A progressive majority in 2015?

Yesterday was a significant day in politics for many reasons. The most reported reason was the awful passing of the welfare bill which caps benefit rises to 1% for three years, well below inflation. So in real-terms working-age people are having cuts in their benefits imposed. This is on top of the other cuts they will be experiencing to services, to council tax benefit, the total household cap on benefits and so on.

 

It is an attack on the poorest and only furthers the snide false idea that somehow those on benefits are luxuriating at home whilst others work hard. Sadly, as the numbers are in Parliament now, the bill was always going to pass. Caroline Lucas, some LibDem rebels and Labour did vote against the bill. But, as the Economist said in relation to their vote on the EU budget position, Labour are playing a dangerous and cynical game. They knew this bill was going to pass and they’ve ruled out repealing it should they win in 2015. So their vote against the bill last night was a hollow gesture. Only more so when one hears that they are willing to accept the government’s (diminishing) spending envelope for welfare but debate the priorities within it. In other words, Labour too would be cutting benefits but just in ways they don’t want to specify until after an election. This is similar to their admission they too would cut local government funding in government but won’t be drawn on the detail.

 

At times like this I find Labour’s cynicism breathtaking. I also find myself incredibly disappointed when I know so many Labour councillors around the country do not support the positions of their national leadership. Perhaps against reason and experience, I hope for better from the Parliamentary Labour Party.

 

The country desperately needs a progressive majority at the next election to reverse the damage of the Coalition government. It’s a political reality that this would absolutely have to include Labour. Indeed a progressive coalition’s formation could well pull the current Labour leadership back towards their more progressive roots.

 

So on to another reason yesterday was politically significant: The Labour Party published a list of their target parliamentary seats. This publication was telling as it seemed to completely ignore the electoral reality that the share of votes going to Labour and Conservatives has been in consistent decline for decades. Membership of those parties has also been in long-term decline. Mirroring politics in much of Europe, the British are now voting for a greater diversity of parties. This appears to be an irreversible trend which Labour utterly ignore by suggesting that they alone, despite their dire finances, are going to win a complete majority in the next Parliament.

 

Major groups like Compass recognise the need for a progressive majority which is why they have opened their membership beyond Labour to anyone with progressive (‘democratic left’ they call it) values.

 

Recall that in 2010 Labour lost all their parliamentary seats in Sussex, indeed they were almost completely wiped out in the entire region. Yet their list targets all three parliamentary seats in the city and more beyond.

 

In 2010 it was quite plain that Labour could have retained at least one seat in Brighton & Hove if they had targeted their resources instead of trying to hold all three seats. I can understand choosing which seat to target may have been difficult to decide on within the local party. But now they face a clean sheet. The Green Party is going to throw everything we have at Brighton Pavilion, our flagship constituency with Caroline Lucas as our superb MP. Labour could well risk spending huge resources across all three seats again without the results they are hoping for at the end of it.

 

We have a progressive majority in our city. The vast majority of our residents do not support the Coalition parties and their policies. We see this in election results time and again. However they don’t always get the MPs or councillors they hope for because of our electoral system, uncertainty over how to vote tactically and party tribalism.

 

All progressives in the city should be seeking to oust Conservative MPs in 2015. This will only be achievable locally, and nationally, through a broader electoral effort than just the Labour party. Greens, Trade Unionists, disaffected LibDems and more all have a role to play in ensuring progressive MPs are elected. Labour’s announcement yesterday was very ‘old politics’ and does the city no service in trying to reject the coalition’s policies. I hope other political leaders locally will join with me in seeking a progressive majority for the city in the 2015 elections, and avoid reverting to party tribalism.

17 thoughts on “A progressive majority in 2015?”

  1. For an article which attacks Labour for “breathtaking cynicism”, you use the rest of your article apparently arguing for Labour to give Caroline Lucas a free run in Pavilion, in the interests of a “progressive majority” in the city. Why, suddenly, are the Greens and Labour allies on the progressive left, when the Green Party’s stated aim has been to replace Labour entirely in the city?

    This from a Party which has, long after the Conservative-led Coalition came to office, continued to direct it’s fire largely at the Labour Party, seeking to take seats and votes from Labour. Any Labour critique of the Tory government is not supported by the Greens, but is met with a “Labour started it” or “Labour’s no different from the Tories” response which has long grown stale.

