now determined to carry out post-election.

  9. fair_deal says:

    If we had held the balance of power we could have, but the election didn’t go that way.Although we had managed to cotton on to how likely a hung parliament was earlier than most.

    • The DUP would never realistically have held the balance of power – stable majorities could not rely on 8-10 seats.

      All that said, broadly, Sammy has played a blinder *post-election*, of course, and there’s a chance he may even pull off a Budget, which is a political achievement not to be underestimated in NI’s system!

  10. Richard says:

    It’s fascinating actually that there seems to be an unprecedented interest in alliance and their policies. I can’t ever remember this much interest.
    Is it because the ground is shifting more and more to the centre and away from sectarian politics, no credible centre ground alternative as perceived by the electorate, or a mixture of both?

    • Unfortunately I think it’s more the latter than the former, although the latter may lead to the former of course. We will no doubt return to this point!

      The Alliance Party has its problems (the lack of clarity over this relationship is only one of them), not least its inability for all its recent success to capitalise really dramatically on others’ failures and to advance outside Greater Belfast. The party must aim for a significant advance at the forthcoming Assembly election, including at the very least gaining seats and at least coming close to winning one in a constituency it does not currently hold one.

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