Thursday, 18 June 2015
Thoughts on Caroline Lucas’s Progressive Alliance Proposal
The Green party MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas writing in The Guardian yesterday called on Labour’s leadership hopefuls to embrace multi party politics and form a ‘progressive alliance’ ahead of the next general election due in 2020.
Perhaps the least controversial element in the proposed strategy is the call for Labour to back a change in the electoral system, to a more proportional system which better reflects the wishes of the voters. Labour under Tony Blair’s leadership in opposition in the 1990s promised such a change and commissioned a report by former Labour Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, into the issue when Labour won the 1997 general election. There was opposition from some senior Labour politicians, pointing out that they had just won by a landslide under the existing electoral system, so why should they change it? The report was shelved and never mentioned again.
However, it is looking difficult for Labour now to win under the First Past The Post (FPTP) system, with their wipe out in Scotland at this year’s election, so maybe Labour will see an advantage in changing, or maybe not. Labour will know that under almost any other voting system they would not get an overall majority (nor would the Tories), so better to stick with FPTP.
But it is Lucas’s suggestion of an electoral pact of the ‘progressive’ parties that is the most controversial suggestion and it is riddled with difficulties too, especially if we keep FPTP. She writes:
‘A possible first step could be for Labour, Greens, Lib Dems, the SNP and Plaid Cymru to empower local branches with the ability to back candidates from other parties if they wish’.
This is possible already in the Green party and is probably so in the other parties, after all, local parties can choose not to field a candidate. Such arrangements have been made at elections between RESPECT and the Greens, in Birmingham at a general election and in the north-west of England region at a European election. But the five parties mentioned above would be much more difficult to get an agreement with. Labour and the Lib Dems see the Greens as their enemy and so are unlikely to help us win seats, which no doubt were held by them in the recent past.
In this year’s general election Labour poured a lot of resources into trying to recapture Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas’s seat, all to no avail in the end. But they clearly want that seat back.
Our next best result was in Bristol West. This was the result:
Lib Dem 18.8%
Can you see Labour (or the Lib Dems who held the seat before the election) standing down in favour of the Greens? No, I can’t either.
The problem is that the Greens, Labour and Lib Dems are all competing for pretty much the same voters. This type of alliance would mean us standing down in pretty much all of our potentially winnable seats, apart maybe from Brighton Pavilion, which would not be great deal for us, just as we are starting to gain electoral ground.
Of course we don’t know who the leaders of Labour and Lib Dems will be at this stage and in which political direction they will take their parties. I wouldn’t imagine say, Liz Kendall taking Labour in a more progressive direction. But whoever becomes the leader of Labour and the Lib Dems, it would surely look like they had given up all hope of advancement by accepting this kind of arrangement. Then there is getting local parties to agree to standing aside for their fiercest local rivals. Not easy at all I think.
The old social democratic parties are being replaced in parts of Europe by a new left. Having become discredited by their embrace of neo-liberal economics, the voters are abandoning these parties and are attracted to new radical parties of the left, who offer a genuine alternative to the pro-big business, privatisation agenda that is pursued by the social democratic parties these days.
We should aim to replace Labour and the Lib Dems as the party of choice for progressive voters, not prop up their unpopularity with the electorate by leaving them unchallenged. It’s probably a long road, but we need to take more Labour and Lib Dem seats before they are likely to change their policies to match ours and be worth having an alliance with.