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It's time to make plans for a post-election Progressive Alliance

The door is open to a new politics – all the parties have to do is walk through it.

Neal Lawson
31 May 2017
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Nicola Sturgeon offered Labour and the whole of the UK a political lifeline when she said she would back a progressive alliance government. Jeremy Corbyn immediately refused her offer. Millions of progressive hearts sank across the country. It really doesn’t have to be like this. 

Our political system is rotten to the core. Or at least it is for progressive people and parties. For the Tories it is just fine. So long as progressives remain divided against a singular opposition, they will lose. Progressives have to reset the system. But because of the competitive and adversarial nature of the voting system and Westminster, Labour feels it has to pretend that it and it alone can win. Even when it is obvious that the very best we can hope for is a hung parliament where progressive parties could work together to keep the Tories out.

What is sad is that this misplaced bravado fools no one and just makes Labour look at best a little silly. At worse it perpetuates what happened in the immediate aftermath of 2010 when Labour tribalists like David Blunkett and John Reid said they would rather be in opposition than work with the Liberal Democrats in government. That worked out well didn’t it! Instead of consigning the country, and those least able to weather it, to another five years of Tory rule – surely its better to share power than hand it over to the right? 

Of course there are risks for both Labour and the SNP. But what risks aren’t worth it if the alternative is another Tory led government? For the SNP the risk is that a progressive alliance government might work – not just for the UK but for Scotland and therefore could diminish the case for independence. But with support for a second referendum already declining, the big danger is not protecting the people of Scotland from the Tories and thus laying the basis for a better Scotland within a federal UK. Of course those who believe in independence have a right to push for it – but for now a progressive alliance government looks the best bet for Scotland. 

For Labour the risk is the charge of “a coalition of chaos”. But this is a charge that will be made whatever Labour does, because the Tories know that only a progressive alliance can stop them from getting the landslide they presume is already theirs. Pretending that the electoral reality we face can just be wished away if you say no to alliances often enough is just daft. Much better to start talking to the SNP, the Greens, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru now, and make the outline of an alliance, or at least the post-election process to get there, known and transparent. Show the people of the UK that they have nothing to fear from the type of coalition governments that are formed successfully across the world all the time. 

As we now know, it is single party Tory rule that leads to chaos and instability. It is single party Tory rule that gave us Brexit and will only give us a hard Brexit, deal or no deal. It is single party Tory rule that will cause untold misery to the lives of millions who cannot afford five more years of cuts. 

If Labour were to call for a summit of all the progressive parties so that at least a sensible process were put on the table for its formation – possibly facilitated by an ex-senior civil servant – then people would start to understand what the possibilities were. The fear would diminish and the signal would be sent out that people could and should vote for the best placed progressive candidates to defeat the Tories. The election would be electrified and a new progressive dynamic would be the story of the last ten days of the campaign.

One of the big items on the agenda of a progressive alliance government would be proportional representation, so that parties like the Greens wouldn’t have to stand aside in seats again. Instead, all progressive parties would have to work together. The days when Labour, backed by the working class and enough of the middle class, could form a majority government are gone. They are not coming back. A progressive future will instead have to be negotiated by all the progressive elements within the country.

Ironically, it has always been this way. The two big progressive shifts in our history, 1945 and 1997, happened with progressive parties worked together. 

Would Jeremy Corbyn rather be in government, sharing power with people like Nicola Sturgeon, Caroline Lucas and Leanne Wood – people who he has much more in common with than many in his own party – or let the Tories back into power? The door is open to a new politics – all the parties have to do is walk through it.

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