26. 07. 2016

A Progressive Alliance: Laying the Foundations

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There’s one constant thread running through the post-Brexit chaos: if ever there was a time to bring people together to help transform our corrupted and dysfunctional political system, through some kind of progressive alliance, this has to be it.

The depths plumbed through the course of the Referendum campaign, the unleashing of narrow-minded, xenophobic instincts, the endless lies and contempt shown for ‘experts’ was all bad enough. But the campaign also revealed the startling divides that now put at risk any prospect of a stable, unified country – divides between London and the rest of the country, between the ‘left behind’, ‘hanging in’, and ‘still works for me’; between those taking comfort looking in and those building dreams by looking out; between young and old.

The resulting ill-ease can turn rapidly into despair – which the ongoing meltdown in the Labour Party does little to dispel. From the perspective of progressive politics, writ large, all Jeremy Corbyn’s instincts seem right, reaching out way beyond the Westminster bubble, unapologetically pursuing a redistributive agenda, protecting public services, challenging the cruelty of ideology-driven austerity politics, and calling out the deep immorality of a country as impoverished as ours committing itself to the renewal of Trident.

But Corbyn is never going to become Prime Minister – not least because of boundary changes and the loss of their power base in Scotland. The majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party felt that pretty much from the moment he became Leader. But his utter failure even to try and make the case for Europe, on behalf of those millions of ‘left behind’ Brexiteers who now find themselves even more at the mercy of an increasingly vicious neo-liberal elite, beggared belief.

Being a good man, with most of the right instincts and commendable personal and political integrity, doesn’t necessarily make one electable. And if you’re not electable, as the Leader of the Opposition, then it’s either illusion or vanity that keeps you there. And what that means for the rest of us is the prospect of at least another decade of Tory rule, ruthlessly feeding off the massive shift to the right that this country has just witnessed.

This is a grim prospect for the thousands of younger, more progressive activists in Labour, who’ve already come to the conclusion that without a radical overhaul of our democracy (starting with PR) we’re all trapped in this Tory-dominated time-warp. Many are already intent on addressing some of the most offensive ‘democracy deficits’ inside the Labour Party itself, but in truth this is just a subset of a much deeper set of issues across the entire body politic.

So is it going to be possible to construct some kind of ‘progressive alliance’ that would provide real hope in a scene of such dereliction? Who knows, but not to make an attempt would clearly demonstrate just how low our hopes have sunk.

Some of the groundwork for such an alliance has already been prepared. Through Compass, the indefatigable Neal Lawson and colleagues have outlined a core set of principles and policies. In the EU Referendum campaign, Another Europe is Possible sought to lift people’s hopes and spirits by aggregating many of the best ideas from left and centre-left parties around Europe. Activists like Paul Hilder (co-founder of 38 Degrees, Crowdpac and OpenDemocracy) are eloquently advocating for a new politics to overcome party tribalism and channel a wave of bottom-up energy into politics at both local and national levels:

“In England, such an alliance could gather together many of those who have campaigned for Remain in this Referendum and opposed Tory policies, from Labour to Greens and Liberal Democrats. It might even appeal to Conservative voters or politicians disenchanted with the Leave movement. In Scotland and Wales too, some form of engagement with the SNP or Plaid Cymru might be possible.”

And over the years, all sorts of initiatives have set out to demonstrate the inspirational common ground that exists between NGOs operating across the broadest spectrum of progressive sustainability – perhaps most prominently through the Real World Coalition that came together in 2002 to campaign on environmental protection, poverty, international development, democracy, human rights, peace and security – securing an unprecedented level of consensus between 25 of the UK’s biggest and best-known NGOs.

On Sunday, More United went online, inviting people of all parties and of none to check out a common core of progressive ideas and sign up to an online community of people looking for something better, something different in their political lives. It’s a way of testing the waters, seeing what that appetite might be for injecting new energy into this blighted wasteland, and exploring how best to make the voice of progressive voters more influential at the next Election – through open primaries, perhaps, candidate endorsements, financial support, vote swapping and who knows what else.

