When fringe parties talk of forming a ‘progressive’ alliance, their aim is to weaken the Labour party and help themselves, argues Progress deputy editor Conor Pope
There are only two political parties in Britain. The culture in this country means that for the most part, the political bubble pretends that it is not the case, while on the whole the voters tend not to hold such pretence. Some go further, and predict the demise of the two-party system with surprising regularity. Yet still it maintains.
The two parties are, of course, Labour and the Conservatives. No surprises there; they are the only two that, since the mid-1920s, have had a real prospect of forming a government.
The other parties are, essentially, narrow pressure groups that take a very active political role. They do not have to come up with enactable programmes for government, or appeal to wide sections of society, so they can pretty much say what they like to move forward their specific agenda.
Take the Greens. They are an outrider for environmentalism. As an outrider, their environmental policies are at an extreme: they are, after all, attempting to move that debate forward. But take a look at any of their other policy areas. They are, at best, consistently daft. From four-day weeks to votes at 16, nothing they say has any remote significance to the problems the country faces. On anything but the thing they really care about, they are simply not serious.
On the inverse of the spectrum, the United Kingdom Independence party is exactly the same. Its determination to see a ultra-hard Brexit is blinkered and extreme, but resembles a denizen of wisdom when compared to its other half-baked reactionary notions – which is why Paul Nuttall would ban burqas, but cannot explain why the ban would not include beekeepers’ veils.
The Liberal Democrats certainly claim otherwise, and in the post-Brexit world becoming the natural home of Remain ultras has certainly widened their scope a bit.
But, well, signing off on all manner of brutal welfare reforms in return for a referendum on changing the voting system does give a small indication where their priorities lie. As with the other ‘parties’, it is precisely because they will not govern alone that almost none of their policies should be taken seriously. Everything else is just empty populist guff designed to up the vote in a way that can best push forward what they actually want to get – which is how they ended up with the tuition fees pledge.
On Friday, they pledged to end rough sleeping. It is a good and achievable pledge, but not one actually achievable by them. In fact, by the time they entered government in 2010, the previous Labour administration had come close to doing it already. But under the coalition, it skyrocketed. It is not really a pledge for government; it is just something to say during election time to give the pretence of being a political party.
Some might think that the Scottish National party, being an actual party of government in Scotland, might be an exception. But not really.
Take a look at its record, after a decade of power, on education – which should be a priority for any progressive government worth its salt. Class sizes and attainment gaps have grown as teacher numbers have fallen. It is abysmal.
And it is because everything the SNP is geared towards is pushing a nationalist independence agenda. All else comes second. The SNP does not have a programme for government; it has a programme for grievance.
The thing is, if you are on the centre-left and have an actual idea of how the country as a whole should look, then the best way to move your agenda forward is undoubtedly from within the broad church of the Labour party.
The others recognise this, and that is why to reach their goals they need to cripple the Labour party. None exist outside of Labour by chance or accident, and all must realise that if building an ‘anti-Tory’ majority truly was a priority, supporting the already-existing, large anti-Tory party would be the only logical conclusion. But they did not come to this conclusion. They decided that setting up other electoral groups was a better political strategy. Other groups that would pose as political parties and oppose Labour.
So, when the idea of an electoral alliance is proposed, we should be wary. The aim of these suggested pacts is not – not ever, not even occasionally – to help the Labour party. It is to weaken the Labour party and help themselves.
Recall the televised ‘challengers’ debate’ from the 2015 election: it was a disaster. With David Cameron absent, the Greens, SNP, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru all used the opportunity to lay into Ed Miliband. Faced with Labour in a position of weakness, they pounced. They are not our progressive allies, they are our opponents.
Now, they see opportunity in Labour’s weakness again. Not to help make us stronger, but to weaken us further.
Conor Pope is deputy editor of Progress. He tweets at @Conorpope
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