Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay; Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan.
(Judges, Chapter 12)
A shibboleth is a splendid way of identifying your enemies. But it has little to recommend it as a way of conducting first-past-the-post-politics. Why single out and alienate those not of your tribe?
I ask because it has become a practice of many Grand Men of the Left. The frequent epithets: “Blairites,” “neoliberals”. They are so protean, so bereft of content, as to shrink to little thing more than a desire to articulate a loathing of some other.
It’s foolish politics. Bad enough to hate Conservatives who, like it or not, form a large part of the voting public. But also, deliberately, to alienate those who are not your political enemies? When last did Left Labour harvest so rich a bounty of votes that it could afford to leave some lying on the ground?
The latest iteration – the spat slur “centrist” – illustrates the point well. What might cause you to highlight your extremism and call it virtue? To choose to forego a broad appeal for a narrow one is, for a political party, to take a silk purse and fashion a sow’s ear.
Ultimately these are questions for those in the habit. For the rest of us, it’s enough to remember that we can succeed only by avoiding the trap ourselves.
Nick Clegg’s disastrous pitch “We will bring a heart to a Conservative government and a brain to a Labour one” ended the LibDems as a political force. A new Party must be more than ‘not them’. It is only when we say who we are and what we are for that the electorate can ask itself: ‘are they for me,’ ‘am I for this’?
Brexit is not enough. Brexit will not be the last crisis the United Kingdom faces. An ageing population, the forces of globalisation, the concentration of wealth, intergenerational fairness, the evaporation of trust in politicians, a capitalism that does not serve the people, climate change: unless a Party can speak of these issues, it will not win, and it will not deserve, the trust of the electorate. But win trust on them and perhaps you will be heard on Brexit too.
Over the coming days and weeks I will offer some thoughts on what a new Party should offer, and be. I hope others will too – here, or elsewhere.
Let those who want to, with their shibboleths, divide. A new Party must with ideas unite.