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May 15 2011

“Progressive Alliance”

I keep hearing about the “Progressive Alliance”, and it never fails to irritate me. In the UK “progressive” is taken to mean “Everyone except the Tories and UKIP1”. Progressivism is defined (in wikipedia) as:

…a political attitude favouring or advocating changes or reform through governmental action. Progressivism is often viewed in opposition to conservative or reactionary ideologies.

This seems to me a definition sufficiently broad as to be largely useless, Tories could claim the progressive mantle through any legislation they care to enact and liberals could lose it through their opposition to authoritarian measures such as the ID card scheme, and for economic liberalisation.

The problem I’m having here is that Labour only start getting interested in “progressive alliances” when they’ve lost an election, whilst in power they ignore other progressive parties. Labour will only form a “progressive alliance” if they are electorally forced to do so, and otherwise seek Liberal Democrat annihilation.

Since the General Election there’s been a great deal of effort spent by Labour in trying to split the party into Good Liberal Democrats (Social Democrats, who they wish to absorb) and Bad Liberal Democrats (Orange Bookers, who they think the Tories should absorb). The “progressive alliance” is part of this – we should not be playing to this narrative. The truth is that Labour and Tory only get into government when they’ve convinced the electorate that they are close enough to the Liberal Democrat centre ground so as not to be scary.

Ed Miliband can frequently be found “reaching out” to Liberal Democrats but this reaching out is solely about recruitment to the Labour Party and the planned extinction of the Liberal Democrats. I’m a pluralist, as such I value the existence of other political parties – but I see little sign of this respect for the existence of others in the Labour Party.

In opposition their key strategy has been to attack the Liberal Democrats and their policies, rather than the Tories, who they claim lead the Coalition. Labour consistently opposed the passing of the AV referendum bill. Indeed they spent more energy opposing the AV referendum bill than any other government measure2. Their campaign for the Yes vote was fatally flawed in that it was largely seen as a platform to attack Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats: every outing of “Labour Yes” involved a ritual statement of how venial the Liberal Democrats were and, if Ed Miliband was involved, a discussion as to why he would not share a platform with Nick Clegg. It looks like Labour are summing themselves up to oppose Lords’ reform as well – both this, and the AV campaign, are “progressive” goals.

There are a number of Liberal Democrats who are keen on the “progressive alliance”, and since I’m an open-minded sort of chap I’m assuming they’re not deranged, but can you tell me – why are you engaged in this? I don’t rule out discussions between our parties but those engaged in such discussion need to be clear what the benefit to us is, because at the moment all we’re getting is another forum in which Labour can abuse us and attempt to divide us3.

Footnotes

  1. Technically I should probably put the BNP in here but they’re not a serious political party.
  2. At this point Labour normally complain that the bill also contained “gerrymandering” measures regarding the work of the Boundary Commission. However, the current system gives them a 90 seat advantage for parity of votes with the Tories, so it’s substantially “gerrymandered” in Labours favour already. The chances are that boundary fiddling will do little to address this and really the only solution to such problems is to go for some form of proportional representation, neither of the two main parties has the honesty to recognise this.
  3. None of this is to say that the Tories are not trying to destroy us as well!