Tag Archives: progressive alliance

Party strategy motion passes – with amendment securing local members rights on standing candidates

This morning Conference passed the party strategy motion. One of the Federal Board’s key tasks is to bring a motion on party strategy to Conference for approval.

This one had lots of good stuff in it on developing a strong narrative, improving diversity and menber experience, developing our campaigning capacity and having a “one party” approach where we co-ordinate our effort.

There were four amendments, all of which passed and, I think, substantially improved it. Lib Dems for Racial Equality called for this party to finally pull its finger out and implement the Thornhill and Alderdice reviews and get out and engage with ethnic minority communities. The Parliamentary Candidates Association called for greater support for candidates and 10 members called for our progress towards net zero as a party to be expedited.

These three passed with little opposition. The drama was all around an amendment proposed by Federal Board member Simon McGrath. It called for us to stand a candidate in every seat at the next General Election unless local members agreed not to. Anyone who bears the scars of the Unite to Remain effort in 2019 will probably have some sympathy with this. However, others, including me, felt that it would bind any attempts to stand down in some places where it would be sensible to do so. I generally think we should stand everywhere, and I think that voices calling on us to stand down are generally from parties who wouldn’t do the same in return, but I felt we should give ourselves the flexibility.

ALDC Chair Prue Bray made such a good speech in support that I asked her if we could publish it. It’s just rammed with good sense about how we should work together and I love it.

I want to get rid of this government. Not because it’s Conservative but because it’s dreadful. It’s dreadful because it isn’t liberal, in its policies, values or behaviour. I want a liberal government, or at least one that we can exert the maximum liberal influence on. And the only way to get that is to get more Lib Dems elected. Labour aren’t liberal, nor are the Greens, the SNP or Plaid.

It’s us or nothing.

We won’t get more Lib Dems elected if we don’t stand, however tempting a pre-election pact might look. Unite to Remain looked tempting. It didn’t deliver anything.

When the battle is over, when the votes are counted, that’s the time to make pacts to further the progressive cause. And that’s why I strongly support amendment 3.

There are people who don’t agree. That’s fine, I don’t mind challenge. What I mind is people who tell me I am wrong without producing any supporting facts, and then go off and do whatever they want even if it’s completely against the interests of the party.

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We must stand a candidate in every constituency at the next General Election

Our Party has something to offer everyone in England Scotland and Wales and therefore it makes sense that we should stand a candidate in every seat (our friends in the Alliance Party do a great job in Northern Ireland).

That might seem like common sense – but at the last election we participated in the Unite to Remain Agreement by which we, the Greens and Plaid Cymru (Labour refused to participate) agreed to stand down in some constituencies – and it was a disaster. Not only did it make no difference to the results, but the way in which our local parties and PPCs were told they were standing down with no input from them caused huge problems.

If you agree we should stand a candidate everywhere, please support Amendment 3 to motion F23: Party Strategy, 10.55 on Sunday morning.

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The Guardian on Lib Dem strategy: Bringing down the “blue wall”

In an almost effusive leader column, today’s Guardian praises Ed Davey, Lib Dem strategy and calls the Chesham and Amersham victory stunning. It says the Liberal Democrats are determined to make that win just the first step in bringing down the Conservatives’ “blue wall”. Boris Johnson can’t be ejected from Downing Street without a Lib Dem revival. Although Ed Davey will not be telling delegates to go back to their constituencies and “prepare for government” there are good reasons to believe something is happening, including the May by-election results.

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Dick Newby writes: Are progressive alliances needed to win?

Ever since Boris won the 2019 General Election, there has been growing talk of the need for a “progressive alliance” to stop the Tories winning the next election.

Quite what this might involve is unclear. Some would like a national pact between Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Greens so only one party would stand in each seat, and others want simply to promote greater tactical voting and other parties to scale back their campaigning where another party is the main challenger.

Helpfully, the by-elections in both Batley and Spen and Chesham & Amersham give us some insight into how this could work and how voters might react.

