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Is It Time For A Progressive Alliance?

Has the time come for the left to become more cooperative?

Andrew Trowmans

Naked Politics Blogger 

“Let’s not condemn this country to five more years of Tory rule”, proclaimed Co-Leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas, after hearing that the Liberal Democrats were going to stand aside in her Brighton seat . The fabled “Progressive Alliance” is beginning to take shape in the snap General Election of 2017. Whilst we are short of a formal pact between the Greens, Lib Dems and Labour the signs of increased cooperation are apparent with arrangements by local party organisations and  work of cross party campaign groups like More United. The idea of the “Progressive Alliance” is nothing new. It is has been mulled over by generations of politicos in pubs and coffee shops. But is is it an idea whose time has come?

More United and Open Britain

The effort to organise tactical voting, cooperation  and resources  to halt a Conservative majority is not being led principally by political parties. With the notable exception of the Green Party, the other left/ centre left parties remain officially opposed to any pacts or alliances. It is pressure groups such as More United and Open Britain that are leading the way. More United, the campaign group that was started in response to the murder of Jo Cox MP, is a movement that supports candidates and MPs who coalesce around broadly “liberal” values such as being open to immigration, addressing economic inequality and tackling climate change. With nearly 80,000 paid up members and experienced board of directors, More United is a force to be reckoned with in this election. More United has formally backed 36 candidates in “winnable” seats across the UK, not only offering them warm words but cold hard cash and support on the ground from More United volunteers.

Not to be outdone, Open Britain is the pressure group that grew out of Britain Stronger In Europe (the official Remain Campaign) and is marshalling its 600,000 supporters to “punish” Brexiteers and aid remain-supporting candidates.  Acting CEO of Open Britain and former advisor to Nick Clegg, James Mcgory unveiled an “attack” list of 20 MPs who is he is encouraging disgruntled Remainers to go and campaign against. This list includes Labour’s Kate Hooey and Iain Duncan Smith. It is clear that campaign groups like Open Britain and More United are galvanising people beyond party lines and fostering a level of cooperation that has not yet been seen before in the UK.

Local pacts

So far in the General Election of 2017, it has been local party organisation that has lead the way in facilitating tactical voting through local pacts in individual seats. Local Green Party branches have made the decision to stand aside in 31 seats to give either the Lib Dems, Labour or the Women’s Equality party a better chance of beating the Conservatives. This includes Labour’s Wes Streeting’s super-marginal seat of Ilford North, where he won by just 589 votes at the last election.  In an act of reciprocity,  The Liberal Democrats are also standing aside in Caroline Lucas’ Brighton seat.   A more collegiate approach between the progressive parties has worked previously. in December 2016, The Lib Dems were able to overturn Zac Goldsmith’s 23,015 majority with the help of the Greens, who graciously stood aside. In seats like Ealing Central and Acton, St Ives and the Isle of Wight the case for the progressive alliance will be tested.  Determined not to be left out, UKIP have also echoed the Greens’  rhetoric about putting ‘country before party’ and are standing aside for a number of Conservatives who they see as “true brexiteers” such as Jacob Rees-Mogg in North East Somerset.

“Coalition of Chaos?”

At present, the Conservatives seem unphased by the possibility of cooperation between progressive parties. Ministers such as Michael Fallon  have been simply dusted off their scripts from the 2015 general election and said that a vote for any other than the Conservative party will result in a ‘Coalition of Chaos’. The notion of Ed Miliband being propped by the SNP is thought to have been a decisive factor in Conservatives winning marginal seats in England in 2015.  In an article in the guardian, Martin Robbins reveals a possible explanation as to why the Conservative high command do not appear to losing any sleep about the “Progressive Alliance”. Quite simply in order for the supposedly “anti-tory majority” to be effective, progressive voters have to be disciplined enough to vote for a party that is not their first choice.  Given that 34% of those eligible, did not vote in 2015 , it seems a daunting task to ask the public at large to hold their noses and vote for the second favourite.

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For now the leaderships of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are cool towards greater cooperation between the parties of the centre-left and left. This is perhaps unsurprising given that in some areas there have been decades of bad blood between Lib Dem and Labour activists. However, this may change if  local electoral pacts , More United and Open Britain are able to deny Theresa May’s hope for a commanding majority. Equally, if the Conservatives romp home with a big win, then perhaps the leaders of the opposition may be forced to consider more formal modes of cooperation. Nevertheless, it cannot remain the case that a party can win as little as 24% of the vote, like the Conservatives in 2015 and make changes that alter the very country that we are.

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