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 articulate in public are not yet big enough, and it is what I miss from our leadership election at the moment. Perhaps that is why Andrew Rawnsley claimed over the weekend that it was as dull as a bowl of tofu.

Beyond the resistance to Brexit – not really an idea so much as a rejection of one – there are only a couple; well, two: tackling climate change (Ed Davey) and embracing hi-tech (Jo Swinson). Both are short of the hows and whats that would make either of these big ideas – something to fill the spot for Brexit when it has either happened or finally not happened.

So here is mine, and it is entirely a practical one.

The recent polls put the four biggest parties practically neck and neck, around 20+ per cent. This is a highly dangerous position for the nation because it means, under our hopeless electoral system, that absolutely anything could happen.

I have been a member of the party for forty years last May. I’ve see us sweep up and down dreaming of one more heave. I know we shouldn’t get carried away. But it now seems to me – given the polls and the high ratings of the Greens, that it is now time to forge a one-off alliance of the radical centre for one election only: to save humanity from climate change.

I have little idea as yet whether either Anna Soubry or Sian Berry are likely to play ball or not – though I believe both are persuadable, on condition we prioritise getting their existing MPs back into Parliament and give them a clear run in 20-30 other seats.

I lived through the alliance with the SDP. I’m so aware that this is not straightforward, and that the kind of open primaries – open to the voting public in the other seats – are potentially expensive and unpopular amongst political parties.

I know there would have to be a system of appeals and there are other administrative issues about expressing alliances on ballot papers under existing electoral law.

I am also aware that ignorance about each other’s parties and policies get in the way of such alliances. But I don’t think any of these are unsurmountable – and the prize is potentially huge. If you add together our poll ratings as they stand now, and it would put us well within spitting distance of the 30 per cent level when we could not just govern, but change UK politics forever.

But this is where Chesterton’s first sentence is important. None of this will happen unless Lib Dems, Greens and Tigs for Change are first working side by side on the ground, not just through More United, but at ward level – achieving things by campaigning about them in a way that is easier these days when Parliament is as finely balanced as it is now.

Only that can avoid the kind of projecting of our own peculiarities and intolerances onto other parties, the besetting sin of politicians, which so torpedoes working together for people.

The truth is that they are not that different from us. This will need to be an alliance forged locally, relationship by relationship. But if we can be more than a party and achieve that, I believe we can really grab power.

So Jo and Ed – what do you think?

* David Boyle is policy director of Radix, co-director of New Weather, a fellow of the New Economics Foundation, and the author of The Xanthe Schneider Enigma Files and other books.

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31 Comments

  • Mick Taylor 2nd Jul '19 - 1:29pm

    We offered and they refused. Says it all really

  • G.K. Chesterton might be have been “a great writer” – but his views (on what is currently a cause of huge embarrassment and controversy in the Labour Party) wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) let him be accepted in the modern Lib Dem party.

  • chris moore 2nd Jul '19 - 2:00pm

    GK Chesterton was a man of his day and a writer of his day.

    His prose seems to me laboured and straining.

    His Catholic prescriptions absurd and out-dated even back in his day.

  • David Boyle 2nd Jul '19 - 2:03pm

    I think we could do better than that. It isn’t as if I’m suggesting doing anyone a favour – just that so many people I meet would like there to be done kind of arrangement, certainly with the Greens. What it actually says is that these alliances are extremely hard to make happen – unless activists on both sides are already working together on joint issues locally. We don’t have long to pull this off – so that has to be first priority…

  • I’m definitely in favour in theory, but as always, it comes down to local politics. I think Soubry and the ChangeUK group would be happy for us to stand down where they have existing candidates, but I think the Greens will demand more than Brighton and Hove. Unfortunately, some of their target seats are also our target seats and unlike in Brighton, I’m not sure if all of the locals will be happy to go along with a tactic most of our natural supporters would be doing off their own backs.

    I might be wrong, but I get the sense that Sian Berry isn’t as cooperative (for want of a better word) as Lucas. While we definitely have political differences, Lucas seemed able to take them in her stride and recognises our historically much larger voter base and our value as partners for achieving shared goals. On the other hand, I think Berry’s ambitions for the Greens includes taking voters from us permanently. Whilst not unreasonable goals for a party leader wanting to grow her party, but less helpful for achieving shared goals.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd Jul '19 - 2:57pm

    Chesterton was an outdated writer considered to be an antisemite.

    David Raw is correct on that although he implies rather than says it this way.

    David Boyle is correct to want to align.

    But Mick Taylor is correct too. The Greens under their not very pragmatic dynamic duo, are not keen on this party because of two things, the mistakes made in coalition and that party being to the farther left on some things , than this party.

