The 2017 general election has delivered one of the biggest upsets in modern British electoral history. Far from winning a landslide majority, Theresa May just narrowly failed to get any majority at all. Now the Conservative Party is in hock to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Britain is now being governed by a right wing regressive alliance.
One of the lesser-known stories of this campaign was the impetus to try and create a progressive alliance between the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and other smaller progressive parties. First Past The Post is a broken electoral system and yet the major progressive parties keep playing by its rules. Both Labour and the Lib Dems historically have been obsessed with standing as many candidates as possible even though this could help to split the progressive vote and get the Conservatives elected.
While the Conservatives are the main right wing party everywhere, the main progressive party differs across Britain. The division of the progressive wing of British politics is the greatest asset that the Conservative Party has. And they know it. Hence the Tory fearmongering about a ‘coalition of chaos’. I’ll take a coalition of compassion and reform over a heartless Tory government backed up by the DUP any day.
The 2017 General Election showed both the great potential of a progressive alliance but also the great appetite for one as well. Compass deserves praise for spearheading it, as do the Social Liberal Forum and Tactical 2017. However, the campaign also showed the limitations of advancing a progressive alliance solely at the local level. Whereas the Greens stood down in dozens of seats, the Lib Dems only stood down in two seats and Labour didn’t stand down anywhere. Labour and the Lib Dems hold a debt of gratitude to the Greens. It’s a disgrace that they still only over one MP in the House of Commons. If it wasn't for the Green Party standing down and endorsing the Lib Dems in Westmorland and Lonsdale, then Tim Farron probably would have lost his seat.
One towering issue that needs to be overcome if a progressive alliance is to be successful is the tribalism of the different parties. Labour’s tribalism will have only been emboldened by the impressive vote share received by Jeremy Corbyn. This is especially true in places where Labour is entrenched, such as the North of England. A progressive alliance might be easy to forge in the pluralistic parts of London and Southern England, but it will be more difficult in the North. To overcome this, there must be support for a progressive alliance from the national leaders of the progressive parties.
Any national agreement between the progressive parties or even an agreed framework for their local parties must include a joint pledge to introduce a proportional voting system. It would be unfair to ask Liberal Democrats and Greens to vote Labour without the guarantee of electoral reform. A fairer voting system is the only way to heal the progressive wing of British politics and to thwart Conservative domination.
It is essential that by the time of the next general election (most likely to occur in 2021 or 2022, if not sooner) that Labour and the Liberal Democrats agree to stand down in favour of one another in several seats. No doubt the Conservatives will cry “stitch-up”. However, don't forget that the Tories plan to stitch-up our democracy with the boundary review in 2018 and that First Past The Post is inherently an anti-democratic stitch-up that suffocates smaller parties.
If the 2017 general election has shown anything it is that the Conservatives are weakened, even electorally beatable. However, the appeal of individual progressive parties remains limited. Despite the impressive result from a low base, even Labour has a long way to go to ensure victory next time. United by a common commitment to introduce electoral reform (alongside some other policies), the progressives can make the Conservatives’ worst nightmares come true. Socialists, liberals, greens and feminists need to learn to cooperate in order to stop the Tories at the next general election. The Social Liberal Forum must help to bring this about. A progressive alliance is needed to oust the regressive alliance. The progressive hour has come.