Tuesday 25 August 2015

Blind loyalty

‘Loyalty’ is a curious thing in politics.  The word is one of those that always sound like a good thing, but in reality it is meaningless unless it is related to something else.  One can only be loyal to someone or something; using the word loyal as a generic adjective is well nigh meaningless.
That doesn’t mean that they don’t try it though.  One of the criticisms of Corbyn during the Labour leadership contest has been that he has been serially disloyal in parliament, voting against the party whip repeatedly.  Such a disloyal person, runs the argument, cannot expect that others will be loyal if he is elected leader.  But the question is – to what has he been disloyal, and to what might he reasonably expect others to be loyal in turn?
That he has frequently voted against the parliamentary party’s whip is an undisputed fact.  And since the party whip seems to be decided solely by the leader, then it is reasonable to conclude that he has been disloyal to the leader.  But, as far as I can see, he has been very consistent in voting in line with what he has told his constituents at election after election.  That, surely, is a form of loyalty in itself, rather then disloyalty – and it would be disloyal to those constituents to say one thing at an election and then do the opposite once elected.  (Although the idea that there’s anything wrong with doing the opposite to what they said before the election would, it seems, be a strange one to most politicians.)
Politicians – and not just Labour ones – are frequently placed in a position of having to decide to what or whom they should be loyal.  Should it be the ‘cause’ (for those who espouse one), the party, the leader, or the electorate?  For those who entered politics purely as a career choice, it’s easy enough to fall in and do whatever you’re told, even if it’s the opposite of what you claimed to believe passionately the previous week.  It takes a lot more bravery for someone to stand by what he or she believes.  I’d value that more highly than misplaced loyalty any day.

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