The news earlier this week about Cllr Ian Jobling's defection to the Labour party came as a partial shock. I knew, from talking to Ian, that he wasn't going to stand for election again. I got a sense he was gradually bowing out. I knew he had some difficulties with some of the Coalition announcements but I believed that he, like me, would have felt able to lobby within the party on those things he didn't like. (And after all we have a great opportunity to do that given that any Lib Dem member can attend national conference and it is in Liverpool this September)
The whole subject though got me mulling over the reasons why people change parties (and I mean in the high profile way with the press coverage and the formal letter and all of that).
Thinking about why people defect/change parties (actually I hate the word defect as I think some of the meanings it carries aren't quite right for these situations) it seems to me that there are really three main reasons. I base this on being involved in, and watching politics for a long time. I expect many of those who defect have a mixture of motivations and it can be interesting to work out who has which motivations in which quantities.
First reason - I am going to lose so I will push off to another party now and therfore spare myself the embarassment/loss/ expense etc. This is not the same as changing parties to be offered a "safe seat" as you can make this change without actually expecting to gain anything. You do however, if your old party loses, have a retrospective justification and you can tell yourself you did the right thing. It's also not the same as simply bowing out or even sitting as an independent for a while as you do have to make a choice of destination.
Second reason - my career prospects are being harmed by my existing party/would be much better in another party so I am going. The obvious examples here are people who have been deselected or can see that the new party would offer them more positions. Often promises have to be made up front to the defector to make sure the move happens as this is bridge burning time. Someone who feels they are going to lose, but who is persuaded they will be offered a candidacy in the new party and will win there falls into this category.
Third reason - I have changed my mind on policy or the party I am in is now doing things I don't agree with. I am off to one that I do agree with. Obviously there are two necessary parts to this. You have to have the disagreement on policy and have decided that you can't resolve it through your own lobbying AND you have to have a destination you believe fits your views better. The second condition is important because otherwise you could just walk away from it, or become an independent.
Obviously there are other elements, like whether or not you are comfortable with the culture of a particular party (they can be very different) or whether you get on with the people. But on the whole I think the three categories I have mentioned are the main drivers and those who defect have one of these as their primary motivation (even if they have elements of the others in the "mix".
Clearly the only person who really knows about the mix of Ian's motivation is Ian. But when I read the press coverage I did feel that I had to take some of it with a pinch of salt. Labour is the party that took us to an illegal war and tried to introduce ID cards for goodness sake. These are both things Ian spoke strongly about.
Interestingly some people have commented that the timing of this defection announcement was faulty because it was a "dead news" period. Actually that's not a great argument as certainly Emma Nicholson's defection to the Lib Dems years ago was in another allegedly "dead news" period and was planned to be so. These times, when there is not a lot of news around, can actually be better in terms of maximising coverage.
Linked to this however is the suggestion that the timing was faulty as leaving this until the eve of Lib Dem conference would have had more of an effect. It's a possible argument although from what I know of Ian Jobing he would have had some difficulty in maintaining a pretence/lying between now and mid September.