The Labour Case for a Progressive Alliance

OULC member Alex Yeandle makes the case for a progressive alliance and electoral reform.

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The term ‘progressive alliance’ has been thrown about in this election like never before. The Labour Party, alongside the Greens and Lib Dems, are being urged to work with each other in tricky seats and not fall for the long-known faults of our disproportionate voting system. Labour has learned these lessons hard, the SDP vote-splitting leading Thatcher to an enormous majority in 1983 being the best example that springs to mind. Here I will outline why I believe we have a moral responsibility to try and pursue such partnerships in the short term, with a view to strong voting reform under the next Labour government to remove the need for such pacts in the future.

Firstly, we must consider why we actually vote; do we approach voting as an end in itself, or as a means to an end? It is clear that in some seats voting Labour will indirectly increase the probability of a Conservative winning the election. It is not right, it is not democratic, but it is a fact. In Oxford West and Abingdon the Lib Dems have a strong opportunity to take back a Conservative seat, and Labour are all but out of contention. It is also clear that whilst the UK’s progressive parties are all distinct, the differences between them pale in comparison to the divisive, cruel and regressive ideology governing the Conservative Party. I would argue that for Labour supporters, the purpose of voting is not to elect a Labour government, but a government operating under Labour values. It is values that drive decisions and policies, and, rising above partisanship, this is what we are voting for. We believe that the Labour Party best matches our values, but when it is clear that our vote will do nothing in the short term I believe we have a duty to try and make it meaningful. Voting ‘tactically’ should not be seen as a betrayal, it should be viewed as a way of thinking in the short term about how to most effectively have a parliament reflective of our beliefs.

The short term, however, is an important clause. I fully recognise that progressive alliances are not sustainable nor necessarily desirable. If Labour never stands in any vaguely contentious seats then it will never make gains, and the political map will remain unchanged. If, as has been the case for decades, millions of voters opt for the ‘least worst’ option, democratic engagement will decline and apathy will grow. Populism will rise and faith in politics will hit dangerous lows; look only at Donald Trump or Brexit for evidence of this. Voters living in certain parts of the country will, in the long term, never be able to vote for a party or candidate they believe in the most. This is a scandal, but the fault is not with a potential progressive alliance, it is with our voting system.

This brings me back to voting reform. The only reason we have to even entertain a notion of tactical voting is because we remain one of the few countries in the developed world to, still, operate under an antiquated and disproportionate voting system. The solution to these problems is to have a more proportional system of voting, so ‘splitting the vote’ is simply not a consideration. Voting for another party other than Labour can be justified in the short term, but only as a means to achieving voting reform so that it never needs to happen, for tactical reasons, ever again.

The Labour case for a progressive alliance is simple. It will help us win power, it will help us improve people’s lives and help us heal our country from the right wing virus eating away at it. It is a case of give and take, however. Our party leadership must commit to serious voting reform to respect the millions of unheard voters of smaller parties, even if it may slightly disadvantage us electorally. I hate the fact that tactical voting is something I need to think about, that my vote means more or means less depending on where I happen to live. I don’t have a choice. We must work together, voting tactically where necessary, if we are to gain power once again. We must commit to voting reform as part of our next government’s agenda, and only then can we consign progressive alliances to the past.

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