The Liberal Democrat victory in Richmond Park caused many shockwaves not least for Conservative MP’s chasing a tough exit from the European Union. One thing that may have been overlooked was Labour receiving so few votes that they lost their deposit. This will worry many Labour strategists and sparked renewed calls from some within the party for a progressive alliance.
A progressive alliance is the idea that left leaning politicians share many common values that standing in an election against each other splits the potential ‘left’ vote. For example a candidate from Labour that stands a good chance of deposing a sitting Conservative MP at an election might suggest that the Liberal Democrats or Green parties do not stand a candidate in order for that Labour candidate to garner as many left leaning voters as possible. However this idea could prove to be an electoral disaster for all involved.
One Left Fits All
The progressive alliance idea forgets that despite having left leaning principles, those who vote Liberal Democrat do not share exactly the same political ideas as those who vote Labour or Green. Unfortunately for the progressive alliance idea, there are many different shades of ‘left’ politics, even more so in modern politics and in the shadow of Brexit. Liberal Democrats are adamantly anti-Brexit or would at least like a second referendum on the terms of exit while Labour appear more pro-Brexit and their stance is more unclear. This issue will be the biggest at the next election and to offer voters one ‘left’ option when there are many different shades will not be received well.
The assumption that a voter from the left will vote for any party that appears to be leaning in that direction is almost laughable. The evidence from the Richmond Park election shows that when given a Liberal and a Labour option there was a clear difference and voters appeared to go with the party offering the most resistance to Brexit. The proof of how varied the left of politics actually is can be seen within the Labour Party at the moment as the various different shades struggle to work together, even fighting over a progressive alliance.
Taking Voters for Granted
If the votes for Brexit and Trump prove anything it is that voters seem tired of the same old politics. If we assume the Brexit vote was a vote against politics that doesn’t speak for the views of the person on the street then the progressive alliance is certainly not the answer. Political parties making a decision on which party stands in which area could be presented as an establishment stitch up. An electorate that demands their voice be heard is unlikely to be impressed with the left of politics suggesting left voters will vote for the party they choose. Now more than ever the political left cannot take their votes for granted.
In the current political climate the right of politics seems to be flourishing. Whether it is Donald Trump in America, Theresa May in Britain or Le Pen in France, the political right is in the ascendancy. For the left argument to narrow itself down to a single voice in different areas is foolish. The more voices putting progressive, liberal ideas forward the easier it will be for those ideas to gain traction and develop the public’s receptiveness to them. The electorate across the world has never been more fractured, now is not the time to offer a single option and leave many more voters politically homeless.
Looking back to the 2015 election when Labour under-performed polling expectations and the Liberal Democrats were demolished it is clear that Labour’s vote in particular was hurt by the suggestion of a pact with the SNP. Posters with Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket clearly hit home and the votes showed that fear of a left pact took swing voters away from Labour. To ignore this recent political history would be foolish and any calls for a progressive alliance must show how a backroom deal or pact would be positively presented to voters.
It also appears unlikely that the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, will be open to this idea given his stance on appearing on a platform with other political parties during the EU referendum. Corbyn seems to take a fairly tribal stance with his alliances and the decision to stand a candidate in Richmond Park against the Lib Dem momentum shows opposition to the progressive alliance within Labour is strong.
The Richmond Park election showed that British politics is as unpredictable as ever and rather than retreating into its left leaning voter base, the political left should be looking outwards and picking up votes wherever possible. Labour would be much better served taking on their liberal rivals by building a strong policy base and clear Brexit stance rather than looking to an alliance to retain their seats.