Friday 20 May 2016

Should the Greens join a ‘Progressive Alliance’ at the next General Election?

In what is apparently the first of a series of open letters to UK ‘progressive parties’ written by Neal Lawson, Chair of the Labour Party grouping Compassand published at Open Democracy, argues that the Greens should join such an alliance.

Lawson, whilst accepting the UK’s First Past the Post electoral system handicaps the Green Party, writes:

The recent local election results confirm the mini-surge is over. Yes the excellent Sian Berry ran a good campaign in London, but in a Corbyn world you have lost support to Labour in key places like Norwich and Bristol. The moment in the sun on the Brighton council is over. Yes in Scotland under PR you won more MSP seats – but not as many as you thought. 

He goes onto assert:

The only hope, I repeat the only hope we all have in the short term is for a progressive alliance of Labour, SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the Greens to defeat the Tories and UKIP.

He says that the Greens can be more of a influencer party, in terms of policies on environmental sustainability and nuclear weapons for example. Presumably, he means influence the Labour Party in particular. Lawson himself may be open to such influence, but is the Labour Party as a whole?

Leaving aside my dislike of the term ‘progressive’ which encompasses the likes of Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and Nick Clegg, is some kind of electoral alliance of the vaguely left UK political parties workable, and indeed desirable?

Let’s start with desirable. I would dearly love to see the back of this Tory government, which is characterised by nasty propaganda, scapegoating of minority groups, such as those on welfare benefits, tax breaks for the rich and sheer incompetence in economic management.

So, it is most certainly desirable in my book. Even the last majority Labour government was preferable to what we’ve had for the past six years.

The ‘is it workable’ bit, has two parts really, workable in terms of will all the parties agree to it, and then will the voters buy it?

There are a number of problems that I can foresee in all of the parties mentioned agreeing to this. For the Greens, the only likely Parliamentary advantage is if Labour does not contest Green Party MP Caroline Lucas’ Brighton Pavilion seat. Even if Labour agreed to this, and I think that is far from guaranteed, we have won this seat twice now, without any help from Labour, quite the reverse. So it is not a big giveaway, although with Parliamentary constituency boundary changes almost certain before the next general election, this seat may not be as green as it has been.

There is also the problem of not knowing what flavour of Labour Party we will be dealing with by 2020. Corbyn may not last as Labour leader, and even if he does, his radicalness seems to be being steadily stripped from him by his MPs.

Then there is working with the Lib Dems. Let us not forget that they propped up the vicious Tory government for five years, which did immeasurable damage to the most vulnerable people in our society. Should they be helped to get back on their feet by the Greens?

The SNP and PC are perhaps less problematic, in that they are broadly social democrat, but also nationalist, which is something of an anathema to Greens, generally.

And what role, if any, is there for Green Left in all of this? Should we open our membership to non Green Party members or form a kind of open Green Momentum instead, now that Labour’s version is now closed to non Labour members (or supporters, but you now have to sign a declaration saying don’t support any other party than Labour)? We will need to discuss this amongst ourselves in the next few months, but it is possible to see Green Left as something of facilitator in this, particularly with Labour.

Will the voters elect this progressive alliance, maybe? I think the main problem will be with English voters. At the last general election, there was talk of this type of alliance post election, although Labour rejected it, and for good reason I think.

The Tories made capital out of saying that voting Labour in England would lead to us being run by the Scots (SNP), and I’m sure this message was effective in the end. After all, no-one expected the Tories to win a majority, and I think this issue had a bearing on the result.

Having said all of this, without some kind of cooperation between ‘left’ parties, it is hard to see the Tories losing the next general election, from this distance out. That could change though, the EU referendum is tearing the Tories apart and they may not recover from this for years.

I would be prepared to back some kind of alliance, on the proviso that all of the parties of the alliance give an unambiguous endorsement of a change to a proportional election system for all levels of elections in the UK. Not a referendum pledge, it has to be in the parties manifestos and implemented within the lifetime of the next Parliament. Although, as I say, I'm not sure the voters of England will back this.

For the avoidance of any doubt whatsoever, as it says in this blog’s description, this is my opinion, not an official statement by Green Left or the Green Party.    


  1. Good article about a good article, exactly the kind of discussions worth having at this time of change. A green momentum has potential and I hope a wider debate will be had on this. I though this section of the author's letter was thought provoking (note also that Podemos have also just formed a left alliance) " And finally my Green friends, can you change your party? You are wonderfully democratic but you have a clunky and old feel to you. Experiment and modernise. Use new technology to make policy decisions, adopt the kind of Circles that Podemos use, try out more fluid ideas. Let members join other parties like the WEP do. This is a world of Facebook where people hold multiple identities all at once. Take a big look at the Alternativet party in Denmark and see how they link sustainability to innovation and enterprise – and make it all look cool. It’s called the future. Grasp it and use your party to prefigure the world we need to create."

  2. I'm not so sure Podemos are a great example, their leadership has been tacking to the right recently.

    1. A good example in creating a compelling and persuasive narrative and using this with 'technology' for optimum engagement. I will have to read about this lurch to the right, the last I read they had formed an alliance with united left

  3. Thanks for engaging - and just for accuracy - Compass was a Labour faction but then we changed our membership to involve anyone who wants a good society - we have Greens, Lib Dens , Plaid and SNP on our board and are way better as a consequence. Any my definition of progressive is something about shifting the balance of forces to favour people and the planet over capital.

  4. It seems to me that the key issue here is this: what are we trying to achieve? And the answer for me in the short term is: proportional representation. If all the parties other than the Tories (and don't forget that UKIP are also in favour of PR) agree to join to form a government if together they can prevent the Tories doing so solely for the purpose of introducing PR and calling another election (and this isn't as simple as it sounds), I can see some track in this. However, it does require the general public to 'get' PR; it does require all the parties in favour of PR to agree on which system they would propose and unite behind; and it does require all of us to trust each other not to compete against each other in critical seats. Given Labour's track record of trying to trash the Green Party in Brighton, I'm afraid I'd take a lot of convincing that I could trust them - even with Corbyn as leader (and please note: I deliberately didn't say 'in charge'). Let us approach this with great care. What we don't want is a situation where essentially Labour uses us for the purpose of winning an election under PR and then continuing with their 'growth, growth, growth' mantra and thereby continuing to trash the planet the way they and the Tories have done for decades.

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