Friday, 11 March 2016

A ‘Progressive Alliance’ is an oxymoron

Much as I have a great respect for former St Ives MP Andrew George, I think that the efforts he and others are putting in to creating a form of progressive alliance to take on the Tories are doomed to failure.

The plan is to unite Labour, the Lib Dems, Greens and others - either the whole party or people from them - to make sure that the Conservatives do not win again in 2020.

There are many people in the country who would like to do whatever they can to stop another Conservative victory. But is this the right way to go about it? I think there are three good reasons why it is not.


The parties are not that much alike

This blog post is great. It sets out what the voters for each of the potential ‘progressive’ parties think of their party and of the others. As you can see, most Labour and Green supporters do not think they are really that close to the Lib Dems. (Although Lib Dem voters tend to think that they are.)

It’s hardly progressive if what brings you together is a common enemy, rather than a positive shared purpose. Of course, there will be some things that members of all parties will agree on. They are likely to back some form of electoral reform and an easing (if not more) of George Osborne’s austerity programme. But what about nuclear power, ID cards and defence spending. There are sharp differences there.

When it comes down to it, Labour is a statist party. They believe (especially under their current leader) that change should be directed from the top. Unlike the Lib Dems who believe that change should start from the bottom. I’ve put it inelegantly, but this is the reason why a merger between the two parties would never work. You may well have key figures in each who have more in common (Ashdown and Blair got on famously well), but the fundamental differences between the parties are acute. And once you add in the Greens you get a third dimension. Throw in the SNP and you have chaos.


We don’t live in an ideal world

There are undoubtedly elements within each of the other parties that can be admired, even by a committed party activist. But we do not live in an ideal world. We cannot form a progressive alliance with a 1995 era Labour Party. We would get a leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and all their cronies. However unpopular the Lib Dems have become, I cannot imagine having Ken Livingstone as a leading figure in ‘our’ movement would make things better.


It’s not really enough for a majority

Labour plus Lib Dems in 2015 would not have been a majority of votes, let alone seats. Realigning the opposition is not enough. We have to win back the very many electors who voted Conservative or even UKIP in 2015 but voted Lib Dem before that. That is the reason that the Lib Dems lost so many good MPs. Of course we want to win support from people who currently see themselves as Labour, Green or nationalist. But the answer is not to drive further to the left for its own sake. The answer is to present an avowedly liberal vision to the country and grow our base of support. Joining with Labour or the Greens would be setting us on a course away from liberalism, not towards it.

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