‘Honoured that you are writing my father’s biography’ the late Tony Benn, ‘...wonderfully written’ Hilary Benn

‘Sparkles with fascinating detail…a remarkable story of Liberal and Labour politics in the first half of the twentieth century.’ Michael Crick, Political Correspondent, Channel 4 News

‘Casts much light both on the evolution of British radicalism, and on the legacy which he bequeathed to his son, Tony. Professor Vernon Bogdanor, King's College, London

‘Brilliant biography…wonderful reading about the father and...discovering more about the son.’ Steve Richards of The Independent

‘Well-written and carefully researched, this fascinating biography brings to life a major figure in British political history…an excellent job of weaving together the strands of a complex life…as well as filling in the background of the Benn family’ Richard Doherty, military historian

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Embarrassing truth – Supporters of different parties don’t hate each other

From 1945 to 1999 only the Labour and Conservatives Parties could claim demonstrable competence and experience in office. Now, whether we like it or not, there is no longer a monopoly (well, strictly, a duopoly) on power in Britain.

Two major things have changed. The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were established in the late 1990s and since 2010 we have had a coalition government at Westminster.

Mainly thanks to Tony Blair’s devolution legislation, we have ten different parties which have proved themselves capable of serving in office in one of the devolved administrations or at Westminster – Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, SNP, Plaid Cymru, DUP, Ulster Unionist, Alliance, Sinn Fein and SDLP.

Tellingly, all ten parties have been able to provide competent ministers and policy contributions and all have been able to work together. The most potent symbol of this was the working relationship established between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness. If they can do it, given their histories, it is difficult to argue that any two other parties cannot work together. Many people would still insist that Labour and the Conservatives could not form a coalition.  But, in many countries the equivalent of this has happened and an objective observer could argue that the policy differences between them are really quite slender.

There are stories of tribalism, rudeness and worse among supporters of different parties on Twitter and initially this made me reluctant to join. However, my experience over the last nine months since I joined, (Alun Wyburn-Powell@liberalhistory) has reinforced my opinion that there is a significant underlying level of respect across party boundaries. With followers from many different parties (or none) and judging by several thousand interactions with people of many different political persuasions, only one person ever (not a follower), on just one occasion, was actually slightly rude. Interestingly, this person seems no longer to be a member of any political party. In my experience, inter-party respect and polite discussion is alive and well in Britain.

Cross-party relationships are actually in much better shape than we are sometimes told. Tony Blair should probably be given more credit for this than anyone, but I am not sure how grateful the Labour Party is for his largesse!

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