Friday 13 January 2017

Labour’s New Immigration Stance Sounds the Death Knell for a Progressive Alliance

Having been an ‘in principle’ supporter of an anti-Tory electoral pact at the next general election, I have also always been sceptical that it will ever transpire, in any meaningful way. There was a sort of pact between the Greens and the Lib Dems in the recent Richmond Park by-election, but Labour stood and has shown no real appetite for the concept.

With the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, effectively re-launching his leadership in a speech and a tour of the media studios on Tuesday, I think he buried any faint possibility of a progressive alliance coming into being.

I say that, even though Corbyn’s position appeared to shift almost by the hour on Tuesday, in what we might charitably call a nuancing of his position, on fat cat pay, but more especially on the free movement of people within the (and between the UK and) European Union (EU).

By the end of the day Corbyn, although it wasn’t what the pre-speech press releases had said, was saying that:

"Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle, but I don't want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out."

Clear as mud, then. But the whole exercise had come on the back of the weekend comments from right wing Labour MPs, like Stephen Kinnock, that free movement of people would have to be curtailed as part of the Brexit negotiations. It could be Corbyn was trying please everyone in his party by being so vague by the end of the day, but it seemed to me that this was a shift towards ‘managed’ immigration from the EU, since staying in the EU single market almost certainly means accepting free movement. Reform of this it seems, is not an option.

Corbyn is of course mindful of the electoral threat to Labour from UKIP (and the Tories), in the north of England particularly, whilst trying to keep the 70% of Labour voters who voted to remain in the EU behind Labour. He can’t have it both ways though, we are either in the EU single market with free movement, or we are not, and Corbyn seems to be signalling, rather like the Prime Minister, Theresa May, that immigration trumps trade in any final Brexit deal.

Not only does this risk alienating a majority of Labour voters, but it really ends the prospect of electoral cooperation with the other likely participants of a progressive alliance, who all want to retain EU single market access and free movement, and even remain fully inside the EU.

The Lib Dems have of course made a second referendum on EU membership their flag ship policy, and they will be pleased if Labour leaves this ground free for them to exploit. Their leader, Tim Farron said: "This confirms what we all suspected, that Jeremy Corbyn never had his heart in fighting to protect Britain’s place in Europe.” 

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader said: “Underlying signals are pointing towards the UK leaving the EU Single Market - the world’s biggest free trade area. Scotland did not vote to leave the EU and this year the Scottish Government will continue to do all we can to protect Scotland's vital interests.”

Plaid Cymru's leader, Leanne Wood, who said she favoured staying in the single market, was asked if the UK should stay in the single market and keep freedom of movement, replied: "Well I think we'd have to. I've been to Brussels and spoke to officials there and they are very clear about the freedom of movement of goods, trade and people all coming as a package."  

The Green Party co-leader, Caroline Lucas, a very vocal backer of a progressive alliance called it a ‘capitulation to the Tories’ and she added:

"The Labour Party is handing the post-referendum process to the Conservatives on a plate. First they risk throwing Britain off the Brexit cliff edge by voting with them to trigger Article 50 prematurely and now they seem set to sacrifice our access to the single market by joining the Tory blame game on free movement. At a time when we need a real opposition more than ever we're seeing Labour dancing to the Tories' Brexit tune.”

Increasingly, it looks as though on the central political issue of the time in the UK, Labour is taking a position where an alliance with the other anti-Tory parties, is all but impossible. Without Labour (and the Lib Dems), there is zero chance of a progressive alliance winning a general election, which makes it is all rather pointless really.

Progressive alliance – RIP?


  1. I think you have the wrong idea about
    the Progressive Alliance - my understanding is it is about a recognition that the Tories and UKIP are on the other side and are fomenting racism and xenophobia in a context that could become very dangerous indeed, laying the ground for increased authoritarianism and possibly fascism. The PA is based upon gaining electoral agreements from council ward to constituency level. Although it is not an exact parallel there are real similarities with the traditional united front - we unite against the common enemy whilst retaining our distinctive identity as we have witnessed this week with CL's speedy and principled intervention around EU free movement and Jonathan Bartley's clear and open support of those who have taken industrial action in contrast to e.g. London Mayor Sadiq Khan's condemnation of striking transport workers. There will be examples of local agreements regardless of whether there are agreements at constituency and national level. The more the GP pushes for a PA and the more the LP resists it the better for the GP as long as we maintain our principled positions. We are demonstrating in action that we are for maximum unity against the regressive alliance. And when the holier-than-thou leftists whinge about 'allying' with the Lib Dems remind them of e.g. the Anti Nazi League and Stop The War Coalition which drew their support from those well to the right of those who were behind these organisations. Additionally following the 1917 February Revolution, Lenin advocated support for the right wing Kerensky against the much more right wing Kornilov.

  2. Local deals are possible, but the Lib Dems particularly will not go for this policy. Their whole approach is to capture the 48%. To be honest the Greens are not really very relevant, the SNP and LDs are. It's over - all we will achieve is to help the LDs back on their feet.