21 Aug
2016

Alliances – Progressive, Regressive, or Ineffective?

Many in the “progressive left” are talking up the need for a grand alliance to defeat the forces of the neo-liberal right and enable some fundamental changes to our system of governance.

Laying aside the warlike and conflict based language of such a call for the moment, I do wonder how effective pursuing such a course might be.

Two main possible benefits from an alliance would be the introduction of PR for elections, and ensuring that a leftish government can still be elected given Labour’s inability to command a majority in parliament without seats in Scotland.

To be fair, whilst this came to prominence when Ms Lucas joined the fray, not everyone is calling for a grand top down imposed pact – or stitch-up by the political class as the voters are likely to see it.

Molly SC at the Green Gathering was talking more in terms of very local tactical pacts which may have some merit as a way of capitalising on a local opportunity rather than supping with a big devil. But little local imps can be just as treacherous and devious in the winner takes all game that is our political system so great care is needed even there.

For me, the real problem with all this is that it is a political pact that is being sought rather than a social movement. If the primary objective is to change the voting system so that it is a bit more proportional and perhaps gives a bit more of a voice to those “progressive” voices from the currently politically castrated, then can a pact aimed at delivering a short term one Act parliament actually deliver the goods?

If on the other hand the primary objective is to ensure that Labour and SNP work together to provide a less worse alternative to another Tory government, then maybe a pact can achieve the desired result but with no real benefit from an eco-green point of view.

In any event how will the voters react, and how will other minor and major parties respond? It is often said that voters don’t respond well to anything that smacks of a back-room deal. If a Liberal stands aside for a Green, will most of their votes switch in the desired direction? – I don’t know. Currently if there is no Green candidate here in the South West I do not and would not vote Liberal (there usually isn’t a Labour candidate, and if there was I probably wouldn’t vote for them as a growthist party anyway) – and if I was being asked to for the sake of some “deal” I’m not sure that I would respond. For a start in that particular case I wouldn’t trust them to deliver the goods (remember tuition fees), I’d sooner spoil my paper or vote randomly.

I imagine the same holds in areas where Labour voters might be asked to switch, only probably more so, as whilst many greenies might feel slightly comfortable about switching to Lib or Lab for a one-off tactical gain I find it hard to imagine that many natural Labour working class voters would feel comfortable with having no ‘home’ candidate and being asked to support a different team run by a bunch of arty-farty tree huggers who’ve never had to do an honest day’s labour. They might be more likely simply not to turn out. And in Scotland would it make any difference anyway – if SNP and Labour are in some kind of alliance then there is no genuine ecology voice being offered.

The outcome is most likely to be that green (and other “progressive”) votes would help get more Lab and Lib MPs elected in England, but the reverse is unlikely to be the case. So we end up with a Labour majority or Lab-SNP-PC-Lucas government who have just won an election under first past the post. The thinking will go “Yes we had a manifesto promise to introduce a bill on PR – but there are a lot of other pressures and anyway almost none of the minority members of the progressive alliance got elected so lets deal with more pressing matters first (the economy and getting growth back on track) and then throw them a bone…”

Thus the progressive alliance is in danger of becoming deeply regressive and failing to deliver anything other than wasting  years of eco-activist’s time on a fantasy.

Ranged against the presumed alliance are assumed to be the “reactionaries” who benefit from the current arrangement. If only we can have PR runs the thinking, then from an eco-green point of view, we will get enough representatives to be able to be in government  (presumably along with others of a different hue) and have hands on real levers of power. For Labour they might come around to the view that PR is the only way they can ever form or be part of a government again once the Tories redraw the English boundaries and Scotland leaves the UK in 2022… but they will dominate any coalition government and their primary concern, written into their DNA, will remain jobs and growth first.

Greens currently get about a 5% share of the vote, rising to upwards of 25% when the electorate actually believe they might win – this has delivered Councillors, an MP and  3 MEPs using a crippled form of PR. Under a full PR system where the voters more widely believe Greens can win, the average share should certainly rise well above 10% and might be capable of delivering a block of Green representatives – but will that ever be enough to de-rail the growth paradigm. Will it ever be enough to put the eco-system first and foremost?

In principle there are such fundamental differences between the eco-green requirement for an end to economic growth and an immediate end to all use of fossil fuels on the one hand, and the primacy of concerns for greater equity and social justice of all other socialist/leftish groups on the other hand, that I cannot see any way from an eco-green point of view that any political alliance can be anything other than regressive.

Depending on continuing economic growth and consumption in order to usher in an age of jobs for all and equality when ecological concerns can eventually be given due attention does not seem an appropriate arrangement of the cart and the horse.

This may all sound a bit negative, but I hope over the coming weeks to use this blog to sketch out some alternative approaches to the pickle we are in. For now I can find no merit in any proposal for a political alliance of any sort.

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