Chesham & Amersham: a victory for tactical voting

Let’s take Chesham & Amersham first, where the Liberal Democrats started in firm second place. We fought a vigorous campaign and proved early Green party claims that they were going to be the main challenger wrong. People who were traditionally Labour voters, realising that their vote could make a difference, decided to tactically lend their vote to the Lib Dems – including some Party members and activists.

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A New Fair Deal for Oxfordshire

A couple months of ago, Oxfordshire changed. For the first time in 16 years, the Conservatives no longer had a majority on the County Council and instead, an alliance was formed between the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and the Labour Party to form an administration.  We named this the Oxfordshire Fair Deal Alliance, and I was elected the Leader of the new council.

For many years, I have been asked by voters why the opposition parties can’t work together to effect change. In the Witney by-election of 2016, Robert Courts won 45% of the vote – why, I was asked then, did Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems not get together and offer an effective and united challenge, breaking the Conservative dominance of local politics?  Perhaps that might have worked, but at the time, that was not an option.  But now, maybe things have started to shift.

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Batley & Spen – Labour win is shock but Lib Dems kept Tories out

First – huge congratulations to Kim Leadbeater. Brand new to politics, she was absolutely thrown to the wolves in this campaign, but she survived it. The fight between Labour and Galloway was bitter and divisive, the last thing this community needed. I hope that Kim will be a compassionate and healing MP and I wish her luck.

Honestly, as someone who has been campaigning and knocking on doors in this election, the result has come as a huge shock. I thought the Conservatives would walk it. Perhaps that tells you something about the areas we targeted – our locally held ward of Cleckheaton and our adjacent target of Birstall and Birkenshaw are very much Tory leaning. Our campaign focussed on keeping that local election vote with us, rather than letting it slide back to the Tories.

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Why we have a duty to form an Alliance

In 2019 Boris Johnson won a landslide victory. It left him with total power to inflict a heartless Brexit. Our young people face barriers if they want to study or work in Europe. Many people have found their lives badly affected.

How did this happen? What lessons can be learned from the 2019 election?

Firstly, Boris offered certainty after several years of Brexit indecision. Voters knew what they would get if they voted for him. Some ‘remain’ voters just wanted things settled.

Secondly our electoral system rewards big parties. The Tories won only 44% of votes, but they were the biggest party and won easily.

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In defence of a Progressive Alliance

The amazing Liberal Democrat win in last week’s Chesham & Amersham by-election was the first electoral setback the Conservatives have had since 2019.

So it’s not surprising that it has sparked a fresh wave of debate across non-Conservative politics about what can be learned from it, one of which is around varying types of a progressive alliance.

It’s important to understand WHY people are talking about a progressive alliance in the first place. For me it starts with three key reasons –

The Conservatives have won 4 successive General Elections and judging by the opinion polls and recent election results, they are in a strong position to make it 5 in a row. The prospect of a Conservative government for most of the 2020s fills many with horror.

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The Progressive Alliance – A Fool’s Errand

In the few days since our remarkable victory in Chesham and Amersham, some are suggesting we shouldn’t campaign, or even stand, in Batley and Spen.

On the face of it, it makes sense. The Lib Dems are closer to Labour on most policies than we are to the Tories, so we could be taking votes from Labour and gift the seat to the blues.

However, that view relies on one massive assumption. One we consistently make internally, even though the evidence of our eyes and ears disproves it. We assume that with no Lib Dem, our voters are more likely to go Labour than Tory. This is categorically untrue. Our data shows us that our voters split almost perfectly in half when no Lib Dem candidate is available.

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So how might a progressive alliance work?

In today’s Guardian, our Layla Moran, Green MP Caroline Lucas and Labour MP Clive Lewis argue that we need progressive parties to come to an arrangement to beat the Tories.

Meanwhile the rightwing parties have consolidated, after the Tories swallowed the Brexit party whole. But progressives remain split, competing for the same voters – we divide; they conquer.

And yet poll after poll shows there is a progressive majority. We need to shape and win that majority.

This is why citizens are now using their votes wisely, to back the best-placed non-Tory; and why, under the radar, local parties are campaigning tactically to best direct their resources.

