Thursday, 28 July 2016

Is a 'progressive alliance' a viable option?

'We're a Kodak party in an Instagram era'

Clive Lewis, Labour MP, in Guardian video interview with Owen Jones, 28 July 2016.

Today Paul Mason has a video on The Guardian website calling for a 'progressive alliance' of all left/centre parties to defeat the Conservatives at the next general election.

There is also an article in the same online edition by Clive Lewis MP headed 'I'm backing Jeremy Corbyn for leader: Here's why'.

Put together they hint at an interesting approach to the very real problem of defeating the Conservatives at the next general election. My guess is that Theresa May will hang on until the new parliamentary constituency boundaries come in and she will have an inbuilt advantage because the new boundaries favour the Conservative Party.

I can pinpoint when I became a supporter of proportional representation. It was in 1960, when I attended my first Labour Party selection meeting for the then Wembley South CLP for Wembley Central ward where I lived. In those days local councillors served for three years and a third of the council was elected each year, so we had only one prospective candidate to select. There were four hopefuls and after the first ballot, the bottom name was deleted and on the second ballot, someone got over 50% of the votes cast, so was selected.

Someone in the meeting asked if we could have preferential voting, which was explained as writing 1 2 3 4 against the name of each would-be candidate and the one with the lowest number of no.1 votes would drop out and their no.2 votes would be distributed as allocated. It immediately seemed like a less messy system of selecting a candidate — I only had to vote once, then the votes could be quickly counted as their was only about twenty of us in the hall, but the exhaustive ballot won and it was not until I was in Lenton in the early-1980s that Labour Party members could be persuaded to use preferential voting instead of exhaustive ballots.

It struck me then, at the age of 16, that if the Labour Party would not use first past the post (FPTP) to select its own candidates, how could it support FPTP in elections for councillors and MPs? From then on I became a supporter of proportional representation (PR) and the historian in me quickly learned that until after 1945, the Labour Party supported PR.

Tony Blair set up a commission led by Roy Jenkins which came up with a complicated PR system, then supported the added member PR system for the Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly and another PR system for Northern Ireland, but made no effort to introduce the added member PR system for UK parliamentary elections.

When Nick Clegg had his opportunity after the 2010 general election he blew it and we were offered a system even I voted against. Just two votes like we had in the awful county police commissioner election a couple of months ago.

I personally believe in voting for individuals and not political parties and the added member system allows you to do this with a second vote for a party, which means you could vote for a Labour Party candidate and give your party vote to the Green Party.

I believe we need added member PR voting ASAP and the only prospect of this is the one-off 'progressive alliance' Paul Mason talks about and Clive Mason alludes to with his references to agreeing with individual Liberals, Greens and SNP speakers.

You would only need a centre-left alliance for one general election, then the voting system can be changed (without a referendum). None of this is new. Graham Allen has been here before and argued that at local government level, communities should be free to choose their own voting system (see the report on voter engagement which he contributed to to in 2014-15)

If a one-off 'progressive alliance' becomes something Jeremy Corbyn picks up and makes part of his campaign it will be a game-changer for me, because I support the idea. It is, in the present circumstances, both logical and necessary if we really want to beat the Conservatives at the next general election.


  1. Interesting, trouble is such things are easy for the media and the lower class UKIPPERS to slag off as an aliance of "luvvies"

    1. Thanks Simon. UKIP, or its successor party, also have an interest in seeing the introduction of PR and are equally interested in catching Conservative working class voters as Labour working class voters, so I can imagne the right buying into the idea for one election and the biggest loser in the 'progressive alliance' scenario could be the Conservatives.