24. 04. 2017

Progressive Alliances: Momentum Building!

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So, Theresa May has gone and done what any average, self-serving opportunistic politician would have done in a similar set of circumstances: forget ‘national interest’ and seize the moment to hammer an already divided and enfeebled Opposition. Who’s surprised – however many times she may have lied through her teeth that she’d never do such a thing?

For those of us who’ve been involved in different initiatives to build some kind of movement around ‘progressive alliances’ in the UK, it still raises all sorts of problems. Though we suspected she’d default to standard politicians’ hypocrisy, we sort-of hoped we’d have another three years to put in place the foundations for a long-term transformation in UK politics. We now have to do in seven weeks what we’d hoped to be able to do in three years!

Oddly enough, that may not be such a disaster. There’s just so much energy out there to seize the moment – not just ‘to make the best of a bad job’, but to help ferment another ‘political shock’ on top of all those that we’ve experienced over the last couple of years.

There are three preconditions for anyone reading this blog getting into a positive enough position to enjoy the rest of it:

  1. Disregard what the national parties are saying about alliances of any kind. They’ll say what they think they have to say: some of it will be aimed at party loyalists, and some at prospective new voters. Most of it will be completely formulaic.
  2. Disregard what the utterly wretched print media will be saying. Even the Guardian (my escapist read of choice) hasn’t got the first clue what’s going on out there, and all the rest are either irrelevant or irredeemably despicable.
  3. Watch out for counter-intuitive signals coming in from local constituency parties. Listen to the mavericks, the commentators who understand the deathly grip that ‘tribal politics’ currently has on all our imaginations. And pay particular attention to the ‘merchants of hope’ in the face of despair.

In essence, it’s all about what’s happening at the constituency level – which candidate can demonstrate (persuasively and inclusively) that she/he is in the best position to beat a Tory incumbent in the key 50/60 marginals? The big, powerful idea of ‘progressive alliances’ (not one alliance!) is hugely supportive of any initiative that promotes tactical voting at the local level – and will simultaneously counter the Tories’ charge of ‘coalition of chaos’. This is particularly the case where the Right Wing vote is likely to be split between the Tories and UKIP.

And it matters hugely that every effort is made to engage young people’s networks in all these different initiatives, to ensure at least as high a turnout as happened in the 2016 Referendum.

So what’s actually going on out there at the moment? Here’s my take on the overlapping movements around progressive alliances and ‘smart Brexit’ initiatives.

UPDATE ON CURRENT INITIATIVES TO MAKE THE MOST OF THE GENERAL ELECTION

A. PROGRESSIVE ALLIANCES

The basic idea is simple: persuade the candidates of progressive parties (Labour, Lib Dems and Greens, though also the SNP and Plaid where relevant) to focus their energy on attacking Tory candidates (or protecting vulnerable Labour candidates) in key marginals, rather than attacking each other.
There are two principal organisations involved here: 

1. Progressive Alliance
(This is being run under the aegis of Compass, building on the work they’ve done over the last few years.) #TogetherWeWin
This will be launching digitally this week, with a big physical launch on 2nd/3rd May the week after. Aiming to get 2,000 people together at a rally.
Progressive Alliance is a bottom-up, constituency-based campaign, seeking to persuade candidates to do the sensible thing in terms of helping each other in clusters of constituencies.
Progressive Alliance is a left-leaning organisation (as in pursuing a ‘progressive political agenda’), but it will not be pushing any particular platform - other than advancing a very strong commitment to Proportional Representation.
It’s currently doing a big crowd-funding campaign.
One important addition here is that part of the campaign will be to act as the main contact point for a vote-swopping initiative, enabling people in different constituencies to make more of their vote than might otherwise be the case.

2. More United
This is a much younger initiative, set up after the last General Election in 2015.
Its principal success so far has been appealing to people’s demand for ‘a different kind of politics’, which has enabled them to bring together 70,000 people, raising at least £350k.
It too has no platform as such, just a list of motherhood-and-apple-pie values. In order to get the endorsement of More United, candidates will have to sign up to these values, and commit to working together in the next Parliament for this kind of ‘better politics’.
However, More United will not require candidates it supports to commit formally to Proportional Representation.
As regards the use of the money, the idea is that once MU’s national membership has ‘voted’ on prospective progressive candidates (more of an endorsement of decisions taken by the Board of MU than a vote), then varying sums of money will be made available to them to support local campaigns.
It has been agreed that Progressive Alliance and More United will work together as closely as possible, particularly in terms of ensuring the best possible coordination at the local level. The likelihood is, however, that they will not formally endorse each other, as there are all sorts of difficulties regarding the rules put forward by the Electoral Commission. Legal advice is being taken on this at the moment.
In particular, Progressive Alliance will keep More United in the loop about the concrete deals going ahead at the local level, so that More United can factor those into their funding plans.

