On Progressive Alliances

I know, I know, I said I wasn’t going to write about the general election. Unfortunately, when you spend all day every day campaigning, as I have for the last few weeks, you end up with no thoughts in your brain other than those of politics. I’m still trying to keep it to a minimum, though.

But also, part of the reason I said I wasn’t going to do more political writing at the moment was my despair at the self-destructive behaviour of the British left, all busily shooting at each other while Theresa May somehow manages to unite everyone from Dan Hodges on the centre-left all the way through to Nigel Farage on the fascist right in endorsing her programme for government, despite that programme consisting, as far as I can tell, of nothing more complex than “fuck you, foreigners”. However, that has largely changed over the last couple of weeks, and I’m very glad of it.

There’s a thing I discovered recently called a kidney chain. Many people with kidney disease need a transplant. Most of them have loved ones who would gladly donate a kidney in order to help them have the operation — but many of those donors don’t match the people they love. However, those donors *may* match someone else in need — who in turn has a potential donor who matches a third person. If these things are co-ordinated right, matching a long chain of donors to patients so that the loved ones of everyone who donates get kidneys, then the end result is that a lot of people get transplants all at once, and everyone gets a kidney. If they can’t be co-ordinated, the result is a lot of people dying unnecessarily of kidney disease.

In this election, the Green Party have been acting as the kidney donors, and we should all thank them for that. While there are *immense* differences in policy between the main “progressive” parties, there are a core of things that the Green Party want which the Lib Dems and at least some of the Labour Party can agree on — electoral reform, environmental protection, more funding for the NHS, and no Brexit or as “soft” a Brexit as possible if it has to happen. And all three of those parties are agreed that if there has to be a majority Tory government it should be with as small a majority as possible. After the Lib Dems stood down in Brighton Pavilion in order that Caroline Lucas, the Greens’ co-leader, not have to oppose us in this election, the Greens have stood down for the Lib Dems in a variety of seats (and in other seats like Lewes they’ve not yet stood down but have put out leaflets saying it’s between us and the Tories, which is nice of them). They’ve also stood down, endorsing Labour, in a few seats where Labour are the obvious “progressive” challenger to the Tories.

The Lib Dems, too, have… not exactly endorsed voting Labour in some seats, but for example Vince Cable has said it certainly wouldn’t be a problem if Rupa Huq keeps her seat. And in one or two seats Labour have agreed not to campaign against the Lib Dems or Greens.

So… very slowly, the old anti-Tory bloc that won in 1997 is being reformed. This *may* be enough to mitigate the Tory majority. It needs to be understood that this *doesn’t* mean those parties not fighting each other where the Tories aren’t in contention — I want to win as many Manchester seats as possible off Labour, for example — and it *certainly* doesn’t mean a full-scale electoral pact. But when the Greens stand down in an area and say who they’re standing down in favour of, that’s a fairly good signal — and it means that Lib Dem supporters in Brighton Kemptown who see the Greens have stood down in favour of the Labour candidate can, if they want, vote Labour in the knowledge that there will be Labour supporters in Oxford West & Abingdon seeing the Greens give the same signal.

Now, standing down isn’t often the best thing for Lib Dems to do even if we *do* want to support a decent Labour or Green candidate — there are many soft Tory voters who won’t ever vote Labour but who *would* switch their vote to the Lib Dems, so in Labour/Tory marginals the best thing to do (where the Labour candidate is actually better than the Tories — there are many seats where that’s not the case) is to put up a paper candidate and not campaign there. That still lets tactical voters know who the principal anti-Tory candidate in the area is, but without taking votes away from a party that might win.

But we should *only* even consider providing even that tacit level of support to anti-Brexit, pro-civil-liberties, pro-electoral-reform candidates. There aren’t actually that many of those in Labour, and we should fight regressive Labour at least as hard as we fight regressive Tories.

Finally, there are only a couple of days til nominations close, but I do think that it would be good if the Lib Dems could bow to the one specific request the Greens have publicly made. They want us to stand down in the Isle of Wight, to give them free run. Now, frankly, I think that would be bad for them, and I don’t think they’re going to win anyway, but given the number of seats they’re supporting us in it would be the decent thing to do as they ask.

We’re not all on the same team — and frankly I think the Labour Party has not been fit for purpose in more than a decade — but there are goals that we have in common, and where it’s possible to provide mutual support right now in pursuit of short-term tactical goals, that’s probably a good thing. I don’t want to lose a kidney, but better that than die of kidney disease. And similarly I don’t want the Lib Dems not to fight the Isle of Wight, but if by doing so we can get, say, a Tory majority of twenty instead of one of a hundred, that’s worth the loss to me.

I’m glad that activists in all three of these parties are coming round to this view, and I hope we have some more good news before nominations close.

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6 Responses to On Progressive Alliances

  1. David Brain says:

    Plus there’s what’s happening in Jeremy Hunt’s seat, which is one of those “once an election” cases where there’s a sensible single issue to fight on (the NHS), against someone who would have to defend his record on that single issue (which is not great), and in a seat in which the opposition would need to be united to make a real difference.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I hadn’t seen about that when I wrote this post. But yes, Hunt could be another Hamilton, and I’m glad to see we’re all being sensible there, though I’m not usually in favour of single-issue parties like NHA, WEP, or the Pirates.

  2. Jack V says:

    That makes a lot of sense. Tacitly diverting resources away from constituencies where there’s a stronger candidate who agrees on some of the most important candidates could do a lot of good even without anyone standing down.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Yep. It helped a *lot* in 1997. Lib Dems lost a couple of points in vote share but more than doubled our seats at that election because everyone (in most places) knew who the anti-Tory candidate was and a majority voted accordingly.
      That sort of co-operation does *far* more good than formal top-down electoral pacts, and without sacrificing independence.

  3. Nonconformistradical says:

    I agree that the kind of local co-operation which appears to be taking place at present is far less divisive than an imposed top-down collaboration.
    But what happens after the election? What are the chances of co-operation between LibDem, Green and the progressive element of Labour be able to work together effectively in parliament? Much of the Labour Party seems anything but progressive. And Blair bottled it on electoral reform when he had the opportunity.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Yeah, this is one of the many reasons I don’t support any more formal alliance — we’re fundamentally different parties, and my own priorities are things like civil liberties and electoral reform, on which Labour has been shockingly awful for decades. The longer-term ambition Tim has stated, of the Lib Dems replacing Labour, seems like the right plan to me.
      As there definitely won’t be a coalition after this election, I think that actually makes this kind of co-operation safer. And I’ve said since it became apparent what a mess the last coalition was that I’ll only support any future coalition agreement if the very first bill introduced is a confidence motion called “The Introducing STV at Every Election Bill” (or, more recently, “The Introducing STV at Every Election and Revoking Article 50 Bill”).
      But no, Labour are not our friends, and I view the necessity of working with them in much the same way as Britain and the US must have viewed working with Stalin to defeat Hitler.

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