Opinion: Progessive parties unite – for survival!

Through the grief and bereavement of last month’s election results, I have been trying to make some logical deductions about the future not just of the Lib Dems but the progressive forces in British politics. Try my logic and see if it works for you.

There may be about 8-12% of those who vote who are willing to support Lib Dem candidates (excluding protest votes). That percentage is fine as long as there’s PR. If there isn’t, we will struggle to have any influence, certainly at national level.

The only way we can get PR is if we have a main party in government willing to enact PR. And that main party has to get into government via first-past-the-post.

The Conservatives aren’t interested because they do very well without it, and will continue to do so. By contrast, Labour may be at the point of recognising that the only way a Labour prime minister can happen is via a coalition – and on that basis, Labour should be open to PR.

Despite the revival of the ‘soft Conservative’ or ‘economic liberal’ wing of the Lib Dems under Clegg, we are essentially a progressive party with a lot of us more in tune with Labour’s broad ethics (if not all policies) than the Conservatives’.

The political landscape does not look good for the Lib Dems for 2020. We have very few second places to build on, and there is about to be a battle to define what modern-day liberalism actually means that may not score with voters. The landscape doesn’t look great for the Greens or Labour either.

Therefore, the only way to meaningful survival, certainly for us and the Greens and possibly also for Labour (barring a 1997-like majority, which seems highly unlikely), is for the three progressive parties to work together between now and 2020.

In practice, ‘working together’ will have to mean dividing up the 450-or-so seats the Tories aren’t guaranteed to win and deciding who the primary progressive party candidate is. This could involve two of the three parties not fielding a candidate or, if that’s too much to swallow, at least accepting that it’s not a target seat (unless it’s genuinely a Lab-Lib/Lab-Grn/Lib-Grn marginal). The dividing would be driven by grassroots decisions by local parties, albeit with some kind of national guidance or blessing.

The underlying deal would be that the three parties would form a progressive alliance for government in 2020 based on a negotiated agreement that must include a genuinely proportional voting system for the first post-2020 general election.

I know I’m asking a lot, and much depends on whether the new Labour leader is willing to commit to PR. But it could be that only a grand gesture of cooperation like this will really entrench the pluralism we’ve got used to in recent years into the British political culture. It may also be the only way we’ll ever get a non-Conservative government. And it might mean the survival of the Lib Dems.

* Chris Bowers was a two-term councillor on Lewes District Council and a co-editor of "The Alternative" which explored the idea of a progressive alliance.

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57 Comments

  • I think I could support an electoral pact for electoral reform in 2020, with the idea that it is the one thing the government would do then call fresh elections.

    My worry is that it would lose, and then we’d be stuck for 5 years of another parliament without much mandate to do anything, having stood on a single issue.

  • David Warren 18th Jun '15 - 12:18pm

    Too pessimistic.

    Anyway Labour are not a progressive party.

  • The labour party have promised us this and stabbed us in the back over it countless times in the past – most recently to Paddy Ashdown. I wouldn’t trust them to deliver if they carved it in stone, and nor, it seems, would the British electorate.

  • (Matt Bristol) 18th Jun '15 - 12:28pm

    there is already a pact in place – the Green-Nat pact. Will the Greens abandon or muddy the common attack they developed at the last eleciton and the Euros with Plaid and the SNP to come over to something as yet undefined with us and Labour?

  • Once upon a time I would have agreed wholeheartedly with this idea.

    But…

    1. As @David Warren points out above Labour hasn’t been a progressive party since Blair became it’s leader, and increasingly looks like a soulless irrelevance.

    2. The LDs have alienated a lot of people by collaborating with the Tories. To make matters worse, instead of insisting on STV (or at least AV+) delivered via primary legislation at Westminster, the LDs allowed themselves to be bought off with a referendum on AV. Which has set an unfortunate precedent that any future change to the voting system would require a referendum (#EpicFail).

  • Samuel Griffiths 18th Jun '15 - 12:52pm

    You are spot on here, Chris. I actually made this observation to a friend of mine the other day, so it is nice to know others have had the same thought. My only concern is whether this party is actually as progressive as you say, though I think the reality either way has yet to be seen. Whilst the LibDems have traditionally been along lefter Ethics, the present supporter base tend to see the coalition as a good thing. Could the Greens and Labour honestly work with a party that is unreprentant for the evils of the last 5 years? PR will depend very much on who the next Labour leader is, but a grand coalition in order to force the issue may very well be the only way.