3. Make Votes Matter
This is an organisation (that works alongside the Electoral Reform Society) to seek specific commitments from candidates of any party to introduce Proportional Representation.
Understandably, its principal target is Labour, and there was going to be a big debate at the Labour Conference later this year to try and persuade them formally to endorse PR. 

4. Avaaz / 38 Degrees
A lot of work is going on at the moment to see if it’s going to be possible to persuade both Avaaz and 38 to launch initiatives to mobilise their members – both in terms of providing financial support, and in terms of getting troops on the ground. 

CONCLUSION
Although it all looks rather fragile (and indeed febrile!) at the moment, there’s much more to this than cynical political journalists in Westminster would seem to acknowledge. Unfortunately, pretty much everybody was hoping that there wouldn’t be an Election until 2020, so they’re now having to pack into seven weeks what might otherwise have been planned through over three years. Expect some inevitable incoherence!

B. THE BREXIT CHALLENGE

There’s a wide range of organisations whose focus during this Election will be on Brexit – with a view to securing an outcome from the Election that will make things rather better than they appear to be at the moment. 

The four principal organisations involved here are:

1. Best for Britain
This is very much a vertical take-off campaign, focussed on tactical voting to secure the election of those opposed to a ‘hard Brexit’

2. Britain for Europe
This is very much a bottom-up organisation, involving constituency-specific individuals and organisations seeking to secure the best possible deal out of the Brexit process. The number of local groups has increased markedly over the last few months, but it’s still quite small.

3. Open Britain
This is the successor organisation to the ‘Stronger In’ campaign, about which many people still have strong reservations! It was, after all, an astonishingly unsuccessful and ill-conceived campaign. Which means a lot of people feel pretty sceptical about Open Britain.

4. The European Movement
This is the oldest of the organisations, and rather more traditional in its approach. Not sure how significant this will be.

In terms of what they’re all hoping to do, it’s important to point out that they will not necessarily be pushing formally for a second Referendum (as demanded by the Lib Dems), but rather for two things:

1. ‘Smart’ Brexit (as opposed to Hard Brexit).
That sounds eminently sensible, but it’s uncertain exactly what is meant by this. There are so many different permutations and combinations here, around the Single Market, membership of the Customs Union, the European Court of Justice and so on. And it’s in the detail that success here will be built.
2. A final vote in Parliament.
This is probably the clearest demand of all the organisations – that this should not be decided by the Executive, but by Parliament.
Ironically, that’s exactly what Theresa May imagines might happen, which is why she has decided to go early in order to build the size of her majority in Parliament! 

These organisations, and others, are currently discussing scope for collaboration, with good signals emerging at the moment. I suspect it’s unlikely that they will merge in any way.

One small point: both Progressive Alliance and More United are very much on the side of the ‘Smart Brexiteers’. They will support wherever they can, within the rules of the Electoral Commission.

C. ENVIRONMENT

I think it’s widely accepted that it’s going to be very hard getting any amount of profile/ impact around the environment agenda during this General Election campaign. There are certainly going to be a number of initiatives around climate change, which will help, but it is felt that this is going to be an uphill battle. Whatever coverage there is will most likely be Brexit-related – ie securing the best possible outcome for the environment (and for climate initiatives) through the Brexit process. 

At the moment, there has been one clear initiative, a joint letter signed by most of the Chief Executives of the big environment / conservation organisations to Theresa May, reminding her of the critical importance of keeping the environment high up the agenda.
Expect other initiatives to follow, but I wouldn’t expect too much impact!

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Comments

08. 05. 2017
Jon Carpenter

Corbyn talks of the Labour Cause and I think that's the problem. A party can do deals, discuss and compromise. A cause can't. Labour are telling local branches that are thinking of standing down their candidate that a new candidate will be imposed from the centre.

25. 04. 2017
Jane Galbraith

Everyone needs to argue against the false idea that AUSTERITY is a viable approach to dealing with the economic situation.

To be prudent is to spend wisely not to stop spending.

I would not advice profligacy, but investment in infrastructure and adequate provision for social wellfare, education and health, will help to boost the economy.

We have our own currency and can afford gentle inflation which will also help our economy ... but, of course, care is needed to avoid excessive inflation.

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