They argue against the tribalism that prevents progressive parties working together:

Old politics holds us back. The Labour rulebook demands the party stands candidates in every seat, regardless of whether doing so guarantees another Tory win. Local parties should be allowed to decide. But tribalism runs deep everywhere, and trust takes times to grow, with the inevitable result of another likely general election loss. We cannot allow that to happen. This self-defeating tribalism must go. While well-intentioned, party bureaucracies could be the last bastions of the old politics to fall. If this needs to be a grassroots alliance, then so be it.

Part of the problem with the idea of a progressive alliance was that loads of people think it’s a fab idea, but nobody has been able to set out how it might work in practice. But in recent years, there have been some good examples of where parties have worked together to our mutual gain.

Layla’s arrangement with the Greens in Oxfordshire has helped both parties and hurt the Tories badly. From Lib Dem wins in Oxford West and Abingdon in 2017 and 2019 to a joint administration of Lib Dem Labour and Green ousting the Tories from power in Oxfordshire County Council in May this year, this is a shining example of how a progressive alliance can work in practice. The test will be whether they can govern as cleverly as they have campaigned.

During the leadership election last year, Layla talked about how she had made great efforts to win over the Greens in the run up to her win in 2017. She went along to their meetings and talked to them and answered some tough questions. She put the effort into building up strong relationships with them on the ground.

However, the Unite to Remain effort at the 2019 election was doomed to failure, mainly because Labour refused to get involved and partly because it was imposed on seats in a way that was never going to work.

The last time Caroline Lucas faced a Lib Dem in her Brighton Pavilion seat was in 2015. Her then opponent Chris Bowers went on to co-edit The Alternative, an argument for a more progressive politics with her and Labour’s Lisa Nandy. I interviewed both Chris and Caroline for Lib Dem Voice back in 2016.

No progressive alliance would work without the co-operation of the Labour Party. In 1997, we and Labour by and large kept out of each other’s way except in places like Chesterfield where we were genuinely fighting each other for the seat. I was involved in that campaign and our move forward then put us in pole position for Paul Holmes to win in 2001.

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Where next?

It beggars belief that a party led by the most incompetent, lying and self-serving group in modern times can carry not quite all, but most, before it in an election. What are we to do?

First, thank goodness for those who have held back the Tory tide: Labour in Wales, those glorious patches of the UK where Liberal Democrats and Greens have prevailed and, the Scots who remain unimpressed by Tory falsehoods.

But overall the picture is dismal. How can this well-educated and well-informed electorate vote for a group who almost on a daily basis betray all that is decent and honourable about our country?

There are two options. Either there’s something wrong with the electorate or something wrong with the opposition.

Since we cannot “dissolve “ the electorate and find another, indeed it would be pompous and presumptuous to want to do so, we must look to the opposition, including ourselves.

It’s too early to tally all of the votes cast on this Super Thursday, but it is a fair bet that the total number of votes cast of what might loosely be called “progressive forces” (Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and many nationalists) will exceed the votes cast for the Tories.(In the “Landslide election of 2019 which gave Johnson his 80 seat majority, and ignoring the nationalists and others, it was 43% Tories and 46% “Progressive.”)

Either we allow the Tories to use their money, their control of much of the media, and their shameless disregard for truth to hang on to the reins of power for another couple of decades or we get together to stop them.

Yes, I know, this will provoke groans about “siren voices” from some of our stalwarts who have tried to work with Labour and been rebuffed by their self-righteous assumption that Labour and Labour alone have the recipe for the good society and we should get off their patch and let them get on with it.

But it is time to stop mentioning that and look for the possible foundations for a Progressive Alliance.

I believe it would be possible to form a united front under the broad umbrella of Truth, Fairness and Opportunity.

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Labour Progressive?

I keep hearing siren party voices yet again hankering after a “progressive alliance” against the Conservatives. I firmly agree with John Pardoe’s adage of old that “a hatred of the Conservative party is the beginning of political wisdom”, but I fear that the very idea of the Labour party being “progressive” is, frankly, risible. It is one of the besetting chimeras of Liberals to have a dream that one day the Labour party will change. No-one who has challenged Labour in its industrial fiefs will succumb to such a fanciful concept. Labour believes in hegemony and control, and it has done since its early days. Once Ramsay Macdonald had negotiated the 1903 Pact with the gullible Herbert Gladstone and established a parliamentary foothold of thirty MPs, it then pursued its myopic single party aim without deviation. It prefers to be in opposition and to lose than to share any power. There is no better example than the first Labour government of 1924 which preferred to fall and to go into the electoral wilderness than to have even a minimal co-operation with the Liberals. Even in 2010, there was no possibility of a Lib-Lab coalition once Douglas Alexander had stated that they under no circumstances would they co-operate with the Scottish Nationalists.