  • It’s about time we backed something like this. On climate change, social justice, a modern industrial policy, foreign policy, we have far, far, far more in common with Plaid, Greens, non-Blairite Labour etc. It’s about time that party came second to country.

  • Agree with JUF, and by extension David Warren. Many members that identify as left wing have experienced what it’s like to be told “you’re no longer relevant in the Lib Dems”, they should realise that treating members that identify as “economic liberals” in the same way won’t yield a good outcome.

    I’m of the opinion that we can forge policies that help everyone, that strengthen the economy and deliver a better society. I don’t think you can have one without the other, Labour lost because they looked weak on the economy, the Tories always seem to have terrible social policy. We can get both of these things aligned and working together as opposed to the two-tribes mentality that’s restricted progress in Westminster. If you think society is more important you might vote Labour, if you think economy is the key then probably Tory. What if you think these things go hand in hand? If we can end out internal conflicts we could achieve this position, that will only happen by putting aside the left/right spectrum and focusing on good ideas that we can evidence might work.

  • @Samuel Griffiths “Whilst the LibDems have traditionally been along lefter Ethics, the present supporter base tend to see the coalition as a good thing. Could the Greens and Labour honestly work with a party that is unreprentant for the evils of the last 5 years? ”

    The Lib Dems have traditionally been for Liberal ethics, not socialism.

    It’s not only the current support base but also the electorate who viewed the Coalition as a Good Thing given the electoral performance of its chief opponent.

    And could the Lib Dems honestly work with the unreconstructured left-wing Greens and a Labour Party that is unrepentant for its part in causing the necessity of a coalition government?

  • Hmmm

    “progressive”

    A wonderfully vacuous term, Matthew Huntbach provided a good description of why he doesn’t like it recently. I have heard basically every party describe themselves as this over the last 10 years.

    “There may be about 8-12% of those who vote who are willing to support Lib Dem candidates”

    No, there are 8% of people who vote LibDem when they provide a vague set of priorities with no clear vision about what they want for the country.

    “a lot of us more in tune with Labour’s broad ethics”

    Such as crushing civil liberties, deep belief in conformity, restrictions on free speech and deaply tribal behaviour. I really hope not.

    “Labour should be open to PR”

    And they are, right up till they obtain power. They always are in favour of Liberal ideas until it threatens their self-interest (or they think there is a risk it may). You will find more support from UKIP…

    “It may also be the only way we’ll ever get a non-Conservative government.”

    It is only 5 years since people were saying that we would never have a majority conservative government again and all Labour had to do was sit and wait. The problem with big upsets is that people can read too much in to them, the country has not overnight converted to dyed in the wool conservatives in the same way the Labour party have not converted to the idea for PR even if they espouse it over the next few years in a panicked response to the crushing defeat (particularly in Scotland).

  • Jennie

    Agreed and

    “I wouldn’t trust them to deliver if they carved it in stone”

    As Lucy Powell said:
    ‘I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the fact that [Ed Miliband has] carved them [his promises] into stone means, you know, means that he will absolutely, you know, not going to break them or anything like that,’

  • (Matt Bristol) 18th Jun '15 - 2:11pm

    I would’t have been averse to a Labour pact in the past, and there are things to commend themselves about a Green one (without Labour) now-ish, but really, now we are down to fifth-biggest status on vote share, I think both parties regard us (rightly or wrongly) not as a partner but as lunch.

  • (Matt Bristol) 18th Jun '15 - 2:13pm

    Mr Wallace – the main mistakes about AV were believing Labour would back it, as it was in Labour’s manifesto, and that the Tories would focus on defending FPTP, not denigrating the alternatives and our own leadership.

  • paul barker 18th Jun '15 - 2:23pm

    Its arrogant to think we could push the voters around like this & in fact it wouldnt work. The Greens alliance with The SNP in Scotland didnt do them any good did it ? Pacts only work, even partially when 2 Parties are almost identical , as in the Alliance. We should be aiming to take voters & members from other Parties.

