Defeating the Tories

Dave Toke explains why Greens need a Progressive Alliance not a Lib-Dem-Green Alliance

As the UK faces the worst political crisis since WW2, with the political and economic dangers of a no-deal Brexit, the last thing pro-EU parties need to do is to actively split the forces trying to combat a no-deal. Yet I fear, if a Lib-Dem-Green Alliance takes shape which treats Labour as a more or less an equal electoral foe compared to the Conservative and Brexit parties, it may ensure a Boris Johnson victory.

Now I want to make it clear that ‘Remain’ is my first option. However, simply having a general alliance between avowed Remain parties at the coming General Election may well play into the hands of a soft electoral alliance between Brexit Party supporters and Conservative candidates committed to tolerating ‘no-deal’.

There was an effective soft alliance at the 2015 election between many UKIP sympathisers and the Conservatives. Indeed it was a successful strategy so that where the Conservatives (committed to holding a referendum) were in close contention with Labour, including many northern seats, UKIP sympathisers often voted tactically for the Conservatives so Cameron won an overall majority. The danger of the current situation is that this general pattern could be repeated (with the Brexit Party replacing UKIP of course), this time in support for ‘no deal’.

Ironically, much as Jo Swinson may declare her dislike of Corbyn, the main chance of getting another referendum is to get (what will in practice be probably) a minority Government led by Corbyn to organise a three way referendum. This would be about whatever ‘deal’ he cooked up with the EU, remaining or no-deal. It is fairly transparent nonsense for Lib Dems to claim that they will refuse to support a minority Corbyn government (in confidence votes) so long as it is following such a path.

No, the Labour Party is not going to ditch Corbyn as leader in the week following a General Election at which the Conservatives have lost their majority. It strains credulity to think that the Lib Dems are going to (or even be allowed to) call another election at short notice (it could be very bad news if they did). Given that the Lib Dems cannot do a deal with Boris Johnson, that leaves few other options.

The Lib Dems were willing to be a full coalition partner in a five-year austerity Cameron government, tolerating xenophobic immigration initiatives, funding Hinkley C, backing shale gas and so on, but are they seriously saying they won’t even back a minority Corbyn government on a short term basis? If they won’t back Corbyn what would they do? Have another General Election quickly so that Bojo could drive us into a no-deal Brexit? And the Green Party is going to be at their side when this happens?

There is a broader problem with the Green Party of England and Wales having an alliance with the Liberal Democrats that excludes Labour. This is that the Green Party is in danger of being cast as more like a radical appendage of the Liberal Democrats rather than having its own distinct identity. That could certainly tip the balance for the Conservatives in a tightly fought election if Greens shifted to the Lib Dems rather than Labour.

Hence, purely on tactical grounds, the idea of a ‘Remain Alliance’ which is antagonistic to Labour is an idea that is fundamentally flawed if defeating the Conservatives is the prime objective. Having a pure Remain Alliance may work in a place like Brecon where the Lib Dems are the alternative (most likely to win) to a ‘no-deal is tolerable’ Conservative, but it would be disastrous in a place like Peterborough where the choice was between a ‘no-deal’ candidate and Labour. There was, in Peterborough, a wise decision not to have a pure-Remain Alliance. That’s the pattern we need, except perhaps that the support for Labour ought to be more explicit in those circumstances.

If, as seems very likely, there is a pattern of tactical voting between the Brexit Party and the Conservatives, then there needs to be an equivalent pattern of tactical voting between the anti-no-deal parties. That’s what I call a Progressive Alliance.

In fact, a formal Progressive Alliance is unlikely to develop – though mainly because the Labour Party would not or could not seriously engage in the idea. But I do hear from some senior Green sources that the Green Party will try to avoid dislodging sitting Labour MPs, and focus on their most winnable seats. So, in the end it may be that the Green Party will be the ones that will look more to be cooperating most progressively.

Dave Toke

Dr David Toke is Reader in Energy Politics and Law at Aberdeen University. His latest book, Low Carbon Politics, is published by Routledge.