Thursday, 16 July 2009

You can't ever trust a defector

Conservatives are trumpeting the defection of two reasonably prominent former LibDems.

I say reasonably prominent because Chamali and Chandila Fernando pushed themselves forward as candidates in internal elections. Chamali was a failed contender for the LibDem London Mayoralty candidacy (defeated by Brian Paddick, who subsequently lost to Boris Johnson), while Chandila came third behind Lembit Opik and Ros Scott in the race to be party president.

I happened to talk with both of them when Nick Clegg visited Reading for a Town Hall public meeting (during the presidency campaign), notwithstanding their lack of qualifications for the roles they were standing for and aside from anything either said about their personal brand of politics I can say I was distinctly unimpressed by both. It was clear to me they were deliberately using the elections to build a campaigning platform to further their personal ambitions.

Whatever anyone may say about younger or female candidates and those from ethinic minorities (and a more representative balance is a good thing) individuals will still (and should) be judged on their merits. They were both roundly defeated by more experienced, better qualified and generally far stronger candidates.

So how do they respond to these personal setbacks - they feel scorned and jump ship, of course.

I can't say I'm surprised and in fact I can't help feeling a little glad.

My conversation with the two of them left me with a strong suspicion of their true intentions and resulted in me questioning what the LibDems stood for if they were representative of the way it was heading.

Defections are a fact of life in politics, but while the ounce of publicity gained may initially seem to reflect well on the recipient party I think it actually is potentially far more damaging than helpful. The motivations to cross the floor can be many and varied, but rarely do they reflect well on the individual or parties concerned.

The defection to Labour of Quentin Davies marked the start of the decline in popularity of Gordon Brown (ie as soon as he moved into No10) . It lead to questions about how a supposedly socialist/socially democratic party could ever accept such a figure in it's ranks - not only was he personally antithical to the party and the new leader but he had consistently been one of their staunchest and most partisan opponents until it became clear he had no future under the Conservatives. The fact that inducements were requirted to secure it made it blatantly obvious that was hard and dirty politics.

Consequently it tarred everyone involved - Brown was shown to offer bribes, Davies was shown to accept them and Cameron was either impotent to hold on to Davies or complicit in puching him. Nasty stuff.

Quite simply there is a bond of trust created when an individual volunteers to become a member of any organisation: they publicly declare that they subscribe to the principles and philosophy it represents. So to jump directly to competitor is not only a betrayal of that trust, but also an indication that their judgement is, was and may remain unreliable.

If you are capable of betrayal then you never lose it and you will always carry the air of suspicion around you that given the right conditions you will do it again (and this was defection number two for Chandila Fernando - how many more will he rack up?).

Locally tories have been the 'beneficiary' of several defections, and much the same can be said of those cases.

Defection is a strategic miscalculation for every individual involved, and while it may be an indicator of which way the wind is blowing you can also be sure that there is a massive stench on the breeze.
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