    David’s piece gets it right in theory, not practice. This party is centre, centre left. The Green party is left. We talk alliance. They say no. Liberal Democrats went into coalition. The Greens say yuk!

    Not too sure that alliance shall work. Where are the twenty plus seats we stand aside in for them?

  • Paul Barker 2nd Jul '19 - 4:12pm

    Chesterton was probably closer to some variants of Fascism than anything we would recognise as Liberal but some of his essays are still worth reading & I recommend “The Man who was Thursday”, especially funny if you were ever member of a Marxist sect to The Greens.
    The best argument for a Broad Alliance is in The Polling figures : Us on 20% & The Greens 10%, add those together & suddenly its one big Party with Labour & The Tories reduced to also-rans.
    If we are serious about Power we already have a Program that would take more than 5 Years to start on. Electoral Reform, Radical Devolution, a Green New Deal, Reforming Education, the list goes on & most of it is shared with Greens & Tigs. The negotiations would be about the practicalities of who stands where & some of that will be painful. The sooner we start, the better.

  • David Boyle 2nd Jul '19 - 6:08pm

    Thanks to everyone for the positive comments.. I’m fully aware of how difficult this will be but I can’t see what the alternative is – unless we are confident that, faced with a choice between us and the Greens , voters would usually choose us. Of course Sian berry wants to grow her voter permanently, just as we do. The system forced us to cooperate or cancel each other out. I’m suggesting a way forward that could just take us to power on a platform for saving the planet.

    Thank you Joseph for your thoughts on distributism. Why not offer some kind of right to buy your private rental if we want to be properly radical – at a subsidised price? Just a thought…

  • John Littler 2nd Jul '19 - 9:45pm

    Boyle’s piece is extremely welcome. A historic progressive alliance to bring together the centre and left, to stop brexit and either hold an immediate G.E., or bring in reforms, preferably proper PR voting to start with, would be the the thing to do.
    If Labour had a half decent leader and a better attitude, then the combination really could achieve great things, but instead we have student hard left politics writ large with the useless and rigid minded Corbyn.
    The LibDems tend to do well in seats that Labour do not do well in and vice versa, so it would be an ideal combination in that respect.

  • The fact is that things are very volatile. I can see little evidence that we really have the massive support which some figures appear to show. If you ask people to speculate on who they would vote for in a General Election, the figures mean just that. They m9ght decide differently in a real campaign.
    Talking of real campaigns – they are important. We have a range of possibilities in campaigning. One is to have a lot of money and media support. Nigel Farage has shown what can be done with that. For the Liberal Democrats it is mainly a question of working up support in individual seats. However we would probably be polling in the 30s if we had the resources to organise areas with little organisation. To build up local parties. To work with people.
    As it is we need to be realistic, and to plan accordingly.
    Most important we need to involve our members throughout the process. We need to have policies which have clear goals, and have a vision. Again building that vision takes resources.

  • Paul Barker 3rd Jul '19 - 1:23pm

    The idea that we could ever work with Labour as a whole is a dangerous fantasy they have spent 119 Years trying to destroy us, they won’t stop now. Of course there are lots of individuals within Labour that we can work with & are working with.
    The 30% figure was one of those “Imagine if …..” questions & should be seen as a possible pointer to the way things might go.
    We can hope that once The New Leaders are in place we will get a boost in the Polls, we will know in 3 Weeks.

  • @David Boyle`

    I have invariably voted Lib since 1959, when I turned 21, yet now, as a new era may be about to break, I begin to wonder. Unlike David my fear is that this is a little party with little ideas. All good ideas, of course, but wrongly ranked.

    As for a Broad Alliance taking power, YES ! Anything to dish the Cons for good and all, and get PR. But to get power we must win elections, by getting votes. Our current polling prosperity owes much to gesture voting against Con and Lab, and many such votes will not just vanish come the crunch of a GE, they will be cast for other parties. So now, at this time of impending upheaval — and therefore opportunity — we do need ideas which are big, not little.

    And our big ideas must appeal especially to the younger voters, who are understandably and rightly more concerned about the world of their longer futures, so Climate Change and Environmental Degradation loom large in their hopes or fears. These younger voters are not yet dyed in the wool partisans, but still determining which way to head.

    A second theme, now getting louder, is UBI, as a potential disentanglement of bungles like Universal Credit. Absurd as it seems at first sight, a well thought out and not unaffordable UBI could help to reduce the current wide inequality in incomes. Even the Tories say they must tackle that. But also, properly done, it would restore self-respect and a sense of community to all those brexiteers who have had enough of experts. Those needing ‘benefits’ would no longer be made to feel demeaned and degraded by a naturally grudging System, but full members of the national society, paying their Income Tax like the well to do.

    If we are to prosper we must now be not merely a venerable party but also a big and progressive one, with big ideas (as paraded today in the European Parliament ?)– brash, perhaps, but alive and thinking.