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Building a progressive alliance on the basis of the past, and now looking to the future

Clive Lewis, the Labour MP giving the Beveridge lecture to Liberal Democrats last week, admitted that some of his party believe that ‘labourism’ is the only progressive future. Certainly Lib Dems have to accept that Socialists who believe that Liberals will always defend capitalism against the workers will never accept us as a progressive party, and will consider any alliance as a mere tactical ploy. In a mirror image, there are plenty of Liberals who believe that Labour cannot shake off its Far-Left inheritance and will always aim for state control and management, with the soaking of the rich to enforce greater equality.

Yet if a majority of both our parties can focus on policies of social justice, full employment and moderate redistribution within the new challenge of climate change, we can surely begin to work together in more ways than is already happening in the All-Party Parliamentary Groups.

There is, as Clive Lewis said, a “shared tradition of the social liberal and the socialist”, based on “our common values embedded in our collective institutions… (and) our principled commitment to defend the human rights of all.”

For Liberal Democrats, the Thornhill General Election review instructed us that “we must reconnect with the electorate as a whole. We must give a fresh distinctive vision of a liberal Britain in the 21st century with policies that resonate with – and are relevant to – ordinary people.” Indeed, it must be the first requirement for both parties, to discover and strive to meet the needs of the electorate, among which measures of social justice and provision of jobs with fair pay will surely rank high.

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Liberal Democrats and Socialists: can we form a progressive alliance?

Last Thursday Clive Lewis a Labour MP was the first non-Liberal Democrat to give the Social Liberal Forum’s Beveridge lecture (you can access it HERE ) entitled ’21st-century progressive alliances & political re-alignment’. Clive Lewis called for ‘a progressive alliance of the mind’, involving individuals, campaigns and movements. After outlining the great challenges facing us all today, he said that there is a crisis of democracy in our country, with people turning to the wrong solutions such as Brexit and populism.

“Liberalism”, Clive continued, “is a powerful political philosophy with important things to say about individual freedom, democratic politics and the market economy and about how these interact” (time stamp in the video: 23.18). But he said that much conservative and liberal propaganda claims socialists want to snuff out the freedom of selfish individualism and mould it into a perfect collective (27.59), as a kind of Socialist ‘Borg’ (antagonists of Star Trek) wanting to assimilate liberalism. He said this was not true as “Most Socialists want to find ways of allowing more people to benefit from and have a say in the management of the co-operative processes in which they are already engaged in almost every aspect of their lives. That sounds remarkably like freedom and equality to me” (28.38).

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30 January 2020 – the overnight press release

Davey speech on Brexit – Progressives must fight on

Today, Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey will make a keynote speech addressing party members and activists in Manchester ahead of the UK’s exit from the EU.

Ed Davey will make a rallying call to pro-Europeans ahead of our departure from the EU, calling on them to continue to campaign for close association with our allies in the EU and for the progressive values we share.

Ed will call for the end of the Remain/Leave division in our country and for progressives to unite to tackle other serious divisions.

Ed will declare that …

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A Progressive Alliance for 2024

My conclusion from the election is simple. Progressive parties cannot fight each other next time. Instead, we must unite against the populist right. With our current electoral system it may be the only way to win.

So I have a proposal. But I warn you, many of you will not like it.

First, we must elect a new leader and so, according to their own timetable, will Labour. For a while we continue to develop our own individual policy platforms. Then, in about two years’ time, the four progressive parties of England and Wales come together and agree a common manifesto for …

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Bar Charts!

I’ve had an idea about bar charts! It’s way outside my area of expertise, but indulge me.

