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.

Labour is more difficult. Those who have joined the Lib Dems from Labour are angry about what Corbyn has done to the party. Many of those still in Labour have picked up the traditional tribal hatred the party has of other political parties. The SNP/PC are also very important to consider, I am sure the Welsh and Scottish Lib Dems might want to comment. But at least there is a lot of support for changing the voting system even in these parties, and certainly more than in the Tory party.

We can dream about winning an overall majority and not having to consider all this. Alternatively given the fragmentation of British politics, the danger is we keep having NOC Parliaments where we can’t work with each other and we get the blame. Instead let’s consider the opportunity we have to work together and implement the policies we have long dreamed about.

* Geoff Payne is the former events organiser for Hackney Liberal Democrats

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  • On this matter Geoff Payne talks a lot of sense. The good results in the European elections would almost certainly have been better still if there had been a “Remain” list in England drawn from Change UK; Greens and the Liberal Democrats. If there is a General Election before Brexit is resolved many remain voters are going to feel very angry if those three parties put their egos before their cause. For years Lib Dem HQ has persuaded many local parties to effectively abandon their local GE campaign and go and help in “target” constituencies. Seat allocations between “remain/STV” parties would just be a logical extension of existing practice – although far better achieved by local discussion with central blessing rather than a “Wheelhouse” imposition.

  • Andy Briggs 30th May '19 - 9:28am

    “Progressive alliance of ideas” is exactly the phrase rejected by Spring Conference 2018 in Southport, is it not? Not sure we should be rushing to do deals with a party that spent the last few weeks attacking us (as opposed to working with us), nor should we be doing deals with parties that do not see the damage caused in leaving unions of nations, surely?

  • Richard Underhill 30th May '19 - 9:28am


  • Simon McGrath 30th May '19 - 9:47am

    ” Just 4 years ago Bristol West was a Lib Dem seat, but now it is a Green target”
    and a ‘progressive alliance’ will ensure that it never becomes a Lib Dem seat again

  • Michael Sammon 30th May '19 - 9:49am

    We shouldn’t be working with any other party on elections. We are the only liberal party. Our elected representatives can work together on common goals but standing down for each other is a joke. We can not build up our local bases this way and it would probably lead to Corbyn as PM, a threat which liberals aren’t taking seriously enough. Particularly as you appear to have ruled out Conservatives and talked up chances of working with Labour. We will not win any tory marginals this way.

  • David Evershed 30th May '19 - 10:07am

    The Green party are particularly illiberal.

    We would do better to be in an alliance with the Conservatives if we want to see liberal policies introduced.

  • What is illiberal about them. I don’t think the Greens are as active on combatting as pollution and boosting recycling as they could be but there is nothing illiberal about tackling climate chance and opposing fracking, all measures I would agree with and going even further in bringing down the cost of electric cars and as Vince has said increasing charging points. An alliance with the tories would not see more liberal policies being introduced. We saw what happened with the coalition on the bedroom tax, though they are now reviewing maintenance grants and the abolition of the AWB etc. Social Liberals will not support such regressive measures.

  • Sandy Leslie 30th May '19 - 10:42am

    Sometimes one has to be cautious who you, the Scottish Greens have been known to castigate the SNP as being to cautious with regard to independence whilst we are in and in

  • If you have worked with or contested the Greens then you are fully aware they are interested in one thing, themselves and they are ruthless about it. Give them a wide birth and defeat them. We are not the same, many of their policies are to the left of Corbin, Change Uk is different,
    We should merge and that will help to encourage Labour/Tory M Ps to join.

  • I have to admit that some people in the leadership of The Greens said some nasty & ridiculous things during the campaign for The European Elections but I have no idea how representative they are of the wider membership. The fact is that we do share a lot of ideas with the Greens, not just on Climate Change & Europe but on Devolution, Electoral Reform, Immigration & Human Rights too.
    While our Core Votes overlap The Greens also appeal to some Voters who won’t , yet vote for us. That applies particularly to Ex Labour Remainers.
    The SDP/Liberal Alliance showed the potential for Parties working together to break the Old Tory/Labour monopoly, its time for another try.