  • I disagree strongly with this article. The Lib Dems deserve to be more than just, at best, an orange-yellow coloured piece of a progressive whole or, at worst, absorbed into the Labour Party. This nation has a strong Liberal heart and we need to independents represent it

  • David Faggiani 18th Jun '15 - 2:53pm

    Well, I am up for a limited electoral-pact. The Tories need challenging, the pendulum needs to swing the other way. And someone needs to make the first move. I call on our new Leader to extend the olive branch to (at least) Labour and the Greens as one of his first acts in Office. Agree with the author and Stevo above. Obviously, conditions would have to be discussed….

    By the way, does anyone else think it would be a good idea for Lib Dem Voice to have a sort of basic voting system in place on Opinion articles like this one? I don’t mean a simple, ‘upvote’ system like Reddit or Youtube, but how about a system where, alongside your first comment, you put a number, from ‘strongly agree’ (10) to ‘strongly disagree’ (0). We would then be able to see, at the end, of a 50+ comment thread, roughly (roughly!) where consensus lay on the issue? Has this been trialed before, LDV moderators? Don’t think this would quash debate, would just be more of a summary tool for later analysis of LDV opinion. And could be quite helpful in terms of making our collective voice heard!

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jun '15 - 3:22pm

    MrWallace

    In short, you’re not getting PR until you hold the balance of power and make the coalition dependent on a 3 line whip delivering PR as parliaments first act. Until then you might as well forget about it and focus in the issues the public care about.

    Yes, and that’s the problem. As the people don’t care about PR, that would be seen as the Liberal Democrats causing huge damage to the country by refusing to give it a stable government, and all for some obscure matter that only they care about. On this as on other issues you seem to think the LibDems standing up and refusing to compromise would mean they get cheered on as people of principle. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. If the LibDems had done it in 2010, the Tories and Labour would have agreed to have another general election fought on the grounds “get rid of the LibDems as their very existence is damaging to the country”. Well, that’s what they did when they joined together to campaign for “No” in the AV referendum, and it worked.

    Of course, it’s completely illogical to complain about the LibDems “propping up the Tories” and then suppose that it’s a piddling no-importance thing that we have an electoral system which props up the Tories by giving them a full majority with just 37% of the vote. But, as you say, people don’t seem to care about that.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jun '15 - 3:33pm

    MrWalllace

    the party settled for an AV referendum because it wrongly believed two things at the time.

    No, the party settled for AV because:

    i) The Tories would never have agreed to anything more
    ii) At least getting this quickly was something. In the past the issue with big constitutional reforms was that promises to consider them got turned into promises to set up commissions or whatever to discuss them, which those who never wanted them treated as kicking them onto the long grass – and they were right.
    iii) AV is not at all PR, but it did have the advantage of ending the “got to vote X/Y to avoid splitting the vote and letting Y/X in” syndrome. In that way, it DID have the potential to open the door to breaking the Labour-Conservative duopoly that clearly many people in this country dislike.
    iv) Once AV opened the door to electoral reform, it would be much easier to push it further.

    The AV referendum failed in part because Labour broke their manifesto pledge to support AV and turned it into a “nah nah nah nah nah, vote No to punish Nick Clegg” referendum. I.e. vote to support a system which props up the Tories to punish the LibDems for propping up the Tories. Completely illogical, yes, but the “Yes” campaign was too incompetent to be able to point that out. The main reason the AV referendum failed was the utter incompetence of those running the “Yes” side.

  • Sammy O'Neill 18th Jun '15 - 3:53pm

    What a truly depressing article. It’s basically a rallying cry to the call of “we have absolutely no hope, so let’s give up and try to move the goal posts”. Instead we need to actually position ourselves as an electable party. That means ditching the middle class-centric obsessions with policy areas which most of the electorate barely care about, and instead become more pragmatic and focus on what matters to ordinary people on the ground. Labour, UKIP, Greens and the Tories are all better at doing this than we are on a national level. I increasingly think the biggest burden on the Lib Dems is actually some of its membership, rather than its time in government.