    Not long ago the Greens were talking about winning Hove and possibly Kemptown in addition to holding Pavilion. This post seems to admit that is now impossible and the Greens see a resurgent local Labour Party as a serious threat again. Now the focus is solely on saving Caroline Lucas’s seat, which she won with only 31% of the vote on a slim majority of just 1,200 votes over Labour. A swing to Labour of anything like that suggested by the national polls would see her defeated comfortably. The Greens have never won more than a third of the vote in the city and judging by the response on the doorstep recently, that share has dropped very significantly. The Greens continue to poll just 2% nationally, the same level as 2008. There is little evidence of Green success spreading beyond Brighton and as this post confirms, their sole MP and local authority are now at risk.

    The Greens have shown no qualms about defeating Labour candidates and councillors, in some cases taking the seats themselves and in other cases taking enough votes from Labour to allow the Tories victory. That was the Greens seeking to win elections fortheir Party, and that – not pursuing “tribalism” – is what Labour will be seeking to do in the local and General Elections in May 2015. No pre-election pacts, no backroom deals to save Green seats.

    We will be working to win three parliamentary seats as part of a Labour majority in Westminster, and return a Labour Administration to Brighton and Hove City Council because we believe that is in the best interests of local residents.

  2. Dear Warren

    Here and elsewhere I’ve tried to make clear differentiation between the Parliamentary Labour Party and other parts of your party like Labour councillors. They are not one and the same and do not always hold the same views. So criticising the actions of Labour MPs is not meant to be a brush with which I tar all of Labour.

    I ‘direct my fire’ at the Coalition on a daily basis. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with you all the time though does it!? My recollection is that most claims of the “Labour started it” ilk echo from the Conservative benches, not the Greens on the council, but I’m sure we’ve said it on occasion. Stale perhaps, but thee is an element of uncomfortable truth in it for you.

    My post is intended to stimulate debate about what a progressive majority in the city might look like come 2015. I genuinely think the polling on Labour is soft and it would be misguided for you to think a national swing will get you all three seats in our city. Residents desperately want party tribalism to be put on the back burner in favour of the greater good. My post was a contribution to furthering that conversation. I’m sorry you didn’t see it that way but I still live in hope!

    All the best,
    Jason

  3. Jason you have used the word “progressive” about 10 times in this post (rather obsessively I think). I have tweeted several times in past months asking for someone to give me a definition of what progressive politics is exactly, but no one has responded. Perhaps no one really knows?

    If we take the official definition of “progressivism” along with the comment below from Wikipedia, then what do Greens think it means and what makes them king of the progressives then?

    “In the UK there are several parties who claim to be progressive, including the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party of England and Wales. The current coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats also claims to be progressive.”

  4. “Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer.
    If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” C.S.Lewis.

    I think all parties have some way to go before they can humbly acknowledge where they may need to turn back…

  5. Jason – throwing everything at Pavilion was what the Green Party did in 2010. If you do the same in 2015 it would be an admission of the complete lack of progress made over five years. Caroline herself seems to understand that her best chance of re-election is to distance herself from the Party, particularly locally, and is effectively standing as a semi-independent.

    What will be your approach in Hove and Kemptown? Splitting the ‘progressive’ vote last time gave us two Tories, but it has always felt that the Green Party were happier with two Tories and Caroline rather than two Labour and Caroline, as eliminating Labour locally was a key aim. It seems a little hypocritical to now ask Labour supporters to protect Caroline. It will also be a General Election, deciding who forms the Government, and even the most optimistic Green will have to admit that it won’t be Natalie or her successor being summoned to the Palace. Getting rid of the Tories has to be the first aim of any ‘progressive’ casting their vote.

  6. Martin — I certainly wasn’t happy about the results in Hove and Kemptown in the 2010 election, they were gutting. That they came out this way was symptomatic of the inability for reasoned conversations between progressive parties about resource allocation to happen.

    We may choose to disagree but it is utterly wrong to suggest we preferred Tories winning those seats. Not at all.

  7. Jason,

    If you don’t want Tory MPs in Hove and Kemptown, one very useful bit of assistance the Green Party could offer would be not to stand candidates.

    Thanks awfully. :O)

    dw

  8. And the ‘More Front Than Selfridges’ goes to………JASON KITCAT! Congratulations.

    All you will achieve with this post is to strengthen our resolve to win back this city nationally & locally.

  9. Labour have this curious idea that they once owned the left-of-centre vote, which has subsequently been stolen from them by some outrageous perfidy. The whole vibe is that there’s the Labour way to stop the Tories, or the highway, and this is the natural order of things.

    That might have made some sense from (say) 1924 until around 1974, but it simply isn’t the way voters are thinking. They’ve voted for the Greens not out of confusion but because Labour vacated the space on the left that many – myself included – had once looked for and hoped for a Labour Party to occupy.