  • An election as a substitute for another vote on Brexit could be upon us with very short notice, and there is every probability that – whatever they say now – the Tories and Brexit Party would find some way of making the voting system work in their favour.

    It is imperative that the Remain parties get their act together and start to co-operate on both policy and standing in elections – to have another round of pitiful hand-wringing and “what could we do in the time?” excuses when the future of our country is on the line would be unforgivable.

    In the EU elections, had we even got the Change Uk vote onside we’d have three extra MEPs, and if there had been some way of bringing the Green, LibDem and CUK vote together we’d have beaten the Brexit Party 30 MEPs to 25.

  • David Evershed 30th May '19 - 5:26pm

    Unlike the Green Party, Liberals and Conservatives have a common belief in free markets and free trade – if different routes to achieving them.

  • marcstevens 30th May '19 - 5:39pm

    The party believe in a ‘mixed economy’ that includes public ownership not just espousing free markets and privatisation. The Greens also believe in a mixed economy and the Orange Bookers are no longer in control of the party although some on here like to think so. MPs like Clegg, Browne, Laws and Alexander and what they stood for was totally rejected and am I glad to see them gone.

  • I don’t see anyone arguing for a long term alliance as with the SDP. What is needed is a short term alliance focused on achieving political reform, defeating Brexit, and responding to the climate emergency. Once a fair voting system is achieved the different parties would compete.

    What we cannot risk is a repeat of last week when an anti-Brexit majority is defeated by a hard Brexit minority. And that happened under a relatively fair voting system. Under the nonsense of our current parliamentary voting system, all the Remain parties fighting every seat is simply suicide.

  • David Evershed 30th May '19 - 5:49pm


    It was Vince Cable who privatised Royal Mail when he was Business Secretary. Vince was also a contributor to the Orange Book, so you can add him to your list of names.

  • marcstevens 30th May '19 - 5:56pm

    Vince Cable was not an extreme OB unlike your other mates and the Royal Mail is still a state owned limited company. Vince Cable was also announced recently that he is in favour of the railways being in public ownership so you scratch that one from your free market ideas.

  • Paul Barker 30th May '19 - 6:29pm

    Did anyone else hear the interview with Caroline Lucas on PM ? She seems to feel bitter about the way We treated The Greens in 2017. I dont know the truth about that & I dont care, I mention it merely to show that people on all sides can be suspicious. We need to talk to the Greens & Change with open minds & open hearts.
    I would argue that we should be looking for a Long-Term Alliance, one that’s strong enough to survive not just a General Election but 5 Years in Government too.

  • nvelope2003 30th May '19 - 9:13pm

    marcstevens: the railways have been in public ownership since 2001 – I watch the BBC Travel news most mornings and like today there is normally some delay caused by the failure of Network Rail to bring the track up to an acceptable standard. Today it was a points failure on one of the busiest routes, the one into Waterloo. And the Government plan to build a new route to Birmingham – will the BBC be able to cope with the travel news ? Maybe the Government will simply ban it like other things that they do not like.

  • David Evershed 31st May '19 - 1:22am

    The Royal Mail is a 100% public company. There is no state share in the ownership.

    See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Mail

    Network Rail is a state owned company which runs the rail network.

  • Peter Hirst 31st May '19 - 5:15pm

    Some form of electoral pact with The Greens might be necessary to prevent us from hindering each’s progress in our present electoral system. This would help use resources more efficiently. We are sufficiently similar for this to be acceptable to both sets of members as long as it was sold as for a greater good or goods.

  • Alison Crawford 31st May '19 - 6:01pm

    I am generally in favour of alliances, but the Greens are from time to time being vitriolic about the Lib Dems. In spite of an agreement for the local elections, our local Greens told lies about us all over the area and we are unlikely to fall into that trap again.