Those of us who are acting as convenors for More United are drawn together from political positions all across a broadly progressive spectrum. For me personally, the most important proof of viability for More United will be the response from young people. Working with an extraordinary group of more than fifty designers and activists in the We Are Europe campaign reinforced my belief in the latent political power of this generation.

The latest polls show that nearly 65% of 18-24-year-olds voted on June 23rd, more than 70% of whom were for Remain. They inevitably feel cruelly let down by a Referendum campaign that paid little attention to any of their hopes and priorities, and are horrified by the small-minded, blame-laying politics of both UKIP and many individual Tories who are now holding senior positions in Theresa May’s new Cabinet, including Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, Andrea Leadsom and so on. 

Some will of course be inclined to join the Labour Party, the Greens or the Lib Dems, but for a lot of people, an initiative like More United may give them more of a sense of hope and more of an opportunity to turn latent political influence into real impact at the next Election.

Twitter: @moreuniteduk
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22. 08. 2016
Tim Jones

Does this post reflect the consensus position of MoreUnited? I hope not.

I signed up as a supporter and made a donation soon after the referendum because I believed this was going to be a genuine attempt to reach across artificial “progressive” divisions that are, like Jeremy Corbyn, nothing but a relic of the 1970s-1980s culture wars.

I do not believe that “writ large, all Jeremy Corbyn’s instincts seem right” or that he is a “good man”. Good men don’t make a career out of supporting terrorist organisations, voting against the Anglo-Irish agreement or backing motions in support of the Milosevic position in Kosovo.

But leaving his goodness to one side, what about domestic policy? I cannot emphasise enough that this is 2016, not 1986. I hold strongly “progressive” (ie liberal) positions on equality of opportunity on the basis of class, income, race, sex and sexual orientation. I believe capital, land and property are under-taxed and that, while it should not be a national religion, the NHS is a superior healthcare model to those in other developed countries. I am opposed to the death penalty, believe prison should reserved for commission of violent crime and much more justice should be genuinely restorative, and that Trident should not be renewed. However, I also recognise how essential it is to bring about a credible and sustained narrowing of the budget deficit through spending cuts as well as tax rises (“ideology-driven austerity politics”) and support the supply-side approach pursued by the EU authorities in Greece. I also believe in a strong and usable military, which is why I oppose Trident renewal and want that spending diverted into expeditionary capabilities.

This combination of social and economic liberalism is not so rare in 2016.

Why did I come to MoreUnited? Because I also happen to think the EU is a modern miracle – not just in its internationalism but in its “neoliberal” economic project - and its faults are merely a reflection of faults in its member states’ politics, governments and administrations. I wanted us to stay in it and continue to improve it but, now we are leaving, I want us to remain in the single market and bind ourselves to the 27 by as many cooperative agreements in as many policy areas as possible.

The way to achieve this aim is to maximise support for continuity and cooperation within parliament and more broadly among the electorate. And that, in my view, means making MoreUnited about a lot more than appealing to what’s left of the left. This referendum result was too big and too historic a shock for liberal internationalists to continue their divisions over details of budgetary policy. I profoundly hope that this post is just one opinion inside the movement.

31. 07. 2016
Fiona Jeffery

I hope it gets traction Jonathon and doesn't fall the way so many other movements do. It takes leadership and energy over a long time to make change like this.

31. 07. 2016
Robin Russell-Jones

I completely agree with Jonathon's analysis. A restructuring of British politics is long overdue, and the time has surely come for a new alliance between Greens, Lib Dems and the less militant wing of the Labour Party. I texted a Labour Member of the House of Commons Environment Audit Committee about this on June 28 and concluded
"Call yourselves Democrats for the Future"
I would join for sure

29. 07. 2016
Mark Everard

It is a hard reality that jingoistic myopia and xenophobia - the bedrock of despotic regimes throughout history - is now so institutionalised in a political system so out of step with aspirations for a fair, sustainable future. But it is a reality and one we have to strive to supplant with insight and equity. You have my vote!

26. 07. 2016
David Wheeler

In total agreement. If ever this nation needs centre left politics and a heart-beat for environment and all that is important for the survival of life on Earth, it is now. I will join your movement/cause without hesitation. Best wishes. David

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