It’s the day after the next General Election here in the UK and progressives are seemingly in a majority, if you mistakenly assume that all Labour MPs are progressive which of course they’re not. There is a lot of celebrating as the Conservatives have finally lost their majority but it will take a ‘coalition* of willing progressives’ to create a workable left of centre government. Here are a few reasons why that ‘progressive alliance’, for want of another term, is likely to fail in short order leading to another populist government of the right.
Firstly, Labour, who have won some extra seats, really aren’t looking much like progressives at all, having run a campaign based on a centre-right platform. The SNP are more progressive but their independence or bust approach to working with other parties is a big stumbling block when you consider that both Labour and, sadly from my perspective, the Lib Dems are firmly unionist in their outlook.
The Lib Dems, who have won a significant number of seats from the Tories, are in reality two differing types of Liberals – Economic Liberals (Nick Clegg was one I guess) and Social Liberals. Whilst they share numerous Liberal values the Social Liberals tend to be very much of the left in UK political terms although many of them baulk at being seen as of the left. However, they’re the ones who realised early on that that Nick Clegg’s negotiated coalition with the Conservatives back in 2010 was going to be a disaster. Of course, they were right as Clegg backed out of the Lib Dem’s flagship policy of opposing Student Tuition Fee increases. It was pretty much all downhill for the Libs from there onwards for the next 10 years.
Would the SNP, having seen what Clegg did to the Lib Dems, even for a moment, contemplate watering down their independence for Scotland stance to make working with unionists in other parties easier or even possible. Frankly, they would be mad too, so how can a multi-party progressive government be formed in a way that brings an independent Scotland to the fore?
It’s proportional representation stupid
And then there’s proportional representation, which for generations Labour has opposed; a position that’s exposed it as being anti-progressive. Labour’s pretty much on its own amongst all left of centre parties across Europe and beyond over its heel-dragging with regard to PR. They got close to backing PR in 2021, of course, and now seem to be in a position where they no longer oppose PR but don’t really back it with any great enthusiasm either. The problem is they can’t be trusted to see through a PR agenda by progressive parties who probably look upon Starmer’s party as being akin to Justin Trudeau’s Canadian Liberals. They, having previously backed/promoted PR, pretty much ran away from delivering it. The SNP, Lib Dems and Greens think Starmer’s lot will pull a similar trick, and they’d probably be right to fear such an outcome.
Labour’s still a Brext party?
Too many of Labour’s MPs continue to be right of centre or they represent white, working-class, right-wing leaning constituencies even when they’re progressively inclined themselves. This was of course the very bind that drew Labour into at best sitting on its hands and at worst enabling a Brexit which has probably damaged poorer areas of the UK more than anywhere else. Of course the Lib Dems, SNP and Greens were utterly opposed to Brexit so here’s another big sticking point which creates barriers to progressives being able to work with Labour.
And look who Labour will probably want to be Chancellor, one Rachel Reeves who’s infamous, with this progressive anyway, for her 2013 utterance that Labour will be tougher than the Tories when it comes to slashing benefits, or words to that effect. She’s going to go down well with progressives in the Greens, SNP and Lib Dems NOT.
So can a Tory opposition so disparate and so very different from each other really carry the day? It could but only on a very limited agenda and proportional representation would very much have to lead that agenda. A further Scots Independent referendum would clearly need to be part of it together with an unbreakable commitment to devolve many more powers to Scotland, N Ireland, Wales and the regions of England, whether the Scots referendum delivers independence or not. This latter point should get the Lib Dems onside as they have long proposed powerful regional governance for the whole of the UK as opposed to the very limited and messy decentralisation which presently exists in differing ways in different parts of the UK. The only other potential issue for this limited agenda could be an emergency financial NHS rescue package. Surely, all progressives could get behind such an initiative? But that’s about it and of course, if Labour will not implement PR then all bets should be off. Certainly, Ed Davey would not survive any brokered deal that simply props up a Starmer Government; he won’t get away with what Clegg did!
And the alternative for anything like a progressive way forward? A minority Labour Government which progressive parties would back but only on matters/policies, they agreed with. On that basis, Starmer’ would be thrown to the wolves if he tried to pursue any right of centre agendas. I’m sure there will be other barriers to non-Conservative parties working together, I’ve just picked out the obvious ones here!
A UK version of Trumpism, that’ll probably be our future
No matter which way you cut it the Tories may only be out of power for one election (under our warped First Past the Post system that is) and they could live with that outcome. Without proportional representation being enacted we’ll be back to Tory Governments most of the time and they’ll probably not be of the benign John Major-type either. Right-wing populism has taken over the Tory Party of old and putting it back in its box will be the devil’s job. No PR Labour? Then settle back for a UK version of Trumpism because that’ll probably be our future.
* Oh and one last thing the Lib Dems have previously ruled themselves out (under Tim Farron’s leadership) of participating in any future coalition government and who on earth could blame them after they were Clegged!