  • So, just to be clear here by “progressive” you mean “not the Tories”? Because the kippers will bite your hand off to get PR, will happily join your pact if it means getting PR and nothing else.

    “No, not the kippers”, I hear you cry, they dont share our values on anything else, they are the enemy. Well I’m sorry to break it to you, but the activists of all parties think that about all other parties. And a majority of the voters don’t think that about any of them.

    If PR for PR’s sake is what you care about then don’t exclude such a huge chunk of the electorate. Swallow your pride for one election, get PR, then end the pact and campaign on your own.

    If you care about forming a “progressive alliance” that’s about your hostility to the Tories then good luck trying to explain to the small fraction of the electorate who care about being hostile to the Tories why they shouldn’t vote for Labour instead.

    Small practical issue: the idea of “hold an election, do one thing, call fresh elections” is very very difficult in the UK. Political parties aren’t well funded. Basically the only party with a big enough war chest to run two elections inside 6 months is the Tories.

  • (Matt Bristol) 18th Jun '15 - 4:22pm

    Mr Wallace — this does seem to be the narrative we are being given, that the scale of the Tory no-to-AV attack took people by surprise.

    And yes, that does seem to have been (and was clear enough to many people at the time) to be, um, well, ‘naieve’ is putting it mildly.

    As Matthew Huntbach outlines, it is clear that the party leadership in negotiation felt that AV was not good, but ‘good enough’ to get the ball rolling on electoral reform, move us off FPTP and prove we could change things, given it was in the Labour manifesto, too. It is even possible that they didn’t expect to win, but to just push the issue of reform up the agenda and secure a bridgehead for future negotiation.

    Ho, and indeed, hum.

  • Kay Kirkham 18th Jun '15 - 4:42pm

    Forget PR for Westminister – it’s not going to happen. We should be campaigning for local pilot schemes with willing local councils. Parishes which often elect multiple members in unwarded areas would be a good place start as well

  • I too find this depressing. We have to define our own beliefs and find a set of policies founded in our beliefs which appeal to the electorate. Most people don’t care about PR. They care about the NHS, immigration, their finances, education and things that affect their lives.

    In any case I don’t find the greens rabid left wing views, and Labour’s authoritarianism attractive. Yes I would rather work with Labour than the Tories but let’s be realistic. We have to build again from the bottom up and target perhaps forty seats in 2020. We have to go back to basics and restore our council base. We have to nurture our new members.

    We don’t have to live in cloud cuckoo land and dream of deals. They won’t happen.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Jun '15 - 4:47pm

    I usually vote for “progressive parties”, but if the Conservatives do a good job then I could vote for them, so I would be careful about adding up all the left of centre voters and thinking a progressive majority exists.

    Adam Casey makes a good point about UKIP. If the number one goal of the party is to introduce PR, which I don’t think should be the main priority, but if it is then UKIP need to be worked with.

  • Donald Smith 18th Jun '15 - 4:57pm

    The Labour Party agreeing to work with other parties? !!!! That most tribal, power hungry and Lib Dem hating organisation would never even consider it.

    No, while the Labour leadership campaign is as it is – somewhat lacklustre with second rate candidates – we have a chance to reestablish our voice by offering a progressive vision under our new leader (whomever that is) based on our core principles – freedom and fairness, standing up for the mariginalised and disadvantaged. Let’s have the courage of our own beliefs.

  • I’m a bit dismayed by the number of people whose comments on here indicate that they take this idea seriously. The increasingly fissiparous nature of British politics has, in case you haven’t noticed it, led to even greater tribalism amongst political activists despite a decline in partisanship amongst the electorate as a whole. Those of us who were around in the Liberal Party when the SDP was formed still bear the scars from negotiations about which seats should be fought by which party, and there was a much closer meeting of minds with the Liberals and the SDP than there is between Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Greens. I never thought I’d say this, but….Paul Barker is right!

