12. 10. 2016

The Rudiments of a Progressive Alliance

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There are lots of politically-engaged people for whom the idea of a Progressive Alliance here in the UK is either of no interest (for various reasons) or ideologically abhorrent. Regardless of party, there are lots of dyed-in-the-wool tribalists whose politics is both defined and exclusively transacted through the party to which they belong – and any whiff of a cross-party Progressive Alliance triggers robust tribalistic responses!

The Green Party has its fair share of tribalists (as I touched on in my last blog). So do the Lib Dems, the SNP and Plaid Cymru. And, of course, Labour too – where tribalist tendencies are so pronounced that the Party’s sub-tribalists have just taken the Party to the very edge of schism.

That’s the core reality for anyone hoping to persuade the leaders of the UK’s progressive parties that their prospects of success at the next General Election would be greatly enhanced by working together collaboratively (especially in key marginals) rather than against each other.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with such tribalism. If you’ve spent much of your political life as a Lib Dem Councillor seeing off aggressive assaults from aspiring Labour candidates, or as a Green Party stalwart focussed on demonstrating the radical differences between green politics and ‘mainstream’ Labour and Lib Dem positions, or as a Labour parliamentary candidate trying to minimise the number of votes that you’ll lose to well-meaning but, at the final count, irrelevant Lib Dem and Green Party rivals, all your ‘first instincts’ are going to be defensive. Understandably tribalistic.

And therein lies our existential dilemma. Either we work our way through to the other side of this atavistic tribalism, or we all go down together at the next General Election. And (given the ability of the Tories to defend an inherently unfair electoral system which means they can get themselves re-elected with no more than 25% of total votes cast) the next. And …

So are we capable of setting aside these instincts? Possibly – but only if today’s harsh and unforgiving electoral realpolitik is fully internalised. And we’ll need to be equally realistic about the very remote likelihood of any ‘grand deal’ being done at the national level. There almost certainly won’t be any high-level, formal concordat between the Parties to ‘stand down’ candidates in winnable seats, on some kind of notionally fair basis. Wherever else the conversation goes, it’s not likely to be focussing on one all-encompassing Progressive Alliance, but rather on multiple progressive alliances at the constituency level.

Now is certainly the time to get that conversation going outside a still quite small circle of party activists. The whole debate has as yet barely crossed any kind of visibility threshold in the media, let alone amongst voters (who are usually much less tribalist than party activists), let alone the non-engaged general public.

That may well be because we haven’t as yet spelled out what we mean by ‘progressive’.

In ‘The Alternative’ (which I recommend as critical reading for anyone interested in this area), the three editors (Caroline Lucas, Lisa Nandy and Christopher Bowers) define ‘progressive’ in the following three paragraphs:

“Progressives want to move beyond the current system and create a better one. We continue in the tradition of those who ended slavery, won votes for women, built our welfare state, and fought for the protection of our environment. Progressives believe in cooperation. We want a supportive and responsive state that brings the best out of people’s instinct to share success and support each other in hard times, and which offers genuine equality to all citizens, together with social justice, civil liberties, human rights and responsibilities, without discrimination on the grounds of gender, age, physical ability, race or sexual orientation.

Progressives are, by definition, radicals. We re-imagine the way our society and our economy works from the bottom up. We wish to reform the socially isolating and environmentally degrading mainstream economics that has dominated our political discourse for several decades. While wealth creation is important, we need fairer and more effective ways of distributing the fruits of that wealth so that everyone benefits. We therefore want power and wealth redistributed, and corporations regulated, in order to empower citizens to work together to build fair and resilient communities for generations to come.

Progressives come from many ideological positions – including socialists, liberals, feminists, ecologists – and none. We share a rejection of the politics of fear and division, and wish to move towards a more inclusive society in which every citizen not only has the opportunity to develop themselves to their full potential, but has as much control as possible over their own destiny and the chance to shape the society in which they live. This way we believe we will build a society that both empowers people and allows us to live within environmental limits.”

That’s a pretty good starting point. Or, at least, good enough. The tribalists will of course do everything they can to pick holes in a consensus position of this kind – that’s what being a tribalist is all about.

Which means one simple thing: the first test of anyone interested in helping a progressive alliance prosper over the next couple of years has to be prepared to give up some stuff that they would otherwise feel passionate about, and to embrace some stuff that they’re not completely comfortable with.

Up for that? We certainly are in More United.
 

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