  • clive english 31st May '19 - 7:09pm

    yes I think there was some confusion there. It is the Post Office Counters business that is state owned not Royal Mail (different companies)

  • Dennis Wake 1st Jun '19 - 11:27am

    Surely it would be possible for the Liberal Democrats to have green poicies which would make the Green Party redundant ? They do seem to be very antagonistic to us but I know of Liberal Democrats who joined them and have returned to us. With the Lib Dems now being ahead in both opinion and actual polls the Greens could start to fall back among the less extreme voters.

  • There’s plenty of theoretical talk about Progressive Alliances but not much acceptance.
    We have to offer the Greens a bit more than just not standing against Lucas. They topped the recent poll in Bristol, so that should be one for them.
    As to ChangeUK, LibDems and Greens should support their eleven sitting MP’s in return for reciprocal help.
    A block of unassailable kingmakers is more than possible and the LibDems should aim even higher, but another spell supporting the even more toxic Tories would not be at all unthinkable.

  • —supporting the toxic Tories would be unthinkable!

  • marcstevens 2nd Jun '19 - 3:58pm

    Yes I would agree John. The ownership and operation of the railways is in private hands, run by private sector operators. They were privatised under John Major. Many people including myself would like to see them returned to public ownership in a mixed economy. That’s what I will carry on campaigning for within the Party as well as social liberalism and social liberal policies.

  • I agree. We have to be on the liberal centre left. There is no other political space in Britain, realistically, at least until PR arrives. D66 in the Netherlands is a good marker and they are in government and it is easy to differentiate from labour.
    That Centre right area with Brown and to an extent Clegg and Danny was a dead end. Obscured and blown away by the Tories with no real public support.
    We need radical new thinking and to include an active industrial policy and green policies

  • nvelope2003 2nd Jun '19 - 6:28pm

    marcstevens: The railways, including track and signalling, are owned by the Government. Most train services are run by private operators and some others under contract to the Government who have almost complete control of the timetables and fares. It is similar to any other Government contracts. The benefit to the Government is that the operators get the blame for anything which goes wrong so most Government officials would like to keep it that way.

  • Totally agree, Geoff. It’s high time the leaders of the Remain parties put their differences aside to fight Brexit. They weren’t ready for the European Elections, we can’t let that happen again in a general. If you think internationalist MPs in all parties should work together then please sign here http://www.bestforbritain.org/worktogether – more than 30,000 people have signed in the last few days.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jun '19 - 5:50am

    Dennis Wake

    Surely it would be possible for the Liberal Democrats to have green policies which would make the Green Party redundant ?

    A really effective Green Party would be quite illiberal in order to force things to protect the environment. For me, one of the issues with the Green Party is that it spends too much of its time being liberal, and not enough being Green.

    For example, consider the recent Green MEP coming out and saying “immigration is great”. Is that Green? It seems to me that strong Green politics would not be in favour of immigration. Strong Green politics would say immigration is not good because of the way it leads to increase in population and the damage to the environment that causes as more people have to be housed.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jun '19 - 6:19am


    That Centre right area with Brown and to an extent Clegg and Danny was a dead end.

    Yes, Clegg was a disastrous leader. From the start he wanted to push the idea that liberalism was about reducing the state and having a “free market” economy. He actually came out and said this is what we should stand for and we would get many new members if we did, and those who didn’t like it should leave. He was also very arrogant and illiberal in the way he ignored democracy in our party and just appointed those who agreed with him to top positions to run it and develop its national image. The last attempt of those who opposed him to try and stop him was when we put motions in the party conference calling on the party not to support the disastrous changes to the way the NHS was being run. The LibDem leadership supporting this was in direct contradiction to the Coalition agreement which specifically stated that there would be no change the the way the NHS was organised. Clegg only narrowly won in the conference, and that by pushing the line that it would damage the party if you didn’t give in to whatever the leader wanted.