  • Thanks, Chris, for a thought-provoking piece. Lib Dem, Labour and Green Party activists certainly do have something in common – all were out on the doorstep a few months ago fighting an election. Which is why all of us are intensely loyal to our own party. We are tribal. But most of the people whose doors we were knocking on really don’t get this bitter rivalry. Politicians slagging each other off is what makes a lot of people anti politics altogether. Nice, normal people don’t behave towards each other like that. Outside politics, people who share particular goals work together to achieve them even if they don’t agree on everything. They focus on the task in hand. We have some massive immediate challenges ahead, on the EU and climate for example, issues on which the progressive tribes do actually think on very similar lines. If we fight together we will win, because we will engage a lot of people who currently describe themselves as “not political” . What’s not to like about that?

  • Labours 1st objective is to destroy all other Parties on the left (that means us)of the Tories, so they are the only alternative and have absolute power. Look at the way they have treated Liberal/Lib Dem parties since the 1920s and up to Blair …….. and how many Lib Dem reported the loudest cheers at GE counts were when Lib Dems fell to the Tories . They despise us …… many individual Labour members I get on well with – but as a group they want the end of us….its as simple as that.

  • Little Jackie Paper 18th Jun '15 - 11:13pm

    I remember reading articles like this in 1992/3 after that general election. These broad points are nothing new. Stark reality is that however you want to dress it up (left/progressive/liberal etc) Conservatives stay reasonably united and win and the left/progressive/liberal etc lose. The last person to get real about a broad-based anti-tory coalition was Blair. As much as I realise that a lot on here don’t like that very much he, between 1997 and 2002 brought about the most identifiably left/progressive/liberal time I’m likely to see in my lifetime (using Tory spending plans in part it should be noted).

    The points in this article just felt deja-vu. I just can’t see that there is a, ‘progressive alliance,’ in the UK, PR or not. I don’t really know what that means, but pinning hopes on a progressive alliance just looks like an exercise in futility.

  • John Tilley 19th Jun '15 - 9:44am

    Little Jackie Paper 18th Jun ’15 – 11:13pm
    “….Conservatives stay reasonably united and win and the left/progressive/liberal etc lose. The last person to get real about a broad-based anti-tory coalition was Blair. As much as I realise that a lot on here don’t like that very much…”

    An accurate  observations but what really happened in the 1997 general election?
    People could do worse than read the relevant volume of Paddy Ashdown’s autobiography.

     Liberal Democrats and Labour fought the near to a joint campaign to get the Tories out.    

    A  very obvious example of this was that The  New Statesman, The Mirror, The Guardian all carried pages that you could cut out and stick in your window that said –
    “LABOUR VOTING LIB DEM to get the Tories out”   
    Or “LIB DEM VOTING LABOUR to get the Tories out”.
    Voters made use of these do-it-yourself posters and tactical voting in a list of  constituencies was very common.

    In 1997 when he was at his most successful Blair was talking about devolution, greater community involvement at local level, an end to the unelected House of Lords, a change in the voting system etc etc .
     He was NOT the ultra-Conservative he became in office.

    Two key lessons for the future —
    1—It is not necessary to actually merge with another party to achieve a common aim of beating the enemy (Conservatives and Unionists)
    2—it is not  necessary to ape the Conservatives to beat the Conservatives — in fact for Liberal Democrats the lesson is this — “the less you look like The Conservatives  the more likely you are to get elected”.   This was also the lesson of the 2001, 2005 and 2015 General Elections.   

    In 2020 and other elections each May before 2020 —  it will be the Liberal Democrats who look least like the Conservatives who will win.   

  • Jayne Mansfield 19th Jun '15 - 10:11am

    @ Eddie Sammon,
    It seems to me that UKIP can’t work with UKIP, Eddie, so I would be alarmed by any other party that tried to do so.

  • Not sure if Chris Bowers will thank me for this, but prompted by the one line CV at the end of his article I just read this for the first time —
    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/aug/28/nick-clegg-biography-bowers-review

    Four years after The Guardian first reviewed his book on Clegg it has made me want to read the book.

  • (Matt Bristol) 19th Jun '15 - 10:16am

    Mr Wallace – I didn’t say I was in favour of AV (although I was _marginally_ in favour of it over FPTP, if it was coupled with boundary change). And I do think backing AV doesn’t look anything like the tactically good idea people may have believed it was in the past.

    But you need to remember that AV was on the table in the first place because of decisions inside Labour. It was not a LibDem policy, it was a Labour policy offered to the LibDems by a Tory leader, and therefore was capable of being protrayed as the golden moment of consensus and non-partisan politics that many had deluded themselves that a hung parliament would produce. It wasn’t, it was a trap.