Right, Northern Ireland has a unique set of parties and in Scotland and Wales the national parties have disrupted the ability of the LabCon duopoly to “game” First Past the Post. In England, though, LabCon game First Past the Post for all its worth. They do everything they can to maintain a dichotomy, “them or us”. Then they run a “project fear” on “them”.

Our campaigning tasks are to avoid being “them” and be an independent, viable, option.

I have previously suggested that we can avoid  being “them” by criticising neither duopoly party individually but only the duopoly as an unified entity.

As for establishing ourselves as real contenders, nationally this is going well.

Locally, though, I can see problems with the bar charts we use to make the case that we are a winning bet. Here we too often play exactly that “us and them” dichotomy that hurts us so much nationally. Nationally we need people to abandon voting for the least-worst-possible winner. Locally, though it’s all “only we can…” and “can’t win here”; straight out of the duopoly playbook. And all too often we dishonestly distort data to present the “story” we want to tell.

Now, after the elections for the European Parliament we have no need to distort as there is always some data that, fairly presented, will tell the story that we are in the race. In a constituency where we came second in 2017, that data can be presented. In my constituency, Lewisham and Deptford, we didn’t do so well in 2017 (to say the least). In the EU elections, though, we came first in Lewisham borough! That data can be used. In some areas of London we came third. Coming first in the region as a whole, though, allows that data to be used. What of a constituency where we did badly, in an electoral area where we did badly and a region where we didn’t do so well? The UK wide EU results put us in second place: those results will tell the story.

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Time for a Broad AllIance to take power?

“We must be more than a political party or we will cease to be one,” said the great writer G. K. Chesterton, when he was a Liberal. “Time and again historic victory has come to a little party with big ideas: but can anyone conceive anything with a mark of death more on its brow than a little party with little ideas,”

I am writing about the man at the moment and I believe he was right, and especially perhaps in the first of the two sentences.

Nor are we such a little party these days, but the ideas we …

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Why we don’t need a “remain alliance”

As somebody who joined the Liberal Democrats primarily to fight Brexit, I have since come to appreciate even greater the importance of fighting for liberal democratic values. What’s more, it is evidently how important this is for the entirety of the United Kingdom.

I used to be more sympathetic towards electoral pacts, in fact, at one time I was well on board with it. I’m still desperate to stop Brexit and so disappointed at what the leave campaigns achieved; especially as my wife is a EU citizen with only EU treaty rights currently protecting her status in the U.K. This really hurt us both and fuelled me to do what I could to stop Brexit. I am also thinking of my twin brother, Eddie (some here may know him), who is now living in France.

However, an article Mark Pack published titled “Standing for election isn’t just about winning”, encouraged me to stand as a paper candidate in the local elections and removed any doubt from me that electoral pacts are a bad idea. It drove home to me the importance of standing in every seat we can. This way we can build our core vote, keep track of potential target areas and give voters the choice they need for the good of democracy.

After all, if people cannot vote Lib Dem, what is the chance they will join? Or simply just lose the habit of voting for us? It could destroy our local bases for a long time.

I am aware that people have pointed towards past success for electoral pacts but is this a viable long term plan for a party of government? I am sceptical. Given our recent electoral successes; we are clearly the party for remaining in the EU, for the environment, for the economy and for liberal values.

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Time to revisit the progressive alliance

So how are things settling after the EU elections? For as long as we as a party were in single figures in the opinion polls, we were effectively on life support, particularly if boundary changes go ahead. But now suddenly our fortunes have changed and the long wait is over. We are back in business again winning elections. Clearly the electorate is unusually volatile and there is hard work ahead to keep the gains we have made, but now we can start thinking about the power that we might have with new MPs elected at the next general election, which may be soon.

The Tory leadership is mostly a horror show. The one decent candidate, Rory Stewart, is unlikely to win. We are seeing a split in the Tory party between the business wing and the bigger nationalist wing who support No Deal. Normally the 2 wings are aligned but the party could split apart over Brexit with the nationalists running the party, becoming even more right wing and aligned with the Brexit party. I can’t imagine us working with them again.

Where else should we look? Change UK are in a very weak position and are at risk of being crushed by the voting system. The ball is in their court as to what to do next. We need to consider our relationship with them once they have decided.

