Liberal Democrats should show leadership, and help shape where the Progressive Alliance goes now

Our national politics is in total turmoil.  The Tories are ‘between the devil and the DUP’.  Labour is utterly unfathomable on Brexit. The Lib Dems are pretty Captainless, as far as the media and the country at large are concerned.

And internally, within the party, there is turmoil too.  Some successes were had on 8th June but there were  huge disappointments. Good MPs were lost.  Many of us are still recovering from bruising contests, even where we had little chance of making a breakthrough.  I expect most Liberal Democrat candidates standing in key Tory-Labour marginals would attest to a level of online abusive from ‘Progressive Labour’s’ supporters that has exceeded anything previously experienced.

Here in Hastings & Rye, as candidate for the third time, I was vilified for having the temerity to stand in an election that unexpectedly (even I would suggest for local Labour), nearly removed the Home Secretary.  The eventual result saw Amber Rudd scrape home by a mere 346 votes with even an independent anti-corruption candidate gaining more votes than the eventual majority.

The criticism hasn’t only come from trolls.  Hastings & Rye Liberal Democrats get excoriated by Compass’ James Corré here:

But this analysis is misleading, especially when we had explicitly offered to work with the Labour Party in order to send fewer Tories back to Westminster from East Sussex.  You can read the statement that I made mid-May here:

Corré certainly does not give Labour fair treatment for their obstinacy in this whole process.

So what should be done now?  Locally, and at a national level?

The Party appears to have made a decision to re-appoint willing candidates under emergency procedures by the end of June. Personally, among other reasons for not accepting a re-appointment right now, I do not want to be responsible for the Home Secretary getting back again any time soon. This internal directive does not give a message that we may not contest certain seats on a quid pro quo basis. Is that wise?

Nationally, the Tories are all over the place, and presumably the Labour Party fancies its chances at being able to get back into majority government with one more heave.  Maybe there is even less appetite from the Reds for any sort of inter-party co-operation that doesn’t mean rolling over for Labour?  In the light of this, it is understandable that some Regional Executives (like my own) have rolled their eyes and flatly refused to do anything else towards Progressive Alliance: ‘Progressive?  The Labour Party?!’

I just wonder whether that sort of attitude from Liberal Democrats is in our (and the country’s) best interests, long-term?  Is it not now that the party should be having an open conversation about the possibility of a shared policy platform with others? The kind of joint platform that might protect our environment, might enhance our economy, our security; might finally deliver fair votes?

It will be of course for the new leader to set the direction on this, but it would be useful, would it not, to hear what candidates, declared or otherwise, think about ‘progressive alliances’ before we cast our votes?

In my opinion, this is one of the most crucial strategic decisions facing us.

* Nick Perry is an approved mental health professional and was the parliamentary candidate for Hastings & Rye at the General Election.

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  • Russell Simpson 25th Jun '17 - 11:31am

    Nick, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said maybe there is even less appetite now. Unfortunately Labour (esp under Corbyn) seems to look at cross party co-operation as collaboration. And don’t foget that the shedding of votes from the 24% in 2010 to 7% has probably been mostly Labour leaning Libdem supporters, which means that there has to be a good chance that the remaining Libdem supporters are at least as interested in a coalition with the tories as with Labour. I think that Farron was wrong to say no coalition. As the third party we should respond after an election result in the way that we think is best for the country, just like we did in 2010. We did not choose the Tories over Labour in 2010, it was the only logical responsible action given the result.

  • What is Progressive about ending Freedom of Movement & leaving The Single Market ? Those are Labour policy. Any genuinely Progressive Alliance would have to be against Labour as well as The Tories.

  • Donald Smith 25th Jun '17 - 12:06pm

    Sadly, I have to say what progressive alliance? Some limited deals with the Greens are all there is. Labour is not, and will not, be interested in allying with others. Let us instead try to lead progressive opinion and debate with our policies and expose the regressive, non-progressive aspects of all other parties.

  • A radical thought. Is it not time for the party to stop saying on posters “Winning Here”, after 370 lost deposits, slumping fron 2nd places to third and getting only 7.4% of the vote from 640 odd candidates, ( we got 2.5% in 1955 with just over 100!!). I for one find it most embarrassing.

  • Sue Sutherland 25th Jun '17 - 1:43pm

    Yes theakes! I’ve said this too! It’s hubris and the voters have almost brought about our nemesis. Apart from that it’s totally embarrassing.
    From what I’ve heard Labour want the sort of progressive alliance where we don’t stand in seats they might win but they stand everywhere! Don’t forget they expelled local party leaders who wanted their candidate to stand down , sorry the name of the constituency escapes me,

  • Robert Blevin 25th Jun '17 - 3:11pm

    First, as the author pretty much acknowledges, without actually drawing the conclusion, THERE IS NO PROGRESSIVE ALLIANCE. We waste time and what limited brand capital we have left talking as if there is. It’s an embarrassing waste of breath.