    Backing it may have been a mistake, but it did not arise purely out of LibDem self-interest.

  • John Tilley 19th Jun ’15 – 9:44am ………………..In 1997 when he was at his most successful Blair was talking about devolution, greater community involvement at local level, an end to the unelected House of Lords, a change in the voting system etc etc ……… He was NOT the ultra-Conservative he became in office………

    Remind you of anyone else?
    clue….. For 1997read 2010…

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Jun '15 - 11:55am

    MrWallace

    Nah AV is worse than FPTP, it’s why I didn’t vote for it. While there is no guareentees the main kicker for me is that the most important thing is that parliament should look like what the country votes for and that most of the timeAV would result in a parliament that was more disproportionate, not less.

    I have asked you several times to justify that comment, and you have never been able to do so.

    AV is not PR, so it does not guarantee more proportional representation. In some cases it can lead to slightly more proportionality, in some less. Where it would lead to less is where there is a big powerful centre party which not only gets a lot of 1st preference votes, but also most 2nd preference from the left and right. The UK is not like that.

  • I think that pacts are a bad idea for the long term. Look at Northern Ireland where various parties have stood aside to give others a free run at different times. At the next election they find it very hard to climb back to anything resembling their previous position. For example, in 2001 Alliance took part in a pro-Agreement pact and stood aside in 3 constituencies and saw its vote halve at the next election. Pacts could also harden the opposition to them, ending up as counter-productive.

    I do agree that parties in favour of PR do need to work together somehow, but it’d be a big mistake to restrict this to progressive parties only and exclude UKIP on the issue. They have the strongest case to call for it anyway after how FPTP treated them. And Labour definitely need some convincing, unfortunately.

  • Stephen Howse 19th Jun '15 - 3:37pm

    I’m glad I’m not the only one thinking along these lines. As long as it is made explicit that this is a once-in-a-lifetime pact designed to break the Tories’ stranglehold on government through FPTP then I will be well up for this. I’m glad to see Caroline Lucas making noises to this effect and that the SNP have maintained their support for a more proportional system even having been so heavily favoured by FPTP this time.

    We can bleat on about the unfairness of FPTP, with our eight MPs, or we can take a constructive and positive step towards ending it for good in conjunction with others.

  • Stephen Howse 19th Jun '15 - 3:48pm

    @Tim Oliver – In Newcastle we will fight Labour as hard as ever for council seats. This year, the electorate proved more than capable of splitting its votes in local and national elections held on the same day and I’ve no doubt they’d be capable of making the same distinction again in 2020.

    The Tories aren’t going to win in Newcastle anyway, so we’d be as well as to stand a candidate against them. There’d only be a real need for a pact in marginal seats – assuming the total non-Tory vote is the same then parties who are pro-electoral reform would have an incentive to maximise their votes and thus demonstrate the strongest possible support throughout the country.

  • I certainly wouldn’t rule out a progressive alliance for electoral reform, if Labour would commit themselves to this. Quite a lot of their people are pro-PR, but I’m afraid it might take another election defeat to give those people the whip hand.

    What depresses me in this post is the idea that the natural Liberal Democrat vote is around 8-12% and the implication that we could be happy with that if we got PR. Look at the British Election Survey and other surveys and you see that around a third of the people in this country have basically Liberal views. By the early 2000s many of those were actually voting for us, but in 2010-15 we lost them. To get back above 20% with a new leader, a new wave of activists from the new members and predictable Tory and Labour mistakes, plus the return of some Scottish voters from the SNP as their gloss wears off, is perfectly achievable. It may take more than one election and the point about second places is relevant – but I believe from now to 2020 we must be fighting to increase our overall vote, our membership and our effective presence where we’re weak, not just to win a few more target seats. I don’t say it will happen, but it can.

  • Matthew Cole 20th Jun '15 - 1:17am

    Speaking as a Labour member (albeit one who has voted LD in the past)….

    Lib Dems and Labour need to rebuild right now and that must be done independently – something especially important for the Lib Dems since the idea of ‘selling out’ to the Conservatives has been so damaging to them.