The Greens are a different matter. Their vote went up. And the demographics of their vote is similar to ours. Just 4 years ago Bristol West was a Lib Dem seat, but now it is a Green target. I still hope we can win it for the Lib Dems, but the danger is that we get in each other’s way and Labour win it instead.

And so we come to the Progressive Alliance. Ideas must come first. The usual defensive response is to complain about giving up seats and having pacts. But it is pointless thinking about that. We need a progressive alliance of ideas first. Precisely because we are in different parties there are some policies we do not agree.

However there is a reason why voters have difficulty choosing between us and the Greens. We both support a fairer voting system – a precondition I would say for a Progressive Alliance. We both agree that tackling Climate Breakdown is a top priority. And on staying in the EU, the Remain movement see us as similar parties that should work together.

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The Greens show their true colours

As with any election campaign, successful or otherwise, it is important to step back once the dust has settled and consider what can be learned and what can be improved upon. The recent European Parliament elections are no different in that regard. In particular, the dynamic between the different parties campaigning for a People’s Vote, which became increasingly fractious as the campaign went on, is worth reflecting on, particularly as further cooperation with these parties is likely to be at the heart of the upcoming leadership election.

At the campaign’s outset, Vince Cable was no doubt right to seek to work with these parties, as it was important to appear united in the face of the Brexit Party threat. However, following the other parties’ initial reluctance and eventual outright hostility towards the Liberal Democrats, is this avenue one we should seek to follow again at future elections? I would argue no.

In the case of the Green Party in particular, they could not have been more clear in their feelings towards us, suggesting that at best a vote for us would be a “compromise”, and at worst that we “could be dangerous”, having previously supposedly “aided and abetted austerity” (rather than moderated it). It is obvious that the Green Party does not see us as friends and allies, and so I would suggest we stop treating them as such.

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Why the Lib Dems should extend an olive branch to Change UK

One of the next big questions the Lib Dems need to answer is what to do about Change UK. After a disastrous result in the European elections, the fledging group are facing an existential crisis. A new party needs early success to fuel its momentum. They got the opposite – 3% of the vote.

Given this, it should come as no surprise that Change want to be friends again, with the interim leader Heidi Allen openly stating that she’d like to see Change and the Lib Dems run as one entity from now on. I understand that for some, the natural impulse might be to tell them to F – off. They wanted to be separate, they tried their best to win votes directly from the Lib Dems. Now they come crawling back to us? No sir. Enjoy electoral oblivion.

It’s a tempting way to think, but it’s an urge we all need to fight. A centre-left Remain alliance would be a good thing for our cause, and a good thing for our country. If MPs want to join the Lib Dems let’s bring them into the fold. And I don’t just mean grudgingly accepting them but viewing them with scorn, I mean knocking on doors in the rain for Gavin Shuker, giving a Cabinet position to Heidi Allen, and getting Chuka in to speak to enthusiastic supporters at the next ‘Lib Dem Pint’.

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Time for a Progressive Alliance?

There is a lot of noise on social media at the moment with Labour members having to confront the awful reality that Jeremy Corbyn really does support Brexit, and if he succeeds in passing a motion of no confidence in the government then that will be the general election policy of the Labour party too. Many are giving up on Labour and are looking for a progressive alternative. So how about the Lib Dems?

There is the question of the ownership of the word progressive. There was an odd debate at conference in 2016 which rejected the “Progressive Alliance” because it …

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Co-operation with the Greens – debunking the arguments against

There’s something strange going in within the Liberal Democrats, and it isn’t helping us, or showing us up in a very favourable light.

Last month we had an astonishing success in the Richmond upon Thames borough elections. In 2014 the Conservatives won 39 of the 54 seats; this time we won 39, reducing the Tories to 11 and the Greens picked up four thanks in large part to an arrangement with us. It was an outstanding achievement for Gareth Roberts and his team.

But in the weeks since then, there seems to be a movement afoot trying to pretend that cooperating with …

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The Progressive Alliance Needs Mothers’ Voices

I am launching a group called ‘Mothers for a Progressive Alliance’ with the backing of Compass on Saturday 18 November in Central London and am inviting Lib Dem members to attend to contribute to the discussion.

