NOTE: This is a work of fiction and idealism and not a serious proposal for a new way of thinking.
Okay so we’ve all heard it before, a radical left wing alternative the austerity driven politics of the current mainstream Westminster clique. We’ve even heard from within the same clique in the vein of Jeremy Corbyn and his ability to command the respect of his own MPs never mind the country remains to be seen. We have too many left-wing alternatives in the UK and Ireland and frankly the watered down collective of barking opposition needs to come to a decision: either they unite as one movement with one vision and message or we fade away into obscurity, relegated to anti-war, anti-austerity and anti-cuts protests with no representation at a local, devolved or state level.
How does that help us? Well it doesn’t. Instead we’ll be represented by diverse, leaderless and rudderless ‘grass roots’ movements suffering from the effects of splits and mergers and dissolutions for generations. One thing the left has always been good at is losing and its inability to organise to oppose its real enemies instead of denouncing each other. In house fighting benefits us not. The Tories and UKIP represent the centre and the further right of the political spectrum in the UK. That’s it. Smaller fringe movements like the BNP and Britain First represent the very worst that the right has to offer but mainstream right-wing parties such as the Conservatives know that those micro-movements will never dent their vote nor will they undermine them in swing seats the way UKIP might and even then it’s likely that the Conservatives would enter into a coalition with UKIP should they need to – they wouldn’t do that with the BNP or BF.
What I’m saying here is that the right is relatively stable and has successfully marginalized those fringe elements to the point that they aren’t even associated with the likes of the Conservatives. The left hasn’t got the same luxury of distance and it lacks a clear vision and message. Many parties like the Anti-Austerity Alliance, Socialist Party and Left Unity don’t have a leader. They are run by a collective or a leadership team with a rotating chair or presidency. That’s fine in a utopian society and God knows we need fairness and transparency but with no real figurehead or guiding voice then what hope do we have of any electoral success?
I no longer consider the Labour Party of either the UK or Ireland to be left wing in the sense that I believe is desperately needed. Nor do I want a Syriza style project of opposition for it’s own sake. We need radical yet relatable policies that can be sold to the electorate and that stand up under scrutiny. I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn is the man to do that and he has a mixed bag of Blairites and former Marxists and Social Democrats that he needs to bring together into some form of cohesive opposition before he can extend an olive branch to the non-Westminster left.
There are several parties that, already, have the potential to work together in Parliament and it makes no sense to me that they stand candidates against each other when their aims are broadly similar in nature. Parties like the Lib Dems, Labour, The Greens and to a lesser extent the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru all share broadly similar aims when it comes to environmental issues, and social justice. The issue between them though is that they haven’t learned how to effectively use the Westminster electoral system to take advantage of where the common ground lies and instead they split the moderate and progressive vote to within an inch of its life. Let’s look at an example; take the Westminster constituency of Brighton Kemptown:
Here we have four different parties (Labour, Greens, SNP and to a lesser extent the Socialist Party) splitting the left wing, progressive vote and letting the Conservatives slide in with a slim majority of 690 votes. Had the Lib Dems, Labour and the Greens supported an electoral pact by standing a candidate for the party with the strongest historical performance in the constituency they would have taken it with a majority of 3,931 and a left wing candidate returned to the Constituency for the first time since 2005. The case is the same in the Welsh Westminster constituency of Gower where the Conservatives have a slim majority of 27, the smallest majority in the 2015 General Election. Had there been a unified platform of the left and liberal left then they could have held the constituency with 5,840 votes. Ironically one of the parties that contested that constituency was the Trade Union & Socialist Coalition which is an umbrella electoral organisation made up of leftist, anti-austerity parties and movements. The situation repeated itself in Derby North, Croydon Central, Bury North, Plymouth Sutton & Devonport, Thurrock, Telford, Eastbourne, Dumfriesshire Clydesdale & Tweeddale, Bolton West, Weaver Vale, Plymouth Moor View, Lewes, Bedford, Lincoln, Thornbury & Yate, Twickenham, Cardiff North, Southampton Itchen, Waveney, Corby, St Ives, Southampton Itchen and Kingston & Surbiton.
When looked at objectively there are enough marignal seats won by Conservatives because of a split progressive/left-liberal vote to have denied David Cameron a second term if there was a broad platform under which joint-candidates could have been elected. That being said the feeling of spurned nationalist pride in Scotland would never have allowed the SNP to allow Labour a free run in any of the 56 constituencies it now holds nor would Labour or the Greens allowed the same of the Liberal Democrats after what many people consider Nick Clegg’s betrayal of the trust of the people when he entered into a coalition with the Conservatives. If we have a re-run of the 2015 General election in 2020 then we would see a Labour dominated Government in coalition with the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Greens and with the Lib Dems working with the coalition on a supply and demand arrangement. I don’t expect the Lib Dems would ever voluntarily sacrifice centrist economic policy for political powr. Granted that is a broad coalition of factional parties but if Labour are willing to lurch to the left and if Corbyn can command his MPs then why not? Nicola Sturgeon has already said that she would work with any party to deny the Conservatives the keys to No. 10 and I see no sign of the SNP’s unified electoral machine waning between now and 2020 (That’s if we don’t have another independence referendum before then). The Greens could demand a role for their MP(s) in DEFRA, SNP in the Scotland Office and greater devolution concessions, likewise for PC in Wales and the Lib Dems could insist that Labour implement a radical social justice programme.
For that to work there has to be a hell of a lot of tongue biting and sacrficing of core voters in some areas. There would need to be an agreed manifesto for this new platform of the left to work with something akin to a ten point plan that all the parties would have to commit to. Labour would have to concede defeat to the SNP in Scotland, at least for a while, and the Greens & Lib Dems likewise to Labour in areas where they are the cause of a split vote. In order for that to work Labour would need to radically rebrand itself and give major concessions to those parties as the idea of a Labour majority government ever making it back into power is now more distant than ever. Corbyn will need to extend an olive branch to those fringe movements and parties such as the Worker’s Party, Socialist Party, Left Unity etc that all share his anti-austerity ideals and his progressive aspirations if this is to work – and again this is just my idea and not something that I am planning on organising – but if the left and the progressives stay as divided as this then what hope do we have?
What’s more likely to happen though is that as Labour goes further left the Blairite MP’s in its ranks will feel more and more isolated and I think a split is on the cards within 2 years when a leadership challenge against Corbyn by one of those MPs fails. Perhaps they’ll form a new party or resurrect the SDP? Maybe they’ll defect to a resurgent LibDem team? Labour will continue to chase the votes it lost to the SNP in Scotland and whilst it may retake one or two marginal seats it will become clear after the 2016 Holyrood elections that Labour’s game in Scotland is over. With another Scottish independence referendum likely before 2020 and if it decides to go it alone then we can kiss goodbye to any SNP opposition in Westminster.
The Lib Dems will never enter into any serious coalition with parties such as the Greens or the Socialists under one banner and vice versa. The Lib Dems are a party that voted for welfare cuts and that legacy will likely make them toxic for further left wing parties to associate with. Likeiwse the Lib Dems would never take fringe parties like Left Unity and the TUSC as serious partners.
Unfortunately the scenario I have proposed is pie in the sky. Politics is much too fractured and egotistic in nature for any rainbow coalition to actually work together.