So, I’ve had a little criticism for my post the other day about
Islington Momentum MoreUnited; some justified, and much of it saying “at least they’re doing something — what’s your alternative?”
Which is actually a good question, because at a time when the whole political world is falling down, it’s not enough just to criticise, to call for things to be smashed — doing that without a plan for how to replace them is what has got us into the current political mess.
So, consider this as a positive contribution to the debate. It almost certainly won’t be listened to, but it’s one of the tiny drops which might make up the ocean.
Now, there has been a *lot* of talk recently about “progressive alliances”, from all sides of the left and centre-left in British Parliamentary politics (I specify Parliamentary there because I have no idea what the position of parties like TUSC, who don’t contend elections in any meaningful way, is on this). However, a lot of people have meant very different things by that. Here’s what *I* think a “progressive alliance” would need in order to work:
First, it would need to include *all* the major parties on the left and centre-left — Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, Plaid, and the Greens. Many people seem to conveniently leave one or more of those parties out of their discussions, but the only one that could be left out, given the current electoral landscape, and still have a chance of winning power would be the Greens — and even they would quite possibly be enough of a spoiler that leaving them out would cause problems.
Second, it would have to *not* be a formal electoral pact or (God forbid) a merger. While there are definite areas of overlap between those parties, they are all distinct and their distinctions should be preserved, not eradicated. All parties should stand candidates, because there will be voters for all those parties who would simply never vote for a ticket candidate from another party. But there should be informal agreements not to campaign *too* hard in territory where the Tories were the main contender for one of the parties in the alliance. But Lib Dems could fight Labour in Manchester, or Greens fight the SNP in Glasgow, for example. Only where the Tories were a threat should parties pull back and encourage tactical voting.
But the other thing that would be needed was some sort of agreed platform, before a general election. Again, all those parties should have their own manifestos, but if they all went into the next election (likely to be next year from the sounds of things, though personally I’m in favour of keeping the fixed-term Parliaments we have at present) emphasising certain shared ideas, that would be all the better for all concerned.
So what could those ideas be?
Well, any programme would have to include electoral reform. There would simply be no reason for the smaller parties to get involved unless there was a whipped vote on changing to a proportional system — ideally STV, which would be the Lib Dems’ preference, but which system could be agreed between the parties.
The second thing would need to be a halt to Brexit — yes, the people have voted, and yes that decision has to be respected (and no, I’m not going to do the “all Brexiteers are evil or deluded” thing here — that’s neither true nor helpful), but they would also have voted for a new Government, and that Government would have a mandate as well. I don’t think any of the other things I’m going to suggest could happen with Brexit hanging over us. I may be wrong of course.
With those two out of the way, I think a broad policy platform could be agreed. There would have to be something in it for each party, so what I’d suggest is looking at their principal motivations (or at least those they claim — assuming good faith here of course) and choosing one or two policies for each. In the case of Labour that motivation is improving the lives of the poor; in the case of the Lib Dems it’s freedom; for the Greens, the environment; and for Plaid and the SNP it’s national independence.
So under each of those headings one can find a few policies that the other parties’ supporters could be persuaded not to oppose, even if they’re not massively supportive of them. From Labour and “improving the lives of the poor”, one could take reversing the “bedroom tax”, building more social housing, and increasing the top rate of tax to fund the NHS. From the Lib Dems and “freedom” one could take repealing the “Snoopers’ Charter”, undoing the recent reversal on child immigration detention, and a Royal Commission to look into decriminalising or legalising recreational drugs. From the Greens and “the environment” one could take their policy to ensure all new homes are built to zero-carbon standards and to retrofit old homes to be more energy-efficient, and to massively invest in renewable energy. And from the nationalist parties, while it’s unlikely it would be possible to agree on total independence, an agreement for “devo-max” (and possibly devolution for the English regions too, to make it more politically palatable) would definitely be an improvement for them.
An agreement to focus on those as policy priorities for a couple of years would, I think (though maybe I’m wrong) be acceptable to most supporters of those parties — especially if it meant they never had to vote tactically again afterwards. Certainly it would be acceptable to me, even though I deliberately included few of my own preferred policy ideas, either from my own party or others. There’s also not much in there that would outright contradict any of the policy platforms of those parties too much.
I think something like this — coming up with a list of policies that are important to one party and at least acceptable to the others, and then focussing on policies from that list in the party manifestos (although none of the parties should, I think, change their own policies in anticipation of a future coalition, something my own party has been guilty of in the past — just accentuate the areas of agreement) would be, in the medium term at least, the only way for any of the non-Tory parties to gain power. Remember, only three Labour leaders have ever won a majority — Atlee, Wilson, and Blair.
I’m sure there are holes in this big enough to drive several trucks through, but it seems the only sensible way forward. What do other people think?
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