    Everyone can now see that the changes to the NHS have not saved costs, they have just caused more unnecessary administration to be put in. So we who opposed Clegg then were right, and we should be thanked now, and apologised to for not being listened to by the leader.

    The move to push the party towards being about “free market” was at the very time when the problems of this were becoming so apparent, with it clearly not leading to a more liberal society. One obvious thing being the way it leads to the rich getting richer and the poor poorer, and so directly against the key point that “none shall be enslaved by poverty” that we true Liberals insisted be a key part in our party’s preamble.

    We were going to be damaged by the Coalition, so we needed to make it clear that it was not our ideal, and that as just a small part of it we would be able to make only minor changes to what the large part wanted. Instead, Clegg did the opposite, giving the impression we stood for everything the Coalition did. That almost destroyed our party, and remains the key argument put across for not voting for us.

  • Immigration doesn’t cause an increase in population, it is the movement of population, often away from areas of drought, or economic problems. If you are concerned about the welfare of wildlife, why not people? There might be an increase in population in the area they move to, but properly managed immigration with everyone being careful not to use more than their fair share of resources should not cause any environmental damage. I’d argue that concern about the localised environment only isn’t actual environmentalism, just NIMBYism.

    I’m not convinced we’ll ever be able to make the Green party obsolete, especially not if we continue to grow as a party. There is a certain sort of person who likes the Greens because they are seen as anti-establishment, and there are some more radical and less realistic (or even effective) policies that are popular with some can be championed by a small party without ever having to face the scrutiny that would come if there was a risk of it being implemented.

    We are, however, in a position to bring serious environmental consideration to how we do things like the economy, and bring evidenced-based policy ideas into rethinking how to approach the big issues of the day. In that respect, while the Green party will have some useful and workable ideas, it’s also got a portion of its membership that are anti-vaxxers or get strange ideas from the internet rather than science. It’s essential we stick to environmental policies that have reasonable evidence to back them up and can be demonstrated to be worthwhile, with consideration of the impacts of their implementation. For example, the replacement of plastic with glass can mean higher fuel use, which has its own impact. So every environmental proposal needs full life cycle assessment that’s subject to review.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Jun '19 - 8:25am

    @ Fiona,

    “Immigration doesn’t cause an increase in population….”

    Yes, this is obviously true. However, it does mean that people are leaving areas with probably enough homes, roads, schools etc and moving to areas where there aren’t enough. This requires more to be built. I realise that this doesn’t apply to refugees from war torn places like Syria. But it does apply to most of the migration we see in the EU. The EU’s solution to economic deprivation in the regions requires people to move to the more prosperous regions where the jobs are to be found. This is at the heart of the freedom of movement principle which seems to be so dear to the heart of the powers that be in the EU.

    There is little or no emphasis placed on moving the jobs to where the people are instead. This would be a far better environmental solution. This is not to say that people shouldn’t move because they want to. Young people will always be attracted to the big cities like Paris and London. But, at present the movement is more likely to be because they have to. There is simply nothing in their home regions to keep them there.

    Depopulation can be an environmental problem too.


  • David Allen 3rd Jun '19 - 12:43pm

    “If you have worked with or contested the Tribalists then you are fully aware they are interested in one thing, themselves and they are ruthless about it. Give them a wide berth and defeat them. We are not the same…”

    Sorry, I changed one word from the posting above which I have quoted from. The original said “Greens”, but it might just as well have said “Labour”, or “SNP”, or “Change UK”, or indeed “Liberal Democrats”. If you are looking for flaws in other parties, such as the massive flaw that they are not always terribly nice to your own party’s candidates when contesting elections, you will always find them. If you are looking for nasty people in other parties, and you are happy to overlook all the nasty people in your own party, then again, yes, you will always find them.

    And that way, you will consign yourself to tribalist minority irrelevance, my friend!

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