Yesterday’s Independent carried a report that the Green Party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru were in discussion about standing down candidates at the 2020 elections in order to create a “progressive alliance” to defeat the Tories.
It’s a nice idea in some respects, but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. To understand why, you need to look more closely at the electoral positions of each of the participants.
It’s hard to see why the SNP has any need for an electoral truce. They hold all but four of Scotland’s Parliamentary seats. Plaid obviously don’t stand candidates in Scotland and there just aren’t any seats where the withdrawal of a Green candidate would make any difference. Moreover, it’s difficult to see what the SNP has to gain from an alliance that would include electoral reform in its programme.
Likewise in Wales; there are certainly some very close Tory-held marginals in Wales but they are in seats like Gower where Labour is the challenger. Making a difference would require both Plaid and the Greens to stand down in support of Labour – and both parties thrive on anti-Labour rhetoric. Moreover, Plaid are in decline and increasingly being pushed back into their rural heartlands; there is a nationalist party in Wales that is performing strongly, but that is UKIP. In 2015 Plaid came a distant fourth in Wales; an alliance with the Greens could protect a seat or two but is a long way from being a game-changer.
Which brings us to the Greens. Again, it’s difficult to see what this alliance could achieve; obviously neither Plaid nor the SNP stands candidates in England and the top Green seats are in England – and predominantly held by Labour.
The rationale behind this alliance becomes clearer when you look at Caroline Lucas’ own seat of Brighton Pavilion. Although on paper she looks safe on a majority of 8000, the Boundary Commission is likely to change that dramatically. Brighton and Hove is, on the proposals for reducing the number of seats, over-represented with effectively two-and-a-half seats (about 40% of the Brighton Kemptown seat lies outside the city boundary. It’s a two-seat city, and it’s impossible to see any sensible geographical outcome that would not involve splitting the affluent centre of the city – Lucas’ heartland – in two. Since the Tory majority in Kemptown lies outside the city, and since on the peripheral estates the Green Party, its councillors (especially) and its MP are held in open contempt, Lucas’ position could be very rocky indeed.
Lucas’ supporters spent much of the 2015 election campaign questioning the right of the Labour party to stand against her – although Lucas herself distanced herself publicly from this position. The Greens clearly believe that they have some sort of divine right to the progressive vote in Brighton – but the antics of their Councillors continue to show a toxic blend of entitlement and arrogance. And, most of all, they have always defined themselves as being an anti-Labour party; after their thrashing in the recent council elections, prominent Councillor and Caroline Lucas aide Alex Phillips said it was their aim to “create havoc” for Labour. Their antics in the Council Chamber – most recently over the budget, where their refusal to back a legal budget led to Tory amendments to cut Trade Union facility time being adopted – hardly suggest a willingness to protect the most vulnerable in the City in the face of swingeing Whitehall cuts. And yet in the face of this we still hear calls – including some from within Labour – for Lucas to be given a free run.
And that is the clue, perhaps, to this alliance. Every one of these parties claims to be progressive, and to be anti-Tory – but all of them define themselves emotionally and rhetorically as being anti-Labour. Whether it’s the SNP using their anti-Trident stance as a smokescreen for passing on Whitehall cuts wholesale when they have the powers not to; or Plaid Cymru saying they’ll refuse to work with Labour in a hung Senedd when they know that means voting with the Tories and UKIP, or Brighton Greens parading their consciences around while acting like Violet Elizabeth Bott in the Council chamber, this is not an anti-Tory alliance. It’s an anti-Labour alliance. It’s about giving the appearance of radicalism, and adopting anti-austerity rhetoric, while undermining the one national political party that – especially under our current electoral system – can deliver real change and that is currently crafting a clear anti-austerity economic agenda.
And above all it’s an alliance of self-interest among parties that are more interested in gesture politics than effecting real change.