Neal Lawson: Progressive alliance could help Labour take 30 Tory seats

Neal Lawson

The choice is now crystal clear and dangerously imminent: Labour nationally, but especially locally, either works for a progressive alliance or faces electoral annihilation.

This is the deal. Local parties that have no hope of winning stand aside or don’t campaign and Greens and especially Liberal Democrats do the same. The effect could be transformative. Labour could defend 43 of the 48 most vulnerable seats the Tories will be looking to win. And we could win 29 of the 47 most vulnerable seats the Tories now hold. A progressive alliance is the only key to victory.    

Why, when so much is on the line, would Labour stand against Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion and once again leave Brighton Kemptown open to the Tories? Why would Labour stand in Richmond Park against the Liberal Democrats, where they can’t win and bring on defeat in next door Brentford and Iselworth we hold by a sliver? In 13 of the last 16 elections a progressive alliance would have defeated the Tories.

In all this our electoral system is the real culprit. First past the post now works so heavily in favour of the Tories that they can win majorities on only a quarter of the eligible vote. A government that is delivered by a progressive alliance would have to introduce proportional voting – then the Tories can never win alone again. Yes it means progressive coalition governments but the alternative is Tory domination, hard Brexit, boundary changes and the probable loss of Scotland.

Our leaders can’t say this but they want people to act and vote tactically. They have to pretend they and they alone can win. But the electoral reality and the polls make the obvious now unavoidable. And not surprisingly the people are ahead of the parties. Just like Richmond Park Labour members and voters know this – that is why Labour polled less votes than it has members in that by-election.

This has to be a very different general election.  To win it we must fight it differently. To win against the corrupt voting system, Tory targeting and right-wing media air war we have to build from the bottom up and use the rules to break the system and change our politics for good.  

It’s already happening, yesterday across the country we were getting reports of local progressive parties discussing whether they should stand. The announcements of deals agreed locally will start filtering through and build into a wave of opposition to Tory domination and all the regressive interests they represent.  

There are just two points about a progressive alliance, it must be progressive and it must be an alliance. It is for and by people who want a fairer more equal world, air we can breath and a belief in the best of each other.  But it doesn’t mean we are all the same and we swallow our party identities. It is an alliance precisely because we are different. And victory means that from now on every Labour vote counts everywhere in the country. It’s a once and once only deal between people of broadly similar minds and hopes to change our political system. All it needs is that we stop fighting each other – and for this election we all fight the Tories.

A progressive alliance is not a short cut so Labour doesn’t have to renew itself – it does.  But if we want a green, socialist, liberal country then Greens, Liberals and Labour are going to have to work together. Yes we can go on punishing the Liberal Democrats for the collation they formed in 2010 when Labour turned its back on them. But who suffers most from that? The people we are in politics to help most.

Progressive alliances have always been the way we helped deliver a progressive Britain. In 1906 when Labour made it parliamentary breakthrough it was because of a deal with the Liberals.  In 1945 it was a Labour government that won but it was the Liberal ideas of Beveridge and Keynes on which the post-war settlement was built. And in 1997 it was projects like Cook/McLennan and then an under the radar deal between the two parties in 100 seats that acted as pincer movement to destroy the Tories.  

Today social democrats are struggling across the whole globe. To go on doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome given Greece, Scotland, France, Holland and the Democrats in the US – is to live out Einstein’s definition of insanity. The world has changed. Now Labour must change. Today solidarity isn’t manufactured in factories but is built in more fluid and complex forms – often online. In today’s culture the idea of Labour being the only progressive big tent is gone – now it must be the biggest tent in a wider campsite of progressives.

Margaret Thatcher famously said “never vote Labour, because if you vote Labour they will introduce PR and we will never be in office again”. Well more fool us. From the bottom up – through local agreements Labour can give birth to a progressive century. If we want to change the country then the first thing we must change is ourselves. If you want to help build a progressive alliance where you live then please email [email protected] a Labour member who can help.

Still not convinced? Well try this.  Just think how you will feel if you wake up on the morning of June 9 and the Tories have a stomping great majority to rule however they want. Commit today to do everything you can to stop that happening.  

Neal Lawson is chair of Compass who will be launching the progressive alliance next week. More information can be found here.

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