For years Stroud District Council has been led by a cooperative alliance of the Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat parties – a ‘rainbow alliance’ (below).
Last May. Gloucestershire County Council’s agenda and minutes post recorded that Cllr Lesley Williams and Cllr Rachel Smith advised that the Labour and Green members had formed a political group called the Labour and Green Cooperative Alliance. They explained that under the arrangement the Labour and Green members would work cooperatively but would continue to look at issues on an individual basis.
Professor John Curtice summarised the electoral maths: almost half the nation voted for broadly progressive parties in 2015 (49% backed Labour, the LibDems, Greens, SNP or Plaid Cymru, while 51% chose the Tories or Ukip). He considers the impact of a coalition with even one ‘minor party’.
Labour MP Clive Lewis and Green MP Caroline Lucas noted that in the 2017 general election more than 40 local alliances were formed, where almost exclusively Greens put the national interest before that of their party.
It had a huge impact on the vote – more than doubling the average swing away from the Tories.
They pointed out the challenges we face:
- markets that are too free
- a state that can be too remote,
- a democracy that still leaves so many voices unheard
- and climate change on a scale our people and our planet simply can’t cope with.
Continuing: “It will take a politics that is social, liberal and green to overcome these challenges. No single party or movement has all the answers. We are going to have to learn to cooperate as well as compete to build the society of which we dream. And we are going to have to recognise that the future is not a two-party system but one in which smaller parties grow – both in influence and in their electoral representation”.
They point out that the millions of young people who voted live in a world of social media in which their identities and allegiances are permanently in flux. They like and they share. They flock to one idea, group or party and then another. A politics that is purposeful but also responsive, open and collaborative is needed.
The case for an alliance between ‘progressive’ parties, has been described by Simon Jenkins (above right) as unanswerable:
“In 2015, 49% of voters went for broadly progressive parties, including Labour, the Lib Dems and nationalists. But at elections they fight each other as rivals. As a result, 40 to 50 seats that might have gone to a single left-wing candidate went Tory.
Then, as now, Westminster tribalism won. Machismo required Labour “to contest every seat in the land”. That is apparently more important than denying the Tories a strong majority – let alone winning elections.
MPs Lewis and Lucas end:
“We are from different parties and different political traditions – and we celebrate that because, while we share so much, we can learn much more from each other. If we work together there is nothing progressives can’t achieve.
“The limits of the old politics are there for everyone to see – the limitlessness of the new we are just starting to explore.
People on the mailing list of this website are drawn from many areas of Britain and visitors come from several countries (opposite: eleven in May), the overwhelming majority from America.
British readers, expats and other well-informed readers are asked to send, via comments, any other examples of an effective co-operative alliance within councils and parliaments.
In September elections in Mecklenburg, the home state of Angela Merkel, the rightwing party Alternative for Germany won, beating the chancellor’s Christian Democrats.
In the FT today, Jan-Werner Müller, professor of politics (Princeton), author of ‘What is Populism?’ comments, “The AfD’s subsequent strong showing in a regional vote in Berlin, Germany appears to fit a conventional diagnosis of European politics: populists are on the rise”.
The politics of fear resurfaces; mainstream media, representing corporate advertisers, express fears that this might make individual countries — and the EU — ungovernable
Müller soothes these fears: “What are described as populists are often protest parties which can potentially play a constructive role in existing political systems”. He adds that they are more likely to develop if established parties reject legitimate grievances and pretend there can be no alternative to their policies.
He implies that these can be appeased – witness Theresa May’s current concern for working families struggling to make ends meet – but making no reference to even more needy families – the two generation unemployed. Müller fears less easily deflected “genuine populists who claim that they are the only ones to represent the “real people” and that all other political contenders are illegitimate”.
“The fact that citizens actually cast ballots or peacefully demonstrate shows that they have hope of being heard” – an ill-founded hope?
Müller offers a panacea: “What is needed in Europe is a sense that citizens have choices, and that leaders make decisions for which they assume responsibility. This is important nationally but also at EU level. It presumes that individual nation states in a system of majority decisions can live with being outvoted.” (emphasis added)
This sounds remarkably like the theory of ‘managed politics’ – the current system in England, where two parties have safe seats and alternate in government, ensuring that others are excluded by continuing to use the first last the post voting system.
A BBC report recalled that, since 1935, no government has had the support of a majority of voters according to the Electoral Reform Society. In 1929, 1951 and February 1974, the party with the most votes actually lost the election.
Only an alliance for electoral reform advocated by the Green, SNP, Plaid and Lib Dem parties offers a prospect of a more truly democratic government
As people at the most recent WMNEG meeting were reminded, in 1997, Labour’s manifesto said there was a strong argument for modernising the electoral system. The current shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Labour MPs Ben Bradshaw, Paul Blomfield, Stephen Kinnock, Clive Lewis, Jonathan Reynolds, Chuka Umunna, and Daniel Zeichner have now signed a letter to Mr Corbyn in May calling on him to support a change in the voting system to proportional representation.
More recent polling from December 2015 shows the public now broadly back a proportional voting system. A BMG survey shows 57% of the public agree with the principle that “the number of seats a party gets should broadly reflect its proportion of the total votes cast” – compared with only 9% who disagree.
In July, Green MP Caroline Lucas proposed electoral reform in a private members’ bill which received cross party support but was ultimately voted down by 81 votes to 74.
The party’s new co-leader Jonathan Bartley (right) has campaigned vigorously on this issue for many years.
This was a narrow majority – many MPs abstained: if all persevere, eventually a truly democratic system will be put in place. It is hoped that the coalition government then elected will be one which works for the common good.