    Second, on a strongly related point, you cannot have an alliance, on any side, with thin air. We have to define, articulate and champion a strong Liberal Democrat proposition and platform that will attract a core of votes anywhere and everywhere. If others succeed in convincing our core voters, in some constituencies, to ‘lend’ their votes to another candidate in order to bend our corrupt electoral system to something closer to democracy, so be it. That’s a matter between voters and the ballot box. But to have any value or purpose as a political party, and therefore as something for any other party to ‘ally’ with in particular places and in service of particular ends, we have to devote every one of our finite opportunities to talk to voters to setting a vision, a purpose and a coherent policy platform. This internal obsession with process, and with some muddled, ill defined, ultimately illusory ‘progressive’ ‘alliance’ is unattractive to voters, psephologically flawed, impossible to communicate effectively – and for all those reasons ultimately massively counterproductive. Go back to your constituencies and stand up for what you believe, so others who share those views have the opportunity to make a democratic choice. Government may one day follow. But unless we do this, it will be oblivion instead. We beat the worst in the Tories and Labour with alternative ideas, not with pallid, neutral compromises made in sparsely attended local executive meetings to narrow the democratic options – that’s just treating the electorate like dumb fools. And they tend to notice.

  • David Allen 25th Jun '17 - 4:47pm

    Labour are indeed obstinate, for a mixture of reasons, some of them frankly being perfectly good ones. Labour were vilified by the Tories in 2015 for their (non-existent) plans to sacrifice the United Kingdom for the sake of a coalition deal with the SNP. Any renewed talk of coalition by Labour would see a renewal of that smear campaign.

    The question, though, is what the Lib Dems should do about it. If we simply say “Not interested in a deal with Labour because we don’t believe it is practical”, then a lot of the voters out there will think “Ah yes. The LDs aren’t interested in a deal with Labour, because they’re basically pale yellow Tories at heart.”

    We don’t – I hope – want to create that impression. It follows that we should pursue a different course. Why don’t we let people like Nick Perry talk about a potential deal – PROVIDED of course that it is a fair deal, and that Labour will also make matching concessions?

    Labour won’t do it, you might say. And you may be right. But even if you are right, everybody will then see where the problem lies. If Labour are the party which is dragging its feet, Caroline Lucas will not hesitate to say so, repeatedly, and, she gets listened to.

    Then again, as May or her stopgap successor struggle deeper into the Brexit mire, while the internal Labour rows eventually resurface to the detriment of St Jeremy and his position in the polls – Maybe someone will tell Labour that if they’re so darn good at listening to people, it’s about time they listened to the Lib Dems?

  • +1 for what Robert Blevin says above.

    Now is the time for some positive liberal messages to remind the public what the point of us actually is, and we desperately need to increase our 7% vote share. We won’t do that by standing down in favour of a party just as keen to wipe us out as the Tories (if not more so).

  • Rob Parsons 25th Jun '17 - 5:07pm

    We live in complicated times. There is indeed no formal progressive alliance, but there is an informal one. Some Labour voters, and indeed some Labour members are part of it. We need to recognise, and Labour also needs to recognise that it will be very idfficult to defeat the Tories ina general eletion without allianes of some kind. In this election Labour only did so well because a lot of LibDem, Green nd other voters lent them their vote. That is the reality, and we need to continue working to get them to recognise that.

    Here is Sussex the Progressive Alliance did make a difference, contributing to wins for LibDems, Greens and Labour in Hove, Brighton Kemptown, Brighton pavilion and Eastbourne. If there had been greater co-operation in Hastings we would have seen Amber Rudd unseated and one less Tory. The road is difficult, but the logic is inescapable.

    Much of the problem is the tit for tat attitudes of the parties in specific localities. In my constituency there is clearly no love lost between Libdems, Greens and Labour. All sides, including ours, have indulged in cheap point scoring (even after the Greens took the very generous decision to stand aside for us). Someone has to start by changing the atmosphere of their politics, and that probably means responding kindly, rather than in kind, to the brickbats thrown until the other sides begin to simmer down. If it is us who do this, I will be proud. It will be a slow, very slow process, but it is necessary if we are to change the tone of politics, as well as its relevance to ordinary people, and also if we are to end the procession of minority governments of whatever colour.

    That does not mean failing to say what the Libdems stand for. We can be very clear about that, and still say we can look at where we agree with other parties as well as where we disagree with them.