    Each party needs to find a distinctive position and message and spend the next 5-10 years maximising their vote share. Perhaps by 2025, Lab, LDs and Greens will command enough support independently to beat the Conservatives together. At that point a pact on PR and other electoral reforms to loosen the Conservative grip on power would make sense. Trying to establish such pacts before then risks damaging the unique appeal of each party and thereby squeezing their vote share.

    Personally I’m sick of tribalism and would love to see more co-operation between parties. But I don’t think it is good electoral strategy. Just because 43% of people vote Labour, and 17% vote Lib Dem (1997 GE), it doesn’t follow that 60% of people would vote for a Lab-Lib alliance. The 2015 election has demonstrated that support for third parties in particular is much more complicated than that.

  • I think this article is right to the extent that Labour and the Lib Dems turning their guns on one another only gave victory to the Conservatives (and both parties can take full responsibility for that). It is also truth that the disunity of the progressive majority often gives the broken but unified Conservatives an edge.

    I also think that we would do better working together (loosely) or at least not actively working against one another; however, it will not be easy because it should be remembered that Labour is not a progressive party; it is a conservative one, just with a slightly nicer outlook than the Tories.

  • David Allen 20th Jun '15 - 1:35pm

    What a depressing series of responses. Paddy Ashdown has pleaded with us to get away from tribalism, but his words have clearly fallen on deaf ears.

    It’s “Labour are pig-headed unthinking tribalist stick-in-the-muds who can’t win. Therefore, it makes perfect sense does it not, if we act as pig-headed unthinking tribalist stick-in-the-muds who also can’t win!”

    Go on David Cameron, you can just let the poor starve now, there is no effective opposition that is going to stop you, they are too busy squabbling with each other.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Jun '15 - 12:26am

    Carl Gardner

    Many in Labour – even centrists and Blairites like me – genuinely think PR is unfair and undemocratic, giving disproportionate blocking power to unpopular minorities.

    So what you are saying is that you want to prop up the Tories by giving them many more seats than their share of the votes. Fine – so why do you and people like you insult Liberal Democrats for “propping up the Tories” when at least the LibDems made then compromise over a few things, whereas you want to distort representation in their favour so they can do what they like?

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Jun '15 - 12:29am

    Carl Gardner

    Many in Labour – even centrists and Blairites like me – genuinely think PR is unfair and undemocratic, giving disproportionate blocking power to unpopular minorities.

    So, instead you want to prop up the Tories by giving them many more seats than their share of the vote. Why do you and people like you insult the Liberal Democrats for “propping up the Tories” when at least the LibDems made them compromise over a few things whereas you just want to give them unlimited power to do what they like even though they got well under half the vote?

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Jun '15 - 1:15am

    David Allen

    It’s “Labour are pig-headed unthinking tribalist stick-in-the-muds who can’t win. Therefore, it makes perfect sense does it not, if we act as pig-headed unthinking tribalist stick-in-the-muds who also can’t win!”

    The hypocrisy of a Labour Party which attacks us for “propping up the Tories” when it is the distortional representation system which they support which props up the Tories stinks, it really stinks. The only logical way of following the argument “it’s better to have an electoral system which pushes up the representation of the biggest party and pushes down the representation of third parties so we don’t have ‘blocking power to unpopular minorities'” is to say that the correct thing for such unpopular minorities to do, should they find themselves with this blocking power is not to use it and instead just to support whatever the biggest party wants, in order to give what Labour say should have happened. If Labour’s criticism of the Liberal Democrats from 2010-2015 was that they were doing too much to block Tory policies, then it would at least be consistent. But when the LibDems are forced to go along with the logical consequences of the electoral system which Labour supports and we don’t, and Labour’s reaction is to jeer “nah nah nah nah nah” at us for not doing what they claim, when they argue the case for that electoral system, it is wrong to do, I have nothing but contempt for them.

    Well, I’m sorry David if you think I am “tribalist” here, but that’s what I think of them.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Jun '15 - 1:33am

    David Allen

    Go on David Cameron, you can just let the poor starve now, there is no effective opposition that is going to stop you, they are too busy squabbling with each other.

