More on Progressive Alliances — Thank you Greens in Richmond

It’s being widely reported that Richmond’s local Green Party have voted not to stand a candidate in the Richmond Park by-election, and instead to support the Lib Dems. This is a very welcome move, coming from a party that has been talking more than most about the need for a “progressive alliance”.

While I’m more sceptical than some about the possibilities of the various left and centre-left parties working together (there are some very real differences between the parties, otherwise there would be no point *having* different parties — and I also don’t believe that all “progressive” voters would just vote for a single Notthetories candidate), it’s certainly something I’m open to, and definitely something worth considering on a case-by-case basis.

In particular, working with the Greens seems more possible than working with some other parties. This is partly because they seem genuinely more interested in collaboration than others (whether this is true or not is a different matter — I’ve heard that Caroline Lucas, in particular, Does Not Play Well With Others when it comes to keeping political agreements — but it’s something their supporters value, and so an easier sell for them), but also because their priorities are a closer match to the Lib Dems’ than many other parties’.

In particular, the two parties are roughly aligned on the great issue of the moment — the Brexit vote. The Tories, UKIP, and Labour are all fighting over who can use that vote to be most racist, while in England only the Lib Dems and Greens are urging caution. Both parties also support electoral reform, although I’m not keen on the Greens’ preferred choice of AMS (they’re OK with STV, though, which is the best voting system by miles). While we’re better at civil liberties than them, and they’re more radical on welfare and climate change than us (I’ve not looked at their policies closely enough to see if “more radical” is a good or a bad thing in this case) acceptable compromises could easily be reached on those issues.

That doesn’t mean that the two parties are the same or should merge or any nonsense like that — the Greens have a lot of policies I find disturbing or just plain wrong, and I’m sure there are plenty of things in the Lib Dem platform the Greens would dislike (come to that, there are a few things in our platform *I* dislike), but that both parties have a few common interests.

With a sensible voting system, that wouldn’t require any kind of electoral co-operation. Both parties would stand candidates, I’d rank Lib Dems at the top, Greens after them, and so on; Green supporters would rank Greens at the top and hopefully Lib Dems close to the top, and both parties would get representation roughly in proportion to their support.

But we don’t have a sensible voting system. And not only that, we have a ridiculously, angrily, polarised set of political activists (and a ridiculously, angrily, polarised voting population *who are not polarised in the same way as the activists*, which is just *joyous*). So I’m genuinely pleased that the Greens have, in such an atmosphere, made the first move towards co-operation — they’ve chosen, in an iterated prisoner’s dilemma, to co-operate rather than to defect, and that’s a choice that’s always worth praising.

(I’d hope that in the unlikely event that the situation was reversed the Lib Dems would do the same — but it was always likely that it would be the Greens that would have to make such a choice. There are loads of Tory-held seats with the Lib Dems in a good second place that could be competitive in a by-election, while I don’t think there are any Tory/Green marginals.)

They may well have been encouraged by the recent Batley by-election, caused by the politically-motivated murder of Jo Cox MP, at which only the tiny fascist parties opposed Labour. This showed that opposing parties *can* sometimes co-operate electorally, when there’s good reason to.

I expect us to continue fighting the Greens in constituencies and wards where the choice isn’t down to us or the Tories (and in this case a particularly repellent specimen of the Tory Party), and for the Greens to do the same to us. It’s a moral obligation, in fact, for both parties to do so.

But I also hope that this means that in seats where one party has a good chance and the other doesn’t, we’ll be able to co-operate in future. For example, given that in Caroline Lucas’ seat we’ve never done better than third, and came fifth last time, we might agree not to stand (or at the very least not to campaign and just put up a paper candidate) while the Greens might endorse us in Torbay (where they came fifth last time, but where a tiny swing would return another Lib Dem MP). Or something like that.

That might not be possible. There are definite arguments against it — some of them very strong. But in a FPTP system, concentrating one’s campaigning geographically makes a lot of sense when you’re a minor party.

My hope for the next election, as the only plausible result which might actually be able to pull the country back from the brink of madness, is a Labour/Lib Dem or Labour/Lib Dem/Green coalition, since going from eight MPs to a majority in one election seems implausible. (And I say this as someone who, locally, is fighting an ultra-authoritarian local Labour party. I have no love for or illusions about Labour — they’re just the slightly less-worse of two bad major parties right now).

As an activist, then, my job is to try to make that as likely as possible — and while doing so, to make the Lib Dem proportion of that coalition as large as possible (ideally, the largest bloc in such a coalition). If the Greens want to help bring that about, and keep or increase their own Parliamentary representation while doing so, that seems like something at least worth considering.

(Frankly, what I’d like to see in the long run is the Lib Dems as a majority government, the Greens as the opposition, and the rest fighting over scraps).

So again, thank you Richmond Greens, for doing something rare in politics and going for the best outcome rather than a 0.1% vote increase you can put on leaflets. I hope it leads to something good.

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2 Responses to More on Progressive Alliances — Thank you Greens in Richmond

  1. dm says:

    Until the UK has STV the left is screwed (perhaps the right as well, I haven’t really thought about/don’t care).

    I’m Australian but lived in London for 3 years and was there for the last general election, which was the first time I realised you didn’t have STV and it left me wondering how you’ve manage to progress leftward on any front.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      We haven’t, really, electorally. The welfare state was started with Lloyd George’s People’s Budget, when there were only two parties of any importance, so STV didn’t matter — and that was before women even had the vote, so didn’t rely on electoral success especially.
      The rest of the welfare state — the post-war Keynesian consensus — only happened because of the National Government in the Second World War, with all three parties of the time working in coalition. Commissioned by a Tory PM who’d defected from the Liberals, written by a Liberal, and eventually implemented by a Labour government that only won because of people’s desire for change after the war.
      And the big social reforms of the 60s, from the Wilson government, happened more or less by accident — Labour only got in then on a wafer-thin majority after thirteen years of corrupt stupidity from the Tories, and Wilson happened for internal party reasons to appoint Roy Jenkins as Home Secretary — and Jenkins turned out to be the most radical person ever in the role.
      (the 1997-2010 government made some minor managerialist tweaks in favour of redistribution, but essentially followed the same agenda as the Major government before it and the Coalition government that followed).

      Only three people have ever led the Labour party to a majority in an election — Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson, and Tony Blair (and interestingly, two of those only got the leadership because of the sudden death of a much more popular Labour leader who laid the groundwork — which means the only time a Labour leader won an election without filling a dead man’s shoes, it took a world war to do it). Tony Blair is the only Labour leader to serve two full terms as PM of a Labour government, and he did it by not being “left” at all.
      (The awkward phrasing is because of the weird case of Ramsay MacDonald, Labour PM in a Tory government. during the inter-war period where all the parties were realigning).
      The fact that despite this the Labour party are implacably opposed to any form of electoral reform — because the current system gives them a guaranteed permanent second place, with an occasional election win every twenty years or so give or take — is one of the many reasons I despair of that party.

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