  • John Littler 25th Jun '17 - 5:23pm

    If a Progressive Alliance with PR voting at the heart of it were on offer. The LibDems would be foolish to turn it down.

    If Labour lose their next and 4th G.Election in a row, they might well change their collective minds on the Alliance and on PR, especially if that takes the shine off Corbyn and sees the rigid one’s demise.

  • Kay Kirkham 25th Jun '17 - 5:38pm

    The logic is not ‘inescapable’. It is completely flawed. You have no idea what the voters who were deprived of the right to vote for their first choice party actually did. You can’t assume that they did what you wanted them to. They might simply have stayed at home or spoilt their ballot paper. And for those candidates or parties who stood down in the belief that the voters would toe the line, what is the payback from the successful party? The words bargepole, touch and don’t, come mind.

  • Kay Kirkham 25th Jun '17 - 5:39pm

    That should be ‘ come to mind’!

  • Chris Bowers 25th Jun '17 - 6:11pm

    Nick Perry is to be congratulated on his thoughtful post, especially as it recognises that there are no easy answers. As Rob Parsons intimates, we need to show some generosity of spirit, in particular we need to recognise how close some of the values among the mainstream Labour members are to ours, rather than get fixated on policy differences between the Corbyn-led Labour leadership and us. And those who are advocating a firm statement of liberal policies and values aren’t arguing against Nick’s basic point – we need that statement, if only so we know what we’re asking people to vote for and can tell Labour what we want if ever Lab + LD = majority.
    Labour is riding high at present and is clearly tempted to dump any thought of working with others on the centre-left. But for all the current enthusiasm, I still don’t see a majority for Labour. So we need to bide our time, state our own identity as liberals, campaign on it, but be open to being smart about using the corrupt first-past-the-post system to our own ends. Corbyn may not be convinced about a proportional voting system, but others around him are, and if Labour fail to win a majority at the next election, and offer us a cast-iron guarantee of PR plus a vote on Brexit, we could confidently say we accept with a clear conscience. That prospect is worth serious consideration of what Nick is broaching.

  • I certainly don’t want to see the voting process reduced to a choice between “Tory” and “non-Tory”. That would do our democracy an enormous disservice.

    Personally, I don’t see how a hard left Brexit Government is better than a hard right Brexit Government. And a hard left Government committed to following Tory benefit cuts seems particularly pointless.

  • Rob Parsons 25th Jun '17 - 9:35pm

    Kay, I agree voters will split in different ways, but a progressive alliance is not just about what happens on the day of the ballot, and is not just about standing down – in fact, I think it much more likely and much more tenable that, once we get used to the idea, parties will still stand in many seats, but will not campaign hard, and will emphasise where they agree as much as emphasising their distinctiveness. In this last election, voters exercised much more alliance than the parties did, and I expect that the progressive parties will be able to leverage that rather than direct it.

    Nick, I agree with you also, that a hard left Brexit government is no better than a hard right Brexit government. But we see in opinion polls and surveys that much of Labour’s vote is now Remain. As I suggested in my post above, I hope, and am beginning to expect, that the Leave vote will crumble in the next few months. Labour are not doctrinally and unifiedly in favour of leaving the EU, and they are sensitive to the mood in the country, more so than the Tories. If the country turns against Brexit (with our help), then there is some hope that Labour will follow suit. I for one will keep working for that end.

    And then there is a whole lot of other stuff to sort out – equality, ending austerity, restoring sanity to housing policy, and so on.

  • @Nick Perry
    “Personally, among other reasons for not accepting a re-appointment right now, I do not want to be responsible for the Home Secretary getting back again any time soon. ”

    But would you by virtue of not wanting responsibility for (apparently) helping Amber Rudd to be re-elected, prefer the outcome that the party (and its supporters) who abused you, were to win? (NB: I say ‘apparently’ helped, since you can’t assume if a Liberal Democrat weren’t to stand, that the vote would transfer to Labour; I certainly wouldn’t vote Labour were there no Liberal Democrat candidate, and I think you’ll find that is the case with a lot of would-be Liberal Democrat voters, especially those outside our few dozen target seats)

  • Labour hate us, because we ‘sold out’ to the Tories, and because they are incredibly tribal. They believe they occupy the moral high ground and aren’t interested in other people’s views because they are convinced only they are right.
    The Tory right hated us for diluting what they wanted to do in government and went all out to destroy us.
    Neither is interested in PR, or sharing unless forced to. And both are pro-Brexit.
    I don’t want to see either in power and like others, I don’t see any kind of Progressive Alliance.

  • Quite frankly, the best thing for the Liberal Democrats is to do everything it can to prevent either Labour or the Conservatives forming majority governments. This is the path to electoral reform.