  • @ Paul Barker “The idea that we could ever work with Labour as a whole is a dangerous fantasy they have spent 119 Years trying to destroy us.”

    I’m afraid that sweeping statement is not only dangerous fantasy but historically untrue. During the years of the great peacetime Asquith Government, the Liberal Government was propped up by Labour MPs votes because it lost its majority after the first 1910 election. Asquith later propped up the first 1923 Labour Government and Lloyd George at first did the same in 1929. During the Callaghan Premiership in the 1970’s David Steel’s Liberal Party had a working relationship with the Labour Government. If the Liberal Democrats were nearly destroyed after the 2015 election the authorship was autobiographical.

    I’d stick to flying flags rather than fantasy kites, Paul and avoid undue excitement……. before you get too euphoric about recent polls and the local & EU election results remember that public moods are fickle things.

  • chris moore 3rd Jul '19 - 4:31pm

    @ Paul Barker “The idea that we could ever work with Labour as a whole is a dangerous fantasy they have spent 119 Years trying to destroy us.”

    This statement is far too strong, Paul.

    Labour are political competitiors with whom we sometimes share a lot of common political grounds and aims.

    There are a number of junctures where we have co-operated successfully with Labour.

    For example, the Scottish Constitutional Convention. (For once, David Raw has missed the Scottish angle.) The Scottish Constitutional Convention brought together Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, trade unionists, churches and other bodies and laid the intellectual groundwork that led to the Scottish parliament. (The SNP withdrew as the SCC wouldn’t consider Scottish Independence.)

    The co-operation through the SCC brought together Scottish Lib Dem and Labour politicians on a regular basis and under-pinned the first Scottish government, a Labour-Lib Dem coalition.

  • John Littler 2nd Jul ’19 – 9:45pm,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,If Labour had a half decent leader and a better attitude, then the combination really could achieve great things, but instead we have student hard left politics writ large with the useless and rigid minded Corbyn…………………..

    What are the ‘student hard left politics’ espoused in the Labour manifesto?

  • Peter Hirst 3rd Jul '19 - 5:48pm

    To me, the real issue is electoral and constitutional reform that Brexit has shown to be well overdue. I know you need a long spoon but if the Brexit Party really embraces electoral reform, this is a golden opportunity. With 4 Parties in the 20’s and The Green Party doing well we really need some imaginative thinking. I think either of the two leadership contenders are up to it if they will commit themselves to it.

  • Paul Barker 3rd Jul '19 - 8:06pm

    I have been surprised by how long our Polling surge has continued, I had expected it to begin fading by now but there’s no clear sign of that. Perhaps we have got better at staying in the News or maybe Ex-labour/Tory Voters are still being put off by the behaviour of their Old Parties ?
    Who knows how high a New Alliance of Progressive forces could go ?

  • David Allen 4th Jul '19 - 12:17am

    “The idea that we could ever work with Labour as a whole is a dangerous fantasy – they have spent 119 Years trying to destroy us.”

    Well – For much of that time, we have been trying to destroy them. We didn’t put it like that, we talked about things like “realignment” or “a non-socialist alternative to the Tories” – But “destroy” was what we meant, some of the time.

    Tribalism begets tribalism. Labour are often guilty, Lib Dems are often guilty, Greens are often guilty. Instead of trying to pretend that it’s all about the other guy being the tribalist, we need to confront and abandon our own tribalism. If we don’t, we embrace being also-rans.

  • David Boyle

    I have little idea as yet whether either Anna Soubry or Sian Berry are likely to play ball or not – though I believe both are persuadable, on condition we prioritise getting their existing MPs back into Parliament and give them a clear run in 20-30 other seats.

    Looking at the Green Party can you name 20 seats where we should stand down for them?

    I’ll start you off:
    Buckingham they had clear run in 2019 and received 16.3% of the vote;
    Sheffield Central they came third in 2017 with 8.0% and second in 2015;
    Skipton & Ripon they came third in 2017 with 6.4% and we didn’t stand, up from fifth in 2015 (we were second from 1983-2010);
    North Herefordshire they came fourth, in 2017, behind us in 2017, on 5.5%;
    North East Herefordshire they came fourth, in 2017, behind us in 2017, on 5.3%;
    Glasgow North they came fourth, in 2017 with 9.7%;
    Folkestone & Hythe they came fifth, in 2017 with 4.2%, we came third, with 7.2%. From 1974 to 2010 we came second;
    North Somerset they came fifth, in 2017 with 3.2%, we came third, with 9.6%;
    Devon Central they came fourth, in 2017 with 2.6%, we came third with 11.7%;
    Wantage they came fourth, in 2017 with 2.4% we came third with 14.5%;
    Woking they came fifth, in 2017 with 2%, we came third, with 17.6%.