The concept of the Progressive Alliance gained prominence during the Richmond Park by-election in 2016 when Sarah Olney won the seat from Zac Goldsmith. Parties, campaigners and voters came together to work for Sarah Olney’s success. It was an example of what can be achieved when political conflict is set aside for something bigger.

The Progressive Alliance is a stepping …

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Liberalism at the crossroads in UK politics

One of the biggest hits the party took during the coalition years was not so much being associated with the Conservatives (though that was toxic enough) but losing so much of our identity. And if we want to have a future as a party, we have to get that identity back.

Our coalition years slogan ‘Stronger economy, fairer society’ was fine up to a point, but it didn’t provide us with much distinctiveness. Associated messaging that framed us as having more head than Labour and more heart than the Conservatives effectively defined us in relation to Labour and the Conservatives. It did not emphasis what we stood for and make clear what a vote for the Lib Dems meant. By the time of the 2015 seven-leaders TV debate, most people could have formulated in a few words what six of the seven parties stood for, but they might well have struggled with us.

In trying to re-establish our identity, there are two things that are essential. Firstly, we need to set out what radical liberalism means in today’s political context. When we’ve done that, we need to frame our policies in a way that both generates a sense of what the Liberal Democrats stand for that the general public can assimilate, and allows scope within that framing for the
formation of shared agendas with parties of similar outlooks.

As a first step towards getting the ball rolling, Paul Pettinger and I have written a paper The Place for Radical Liberalism in the 21st Century. It’s a short paper – just nine pages – because what’s important is to set out the bare bones of what we need to achieve; the flesh can come later.

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A progressive alliance round Land Value Taxation?

The Grenfell Tower fire has focused attention on the extent of the crisis in the UK social housing system.

Reverend Paul Nicolson of Taxpayers Against Poverty comments:

There are rows of empty “investments” in London, and the four big builders have 600,000 unused plots in their land banks.

The Liberal Democrat 2017 Manifesto included genuinely progressive housing proposals

  • a new national Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank,
  • increasing housebuilding to 300,000 homes a year
  • allowing councils to end the right to buy, lifting the borrowing cap and targeting “buy to leave” empty homes with a 200% council tax.
  • penalising land-banking with with a penalty on failure to build after three years of winning planning permission.
  •  a “community right of appeal” in cases where planning decisions go against the approved local plan.
  • a “rent to buy” model, where rental payments give tenants an increasing stake in the property, leading to outright ownership after 30 years.

However, the manifesto incorporated only a single sentence with respect to LVT. “We will also consider the implementation of Land Value Taxation.”

Labour’s manifesto went a little further with respect to describing its LVT intentions promising:

 We will initiate a review into reforming council tax and business rates and consider new options such as a land value tax, to ensure local government has sustainable funding for the long term.

The Greens promised “Action on empty homes to bring them back into use and a trial of a Land Value Tax to encourage the use of vacant land and reduce speculation.

The SNP have previously included LVT proposals in their manifesto and at their spring conference this year adopted a resolution “must include exploring all fiscal options including ways of taxing the value of undeveloped land” in its gradual land reform programme.  Other parties like Plaid and the Alliance Party have incorporated LVT proposals in the past.

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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?

Posted in Op-eds | 31 Comments

Naomi Smith’s speech at the Progressive Alliance launch

Last night, a rally attended by over 900 people launched the Progressive Alliance’s campaign to support single anti-Tory candidates in a number of seats around the country.

The event was addressed by Labour’s Clive Lewis, Greens leader Caroline Lucas, Zoe Williams, Paul Mason and Make Votes matter. The Liberal Democrat speaker was former Social Liberal Forum Chair Naomi Smith. She has sent us her speech. Here it is:

I’m Naomi Smith, former Liberal Democrat PPC for this constituency (Cities of London and Westminster), former chair of the Social Liberal Forum and very proud Remoaner!

I’m not standing this time round, but am campaigning in St Albans where with a 63% remain vote, we’ve got a good chance of taking the seat from the Brexiteer, Anne Main.

