Neal Lawson: Progressive Alliance led by Labour the only hope for the country’s future


I woke today with two emotions. Joy that the Tories, UKIP and the candidate they supported had lost a huge majority.  This is a set back for hard Brexit and soft racism.  It also lessens the chances of an early election the Tories could win comfortably. But my second emotion was sadness that the Labour party, my party, was not part of this.

It took me back to the 2015 election leadership debates when Ed Miliband stood alone while the other progressive party leaders hugged in the centre of the stage.  Labour stood alone and defiant then and lost badly, and did so again last night in Richmond Park.

It could all be so different and must be in the future.  If Labour had stood aside for this greater good then the party would now be wining huge and deserved plaudits.  The result would have been by a much bigger margin and real fear would have been in the hearts of the Tory high command.  If Labour had stood aside then the Liberal Democrats would have owed us.  A deal in neighbouring Brentford and Isleworth would have been on the cards. And if Labour had stood aside and stood up for a new politics then the momentum would have been with us.

It didn’t happen this time, but it nearly did. Many Labour MPs wanted it to happen. Lisa Nandy, Clive Lewis and Jonathan Reynolds called for Labour to stand aside here on LabourList.  Many local members in Richmond wanted it to happen and pushed for it at the selection meeting.  But party officials over ruled them. What price local democracy? The leadership say they can’t intervene on de-selections – its up to the local party.  Then it should be up to the local party whether they stand a candidate in a seat they have no hope of winning when the only result of doing so is to help the Tories win.  In Richmond Park the Party won fewer votes than it has members. And who in Labour this morning really wishes the party had secured another 1800 votes that would have gone to the Liberal Democrats to let Zac in while still finishing a miserable third?

Labour is essential in a terrifying world for a better future for all.  But the Party cannot on win on its own.  It is going to have to work with other parties and movements to stem the lurch to the right.  

We know what this means. Giving up on the dream that Labour alone will govern like it did in 1945, 1964 or 1997.  The changes in class and culture and the shift to a multi-party politics means there is no going back.  But going forward doesn’t have to be a cop out to the centre.  Our political system is dominated by the right because they can game the first past the post voting system – appealing to a few swing voters in a few swing seats.  This tyranny has to end and when it does everything becomes possible – because the Mail, Murdoch and May lose their grip on our country.  

When everyone’s vote counts – every issue can be put on the table and we have to win the argument.  What is there to be frightened of other than not being good at winning the argument?

The other big news of the week was the launch of the All Party Electoral Reform Group.  This is powered by Labour MPs from across the whole spectrum of the Party, people from left to right who know the future will have to be negotiated and not imposed, people who know that you get better outcomes when everyone’s vote counts and every voice is heard. The latest analysis shows that the voting system means the Tories need a lead of 1% to get a majority, Labour needs a lead of 12%! First past the post kills Labour electorally and politically.  We must give up in it. The progressive alliance and PR are two side of the same coin.

Sadly, Labour isn’t officially part of today’s celebration.  But most Labour MPs, members and supporters will be smiling this morning.  The Progressive Alliance, with Labour at the helm is the only future for the country we want to see – and the only bulwark against the lurch to the right we are now witnessing.  Next time, let it be different.

Neal Lawson is Chair of Compass, the pressure group for the Progressive Alliance 

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