Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Beware fringe parties bearing pacts

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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Conor Pope

is deputy editor at Progress


  • You in your small silo and I in mine eh Conor? but sniffing the diesel fumes from Manchester’s hosts of busses i think fighting together is better than fighting alone

    For better or worse thats hoe British politics is structured.

  • This is a terrible article. Where to start?

    “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.”

    Only 67% voted for Labour or the Conservative party at the last election. That’s a hell of a lot of people in a political bubble!

    The Lib Dems were actually in government until two tears ago.

    “Take a look at [the SNP’s] 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.”

    Labour’s record in Wales is even worse, and they have had no such fringe issues to distract them, and twice as long to implement change.

  • God how depressing is this piece. Join the dual membership Ostrich and Lemming Parties in a 2 for 1 special offer eh?

    I truly hope there are wiser heads than you Conor otherwise June 9th is going to be a pretty sad day for the Party.

    Alternatives to May’s Tories and Brexit need every seat and vote they can make count so don’t sniff at clever tactical voting its about all we have left in these dark days

  • After June 8 Labour will be a fringe party. Will Conor Pope still be as dismissive of the minor parties?

  • This is beneath you, Conor, and deserves contempt. Yours is an arrogant, misleading, tribal and deeply regressive argument. I write as a former Labour Party member in 4 constituencies of more than 35 years. During those decades, I was an activist and for some time a Constituency Chair.

    Thousands, possibly in their tens, of liberal, social democratic and, yes, social-ist minded politically engaged Labour members have joined the Liberal Democrats since the EU referendum. Many other joiners are new to political activity. Presumably you consider these people to be dupes, lacking in integrity or simply thick. In reality they have joined the Lib Dems because they have watched Labour fail properly to argue against a hard Brexit. It is Labour that has thrown its decreasing weight behind the Tories and UKIP on this most important and fundamental issue. In failing to represent the 48% it has betrayed the biggest political minority of all despite putting itself forward as the only party that represents and protects minorities.

    The Liberal Democrats and predecessor parties have existed for hundreds of years and have a valid set of core principles, experience in government, policies on the principal issues of the day and elected representatives of real substance. You wrongly characterise this tradition and these strengths as setting up other political groups and posing as a political party. What a pathetic, fact-free argument.

    Your argument for centre-left loyalty to Labour in all circumstances and places is, in reality, deluded self-obsession based on hyperbole and peremptory dismissal of legitimate differences of opinion. Is it not possible that other parties also genuinely oppose conservatism? Yet no doubt you would sink any differences you may have with Labour’s hard left and ignore the legitimate internal opposition to several of Corbyn, McDonnell and Abbott’s policies in a pretend show of homogenous unity.

    I have great respect for my former Labour colleagues who chose to stay and fight for an electable, social democratic Labour Party, though it wasn’t for me. The same goes for hundreds of ex-Labour activists and councillors.

    Taken to its logical conclusion, your argument is equivalent to urging the left to abstain rather than support Macron, a former Socialist Party liberal and social democrat, against a neo-fascist. This is effectively what many on France’s far left will do, risking France’s democracy and the future of the E.U. Is that progressive?

    Your argument, implicitly, is for people to vote with their gut and their conscience. That is exactly what I have done. My gut told me that Labour was finished if it continued in its recent direction. My conscience led me to join and campaign for a party of principle, with an untainted leader and a real chance of taking seats from the Conservatives.

    I’m for limited tactical voting where this coincides with conscience, including standing down where only Labour has a realistic chance of beating a Tory. What a shame you won’t do the same in reverse. I respect the Labour tradition whilst you dismiss that of the Liberal Democrats.

    Best wishes for June 8th.

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