Of course, we’d have a much better change if an electoral pact between the progressive parties have been brokered. I’m pleased, of course, that the Lib Dems have stood aside in two seats, but am disappointed it wasn’t more. I commend, as we all should, The Green Party, for having done so in a great number of seats. We owe them a debt of gratitude.

What has happened in South West Surrey, where the Labour Party and my own, failed to step down for the doctor running against Jeremy Hunt, tells us all we need to know about the culture changes needed in our parties.

SW Surrey, could have been the new Tatton, where if you remember in 1997, both Labour and the Lib Dems stood aside for the anti-corruption candidate, Martin Bell. This helped to highlight Tory sleaze and bring it under the spotlight during a general election campaign. How differently our parties behaved then. Had we not done that, Neil Hamilton may be restanding as the MP for Tatton in June. If we’d make like Tatton in SW Surrey this time, we could’ve made Tory under funding of the NHS a greater feature of the 2017 General Election.

To change those cultures in our parties is a longer term project. We need to engage in a process of building and reciprocating goodwill and trust. Milestones along that journey in my opinion, should include Labour moving its position on Brexit quite markedly, and for the Lib Dems to rule out working with the Conservatives.

Given the lack of leadership in our both our parties on this, it is now very much down to us, as progressive activists. But before I get on to what Liberal Democrat local parties can now do, let me just put in to context the vision and leadership shown by some:

On the other side of the debate, the organisation has been ruthless. The Regressive Alliance is real. UKIP are giving the Conservatives a free run in 41% of the seats the Tories are contesting. In 2015, UKIP stood 624 candidates. This time, they’re contesting just 377 seats. By comparison, our parties have managed to stand down for each other in around 40 seats. And while I highly commend those local parties that have managed to strike a deal, I sincerely wish it could have been more.

Let’s not fight fire, with dire.

It matters, because we know when we work together, we all benefit. The greatest periods of success for progressive over the last 100 years all involved some degree of cross party collaboration (1906, 1945 and 1997). Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. As long as progressive parties are estranged from one another, the Tories will always be able to present themselves as the providers of secure and stable government.

So what can we do now, right now, to help reduce Theresa May’s majority? Well, we have to try and offset the ill effects of the Regressive Alliance. I’m encouraging all Liberal Democrat supporters in marginal Labour/Tory seats to critically engage their candidates on the key issues of Brexit and that most progressive of issues, Equal Votes.

The reality for Lib Dem supporters is that the Conservatives are generally terrible on the things we care most about, from LGBT issues to internationalism and democratic equality. While we still have this horrendous first past the post system, we have to vote tactically and encourage others to do so  as well.

Tactical votes and non-aggression pacts are what we have left between now and 8 June. And it’s so important that we employ them. As the American philosopher Carl Friedrich said, ‘Democratic order is built, not on agreement of the fundamentals, but on the organising of its dissent’. Or in other words, what distinguishes the health of a democracy , is the vitality of its opposition. If Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders won’t yet collaborate, then we must. And it’ll be no coalition of chaos, but a rebel alliance, and I look forward to working with you all – tactical voting is now our key message, as we begin to build our progressive future. Thank you.

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If you want a progressive alliance, you need to vote against Labour this time

The Liberal Democrats have officially ruled out alliances this time, but informal arrangements seem to be popping up all over the place, and it’s certain a vote for Corbyn won’t help any such alliance evolve in the future.

Vince Cable allegedly believes that there are certain Labour candidates in this election whose views ‘exactly match our own.’ If that is the case then it is rather reassuring that the current reactionary riff being performed by Corbyn and Co. is not the tune to which all of the Labour Party march.

But the problem is, that doesn’t matter. Corbyn has already said he would like to stay even if he loses the election, and that he doesn’t want alliances. So every vote for the Labour Party in any seat anywhere will become part of his narrative to suggest that rejection by the people is a mere detail, each vote a cudgel to legitimise their counter-intellectual concerns.

Socialism of the Corbyn kind is predicated on centralising power. It is an ideology of pessimism. Lib Dems like devolution and empowering the individual,  an ideology of optimism. 

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 43 Comments
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