    The tragedy is that there is simply no need for this in a decent eelctoral system, which means that voters are free to allocate their votes in preferences; under such a system, Brighton and Hove would barely have a Tory MP.

    That the non-Tory vote is split between the Greens and Labour is a sad reality, and that the Tories benefit is equally real. BUt the notion that the ‘fault’ for this is with the Greens is just arrogance; it takes two to tango.

    The root cause of the Greens’ strength is because people were sick of Labour in office; I know Labour members can reel off loads of stuff the think validates their 13 years in office (lord knows one clings to them when faced as a member of the party with just how appallingly they squandered their mandate for genuine change in this country) but voters begged to differ, in this city at least.

    The easiest way for the Greens to be defeated by Labour is for them to stop being a bunch of neo-liberal apologists for orthodoxy in economics, politics and society (in a way I know an enormous number of Labour members would wish too). You’d kill us in a matter of months.

    But we both know that Labour ain’t going there anytime soon. That’s the party’s choice, but it is one that publishes in places with a public culture on the left, like Brighton. If you’d only spend a fraction of the time you spent trying to destroy the Greens locally on trying to stop Labour such a bobbins opposition on issues like benefits, you – and the country – would be in a better place.

  10. Labour have long taken the vote of those on the left for granted, and fought over the centre ground (Mondeo man and Basildon women), against Tories and Lib dems. This left the red door open for the SNP, Respect and in Brighton the Greens. I don’t see this election will being any different. Labours national campaign will be fought on ground set by the Mail, the Sun and the Tories. This won’t help them win back the progressive vote from the Greens here. They’ll takes some votes from the Tories, but the Greens may mop up the Lib Dem vote which should be enough to see them(us) through.

  11. Although nationally Labour may not be left wing enough for many, including myself, the bottom line is that they are a national party seeking the support of the majority of the people, in order to implement changes to benefit the most. Being ‘left-wing’ gave Labour the ‘Longest Suicide Note in History’ in 1983. It may not be the grandest ambition, but far better than the alternative. There was nothing worse at the time than seeing the righteous left wallowing in the self indulgence of opposition, while services to those they aimed to support were being dismantled.

  12. It’s interesting that Jason uses the word “Progressive” 9 times, but never uses “left wing”. Progressive is the word Nick Clegg used to define the ConDem coalition. As an expression of political belief, it’s been rendered fairly meaningless.

    Compared to a number of Labour councils around the country, I’ve seen little evidence that the current Green led administration is particularly left wing.

    Perhaps Jason uses the word “progressive” because he is uncomfortable describing himself as either left wing or a socialist?

  13. You are correct that Compass, and conversations that flow from it, look towards strengthening voices on the democratic left to explore ways of delivering a better, more just country. This week saw a very rich discussion about re-casting the current discussion on welfare and benefits, which was fronted by a Labour Party peer and a Labour Party MP. A least one member of the Green Party was in attendance.

    To represent these discussions as the equivalent of or pre-curser to the Labour Party not competing against the Green Party is mischief making. To suggest this outcome is a logical conclusion is an opnion that stands contestation, it is not a fact.

    Compass members seem to me, as a member of the MC, to be robust about their party agendas and presenting them to the electorate. It would be a bizarre settlement were the Party with a realistic possibility of achieving power and delivering on their promises to the voters, to stand aside and allow others a clear run at parliamentary seats.

    Perhaps it is through a most generous concern for the use of Labour Party resources that you suggest Caroline Lucas MP should face no contest from that quarter but I suspect not. Rather, seeking to avoid a political contest smacks more of cowardice

    Having conversations across Parties about whether and how to pursue shared agendas is not the same as making political pacts to deny one party for the easy gain of another.

  14. i think this discussion is necessarily messy due to the blurring of the discussion between parliament, brighton and hove council and alliances with councillors on other councils.
    id like to get it back down to the level of brighton and hove.
    the fact is that the labour party and the green party are the electoral expression of the trades union and social movements respectively. the fact that they dont all ways do what these movements want does not change this material fact.
    On brighton council neither the labour or greens are looking likely to land a killer blow and run the council with a majority. it would be much easier to imagine the torys making a come back and achieving this. therefore whatever happens outside the council chamber and at elections we need labour and greens to work together in the short term. but labour has been unable to do this even when as over the proposed council tax rise the unions suggested it. maybe an organised meeting with the unions and social movements can come up with a red green vision for the city and start banging heads together. otherwise brighton politics is starting to look like the usa where obama and repugs struggled to work togther as usa headed for the fiscal cliff. brightons own fiscal cliffs could be leading to tory party rule.

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