Politics is not a game: we need PR, but we also need a PA (Progressive Alliance) to get it

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My last two posts have provoked lively comment on social media. My Green former County Council colleague, Jacqi Hodgson, has welcomed my arguments, pointing out that in South Devon, a progressive alliance between Greens and Lib Dems helped her to keep Totnes and the Lib Dems to take South Brent from the Tories.

Jacqi points out that ‘politics is not a game’, it affects people’s life chances. Every Tory victory cements the corrupt, authoritarian, reactionary Johnson regime and makes things more difficult for people who are struggling.

Labour reaction

Predictably, Labour reaction has been more critical. Some have taken personally my comment that their strategy of putting up candidates everywhere – regardless of how finely balanced the situation is between the Tory and another progressive candidate – is ‘moronic’.

They have been upset that I described the 18-year-old Labour candidate for Axminster, Oliver Tucker, as ‘no-hope candidate’. However the fact that Ollie got 498 votes, compared to 1672 for the Tories and 1439 for EDA’s Paul Hayward, shows that he really was a no-hope candidate. Coming a poor third may be an improvement on coming a miserable fourth, but it is nowhere near to winning.

I know about this from personal experience. In 1987 I was the Labour parliamentary candidate for Beverley in East Yorkshire. I increased the Labour vote from 6,000 to almost 10,000, compared to 19,000 for the Lib Dems and 27,000 for the Tories. It felt like a success – but the Tories won, and went on winning, election after election. The reality was that only the Lib Dems were likely ever to beat them in that seat, and might have had a chance had Labour not stood. In retrospect, it doesn’t feel like my finest hour.

Moving towards PR

The Twitter discussions have confirmed that many in Labour are slowly following the rest of the non-Tory parties towards Proportional Representation for the House of Commons (and, I hope, English local elections). One of my Twitter friends says we must take ‘baby steps’ to nudge the party forward. Well, if that is all that is possible, yes. But some might say that the party’s current crisis needs rather more than ‘baby steps’.

‘Paper’ and not-so-paper candidates

One baby step that some Labour members are taking is to disavow the strategy of ‘paper candidates’ which helped to lose me Seaton and Colyton. That is progress. But they’re blaming it exclusively on the national party: ‘We’re just obeying orders’. They haven’t said that they’ll actually stop such candidates being nominated in future. They could do.

And as Ollie’s case shows, the problem isn’t just paper candidates. When no-hope candidates actually campaign, they’re even more likely to queer things for the other progressive candidates. One of the Labour candidates in Exmouth, who has been particularly abusive on Twitter, boasts of doubling the Labour vote – while he and his co-candidate came 5th and 6th in their division, behind not only the Tories but also the Independent and Lib Dem!

A multi-party environment means we need a Progressive Alliance

I’m not saying that Labour should never stand in places like Axminster or Exmouth. I am saying that Labour should recognise that they’re part of a multiparty centre-left, which includes the Greens, Lib Dems and progressive Independents like EDA.

I am saying that Labour should recognise that in the First Past The Post system – which Labour never reformed, despite its manifesto, between 1997 and 2010 – Labour should accept that the only way the centre-left can win widely, given the multiparty environment, is by a Progressive Alliance.

One candidate to challenge each Tory, in winnable seats

That means parties and groupings talking to each other. Ironically, Labour may have been only 5th & 6th in Exmouth because the Independents (3rd) and Lib Dems (4th) did recognise that neither could win if they put up two candidates each.

Let’s work towards a single progressive, anti-Tory candidate in each seat in future County elections (and two candidates in two-member divisions) – except in divisions which are, by general consent, either safe for the opposition OR hopelessly safe for the Tories.

If we’d had that last Thursday, we’d have had several fewer Tory councillors. I’m told that John Hart smirked when the news of my defeat came through in County Hall. I’m sure he can’t believe his luck that he got 84 per cent of the East Devon seats for 43 per cent of the East Devon votes.

A national Progressive Alliance is needed to get PR

And remember – we can only get PR if we get a progressive government. There is currently little chance of that happening through Labour alone. Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens must come together and develop a positive dynamic of cooperation, as a prelude to systematic arrangements for the next General Election. Tactical voting by itself is not enough – we have seen that time and again. The parties must themselves unite to prepare the defeat of Johnson.

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