    The effective opposition in much of southern and rural England was the Liberal Democrats. They were able to win seats like Lewes and Eastbourne which Labour were never going to win. But Labour’s “nah nah nah nah nah” jeering at the Liberal Democrats was designed to destroy the Liberal Democrats, and so hand back places like that to the Tories and restore the good ol’ two party system.

    If Labour had a proper alternative in 2010-2015, they should have offered it. They should have spelled out what their policies were and asked the Liberal Democrats to support them. But they didn’t because they didn’t have a proper alternative. They didn’t propose the sort of taxes that would be needed to seriously turn things round and stop the Tory cuts. They knew full well they would have had to make similar cuts themselves if they were in power, and now we see their challengers for their leadership lining up to say so by agreeing to all this nonsense Tory propaganda about being “aspirational” instead of attacking it for the utter rubbish it really is. Oh no, instead of building up a proper considered opposition to the Tories, Labour just wanted to destroy us and so restore the two-party system, so they would win by the pendulum swing rather than by truly proposing something different and putting in the effort to win hearts and minds to it.

    Labour need to realise the deep, deep mistake they made here, but it is clear from the way their leadership candidates (well, apart from one, who struggled to get nominated) are sucking up to the Tories and thinking that not being Tory enough is the reason they lost the election that they are going down completely the wrong path.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Jun '15 - 11:17am

    Carl Gardner

    You seem to be quoting me saying something about “propping up the Tories” – but I said no such thing

    You did not write it directly, but it is in effect what you argued for. You said that you oppose proportional representation because you believe it gives “disproportionate blocking power to unpopular minorities”. Or, to put it more directly, you support our current electoral system because of the way it distorts representation so that the biggest party in terms of votes usually gets more than half the seats even when it gets well under half the number of votes cast.

    That is, in 2010 and 2015, propping up the Tories – you say it is good that the Tories are given many more seats than their share of the vote. So why is it that the Liberal Democrats got abused and almost destroyed by the Labour Party for “propping up the Tories” meaning coming to a compromise on policies with them in the Coalition when the Labour Party wants to prop up the Tories even more, just by having extra Tory MPs?

    Since you don’t like the idea of giving “disproportionate blocking power to unpopular minorities”, why don’t you take it a little bit further? As we saw in 2010, the current electoral system doesn’t always do what you say is good about it. So surely by the argument you used it should be reformed so that the 2010-2015 situation never happens again. By your argument, should we not just give enough extra MPs to whichever party gets the most votes so that they have a majority of their own?

    Well, that’s what your forebears proposed when they took control of Italy in the 1920s. They took it a bit further, because just like what Tony Blair wanted to force on local government here they thought it much more democratic to have power in the hands of one charismatic figure than all the argument and debate and compromises that comes form shared power in a representative assembly. As you put it, that sort of thing gives “disproportionate blocking power to unpopular minorities”. Well, that still happens when there’s a party with individual representatives having their own vote, as they can use that to threaten a revolt and block things. So, put all power in the hands of one person. That’s the implication of what you say you want, that’s how things should be governed according to your line. It’s socialism of the national variety, that’s why those who supported that sort of thing are your political forebears.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Jun '15 - 11:28am

    Carl Gardner

    And you accuse me of insulting Liberal Democrats, but if you read my comment again you’ll see there’s nothing remotely insulting in it.

    You may have not, but that would make you very unusual for a Labour Party member. I well remember leading Labour Party figures mercilessly attacking the Liberal Democrats for forming the Coalition, and I like many other Liberal Democrats have spent five years facing constant abuse from Labour Party people over it.

    The unfair electoral system which you support not only distorts representation nationally, it does so even more locally. I grew up in a poor family in southern England. All the MPs around us were Tories, they did not and could not speak to us. We had no voice in Parliament. To the outside world we did not exist, to the outside world, southern England was all prosperous Tory-minded people. That was my driving force for political involvement. You Carl, think it is fine that poor people ion the south have no representation. You support the cosy deal whereby the country is sliced up, the south is given over to the Tories in return for urban and northern areas going to Labour. I don’t, it is against all I have ever stood for, and I despise as my enemies those who support our undemocratic disproportional electoral system.

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