    Also, electoral reform via parliamentary vote, not referendum, should be a prerequisite for any deals with other parties in the future.

  • Mick Taylor 26th Jun '17 - 5:26am

    There is no progressive alliance and there will be no progressive alliance because Labour won’t entertain it. (Anyway Labour are not progressive) We waste our energies talking about it.
    We need to reconnect with the electorate by following the example of the successful Canadian Liberals and going out and talking to them and listening to what they say. Then and only then can we put forward a radical policy tackling the real problems of the UK, for which Brexit is just a metaphor.
    We could do worse than invite JUSTIN TRUDEAU to come to our conference and tell us how the Canadian Liberal went from a disastrous third place to win with a landslide.

  • Steve Spear 26th Jun '17 - 8:13am

    Forget any thought of an ‘alliance’ as the Lib Dems are the only progressive alternative so let’s make the case with some really progressive policy. We need policy which is different and not splitting the difference!

  • Panicos Georgiou 26th Jun '17 - 8:45am

    The so-called Progressive Alliance is only called for by Labour when they are looking to get into power.
    What did Labour do about electoral reform in the years under Blair? Nothing, once they were seeking power they promise everything
    At the last election there was no mention of electoral reform
    The Labour Party despises us and seeks our destruction
    Any attempt at a Progressive Alliance will see the end of the Liberal Democrats, do we not learn anything from history did we not learn what happened to us in coalition

  • Rob Parsons 26th Jun '17 - 9:44am

    Panicos, it would be truer to say “some of the Labour party despises us”. Some Labour members are in the Progressive Alliance and are working hard to bring it to fruition. A lot of Labour members lent us their votes in this election where they thought it would help.

    By the same token a lot of LibDems despise Labour. Despising people is not the way forward any more. It would be a step forward if we would stop despising them and start working out how we can work with them. That would also help them to see how they can work with us.

  • Peter Watson 26th Jun '17 - 10:34am

    @Panicos Georgiou “What did Labour do about electoral reform in the years under Blair? Nothing,”
    Apart from proportional representation for European elections, devolution in Scotland and Wales (with proportional representation), an elected mayor in London, abolition of hereditary peers, …
    Those who cannot learn from Monty Python’s Life of Brian are doomed to repeat it.

  • Dave Orbison 26th Jun '17 - 11:12am

    CassieB – Labour are tribal. They are convinced only they are right.

    Of course such a description would never apply to LibDems despite some still telling us that the Coalition was right as the party shifts more and more to the fringe of UK politics.

    All parties believe they are right, yes even when they are wrong. That is the nature of conviction. There’s nothing wrong with that so long as they recognise when they have got things wrong.

    The problem for the LibDems is half of the party still cannot admit the Coalition was wrong and beyond the EU and PR there are no clear cohesive policies. One day pro austerity, one day anti.

    Blaming the your political opponents for your own electoral woes is just desperate. The LibDems problems are entirely of their own making and their last dreadful negative campaign offered nothing. That is why voters continue to drift away.

  • John Bicknell 26th Jun '17 - 1:36pm

    There is a view amongst some that, following the coalition years, the Conservatives are the big bad blue machine, and that Labour are potential brothers in arms, that just require a little more sympathetic coaxing in order to form a Progressive Alliance. I think this is naive. It is not in Labour’s interests to help resucitate a rival party on the centre-left, and, given the chance, would crush it out of existence. At our hustings in the last election, the Labour candidate stated that his party was all that anyone needed who wanted a Progressive Alliance. It is that arrogance that truly reflects the Labour view.

  • Find this a very confusing article! Not clear where we should go!

    Politics is motivated by a lot of hatred right now.

    For my self, I hate the Tories, and Arlene Foster … the £1 billion whore!

  • I’m not in politics to get Labour elected, I’m in politics to get Lib Dems elected. If our objective becomes little more than being an appendage of a “not Tory” alliance, then we will lose our identity and vast swathes of the country will lose Liberal Democrat local parties, because their primary electoral opponents are Labour.

    No alliances. No deals. No pacts. We must get to grips with our identity crisis and develop some clear, simple, meaningful explanations as to why we exist, and how we can help people.

  • Rob Parsons 26th Jun '17 - 9:17pm

    Tim, I’m not in politics to get Labour elected either, but without some kind of understanding, we will let the Tories in time and time again. And I definitely did not get into politics to get them elected. We differ from Labour on a lot of things, but we also agree with them on a lot of things. We tend to talk all the time about what we disagree with them about. We should spend more time talking about what we agree on.

    And yes we do need better ideas, better communicated about what we are for. but I wonder if we can actually do better than the preamble to our constitution.

  • What Tim Oliver says!

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