    But that is only 11 seats.

  • John Littler 4th Jul '19 - 10:20pm

    expats 3rd Jul ’19 – 4:44pm
    I’ll give you some idea of the extreme policies of Corbyn/McDonnell.
    After putting Corpn. Tax up to 28% and saying no more, they then reneged and decided to add funds into which firms had to pay an additional 10% of profits, mainly for the government, which is getting into pips squeaking, uncompetitive tax levels.

    Another madder one. Company Boards to have 1/3 of the members taken up by workers, where normally they would all be managers dealing with a specialist area each, such as finance, manufacturing, purchasing, marketing, or Chair etc. I can agree with putting one worker and maybe a Trade Union Rep on there, where staff meetings could take common issues usefully into the board, but 1/3 of members would cause anger, firms to dis-invest or to move the real decisions elsewhere. What would the 1/3 workers on boards have to add?

    Another Labour policy: Investment in Industry would be a good thing, except for the amounts proposed. A nice round figure pulled out of the air at £500billion over 10 years. Also, more infrastructure, a great thing, except the amounts at another round convenient figure of £500 billion. It would be nigh impossible to spend that much well and the outer reaches of what might be worthwhile doing would have money thrown at them. It would have to bring in much foreign labour and firms and materials into the UK, as they don’t exist as spare capacity here, affecting the balance of payments. This would add £1 Trillion to the National Debt sand while It might generate some extra taxes, much would be poorly spent off going overseas.

  • John Littler 4th Jul '19 - 10:25pm

    An example of where the Corbyn extreme Infrastructure spending policy was tried was Japan. It had decades of no growth or almost none and started flinging large amounts of money around to try to get the economy started by building roads beyond where they were needed, to almost nowhere and jetties around little used coast areas etc. It failed.

  • John Littler,

    compared with the various schemes and pledges being proposed by the Conservative leadership candidates the Labour proposals are beginning to look rather less extreme or even relatively modest.

  • John Littler,

    You don’t post any references to your assertions. In 2017 the Labour Party stated it would increase Corporation Tax to 26% from 2020-21 (pages 5 and 6 of the Labour costing document). They also stated they would set up a National Transformation Fund which will spend £250 billion over 10 years (page 5 of the Labour costing document). This includes funding new houses. If we assumed it costs £200,000 to build a house 500,000 new homes would cost £125 billion. In 2017 we promised £100 billion over 5 years for the same things.

  • David Boyle 5th Jul '19 - 11:41am

    I very much agree with David Allen about tribalism. we lib Dems are so tribal ourselves that we tend to project it onto everyone!

  • David Boyle 5th Jul '19 - 11:52am

    Can I be clears about what I was proposing? Not any kind of alliance with Labour because it would be even tougher to achieve. Nor an alliance to stop brexit- though people might treat it like that. Nor just standing down in a few places for each other. I want to see a short-term alliance to save the planet, giving each party a clear run in 20-30 seats , plus ones they already hold – with the rest chosen by locals in public open primaries. That’s what I want – how about you?

  • John Littler 4th Jul ’19 – 10:20pm…

    I note you ignore most of the points of Labour’s manifesto and sevceral of your ‘dredged up’ facts have been refuted by Michael BG 5th Jul ’19 – 2:39am..I thought you might concentrate on Transport, Welfare, Hosing, etc. but never mind…

    Let’s address your “Another madder one. Company Boards to have 1/3 of the members taken up by workers, where normally they would all be managers dealing with a specialist area each”…
    You make it sound as if these workers would be cleaners, etc. even Mrs May suggested workers on the board and, at 3/1 the finance, shareholders, etc. would still have a 2/1 voting advantage…Your idea of a token presence is pointless (how many times have we been told that even a coalition with a 5+/1 ratio meant no power?)
    As an example of an existing board why not view Carillion where (another) Philip Green, who had previously been found guilty of a breach of trust by the Pensions Ombudsman, had no trouble keeping in the revoving door that is directorship suitability or BHS (where dividends and bonuses far above what the business could afford were paid and where the he wealthy few got wealthier and 11,000 workers and 22,000 pensioners were left in the lurch regarding jobs and yet another pension fund in deficit)…
    The list goes on… with the workers, with no voice or input, are always the victims.

  • David Boyle,

    It is disappointing that you didn’t respond to what 20 seats the Greens should be allocated. Suggesting 20 for Change UK on top of their held seats would be even harder. To answer your question. No. The Conservatives tried open primaries and two MPs selected that way have left the party. I want to get as many Liberal Democrat MPs elected as possible. I hope all of them will be social liberals. The party with the best chance of winning should provide the candidate, however in our worse 200 seats I wouldn’t be against joint selection processes where members of all three parties could vote in the selection.

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