By Chris Bowers, Iain Brodie Browne and Paul Pettinger
There are moments in politics where you just have to stop and say: the emperor is wearing no clothes. And the latest YouGov poll for The Times showing just half of Labour voters in 2017 will vote Labour at the next general election is one of those moments.
The implications of this are profound. Labour is set to lose a raft of seats simply because its Remain voters are abandoning the party in droves. But where those seats go will depend on whether the Remain vote can coalesce around one Remain candidate. And this might be the Remain parties’ one chance or avoiding a long winter of populist right-wing government that could undo much of the liberal society we take for granted.
The puts the onus on the Remain parties to create an electoral alliance, which could become known as the ‘Remain Alliance’, or perhaps ‘Open Society Alliance’ is better as it’s about more than just remaining in the EU – it’s about creating a modern, compassionate, democratic society in which everyone has a voice. Unfortunately, time is not on our side. If there is to be a General Election this autumn – and the more people talk about it, the more likely it becomes – there will be limited time to piece together this Open Society Alliance. But something that can help create such an alliance would be a short declaration of principles that could cut the need for lengthy policy negotiations.
What would this declaration of principles look like? It would have to be short – the longer it is, the greater risk of natural Remain parties rejecting it because of a technicality which overshadows the overall ethos. It would probably have to be limited to four policy pledges and one parliamentary commitment:
- A proportional voting system for the next and future Westminster elections (the exact voting system could be prescribed or not, depending on how much of an obstacle doing so or not doing so would be).
- An immediate programme of efforts to tackle climate change that starts the process of having Britain net zero-carbon on a far more ambitious timetable than the May government has mapped out.
- An end to Brexit, either through straight revocation of the UK’s Article 50 letter or through a people’s vote that offers the option to Remain.
- A non-Brexit dividend, in the form of a package of measures to tackle the effects of austerity, including an emergency funding package for councils.
- Anyone elected on the Remain Alliance platform would be committed to voting for the above four principles, and then voting to call a General Election as soon as all four were through Parliament, in order to have a fresh Parliament under a fair voting system.
It may be that this set of principles may have to be proposed by a non-party-political entity (could be an ad hoc group of private citizens) so it isn’t associated with any one party. If involvement from a political party were not an obstacle, the Social Liberal Forum would be an obvious body to lead the creation of this alliance from the Lib Dem side.
The existence of this alliance platform would have the advantage that all the Remain parties – Lib Dems, Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru – could sign up to it, which would make it easier for voters to identify Open Society Alliance candidates.
It would also make it easier for parties to stand aside in areas where two competing Remain parties risk splitting the vote and letting the Conservatives or Brexit Party in. The party standing aside would know that their core beliefs were represented by another party that had committed to the four Open Society Alliance principles, and it would gain by another party standing aside in its favour elsewhere.
The one fly in the ointment would be if two or more parties in a marginal constituency campaigned on the basis of being in the Open Society Alliance. In constituencies where no Remain party could still come close to winning, or one would win anyway, this wouldn’t matter. But, in the current landscape, there may be as many as a quarter of all constituencies where a Remain party could win if Open Society Alliance supporters got behind just one candidate. If such unifying candidates could be identified, they would then use the term ‘Open Society Alliance’ in their campaigning, but this begs the question as to who would decide this? There may not be time to go through all this.
Therefore, an Open Society Alliance declaration cannot on its own bring the Remain parties together. But what it can do is certainly facilitate greater tactical voting in key seats and help emphasise the common purpose between supporters of an Open Society Alliance. In so doing, this will make it easier for parties to come together, to explore ways of stopping the Johnson/Farage ‘regressive alliance’ exploiting the undemocratic nature of our first-past-the-post electoral system, and winning a snap election, and, let’s face it, doing even more damage than just taking our country over the cliff edge of a no-deal Brexit.
What’s currently happening in Brecon and Radnorshire, where Plaid Cymru and the Greens have stood down in our favour to support internationalist politics, could, with enough reciprocation, be reproduced across Britain to stop Johnson and Farage in their tracks. A declaration of key principles might also allow certain pro-Remain Labour candidates to say they support the Open Society Alliance (as long as they were willing to vote for the four principles and the short Parliament if they were elected). If they didn’t, they’d have broken their promise, and we know what happens to politicians and political parties who break their promises.
The potential gains are massive. With Labour’s vote crumbling and many Tory Remain supporters anxious about Farage and a no-deal Brexit, an alliance of Remain parties could easily hold a healthy balance of power, which could be enough to see off Brexit and bring in PR.
With the possibility that Boris Johnson could cut and run, figuring an election in mid-October is his best chance of getting a working majority, work on an Open Society Alliance for the next General Election has to start now. This should be a priority for our new party leader, and this process should be supported by drawing up a declaration of principles that all the Remain parties would be asked to sign up to.