If Labour is Serious About Winning, It Needs to be Honest About a Progressive Alliance

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” If this proverb can refer to politics then Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond should be pleased, not angry, about Labour “stealing” Scottish National Party policies.

It is a compliment and a nod to shared values. As social democratic anti-austerity parties, the SNP and Labour’s main disagreement is constitutional. Plagiarism, if we can call it that, is therefore inevitable.

However, what the SNP’s criticism does is illustrate a point. Ukip is in its last gasps as a political party. The right has united, but the left remains fractured.

In response to this Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich South, called for Labour to form a “progressive alliance” with other left-wing parties, which at the general election would maximise the anti-Conservative vote by standing down to assist each other in individual constituencies. Lewis also said that Labour should be open to a coalition with the SNP.

Later, Liberal Democrat Vince Cable was secretly recorded advocating a Labour-Lib Dem pact while the Green Party is standing down in constituencies to benefit Labour. Isn’t it time the left admitted the obvious? Their policies and programmes have a lot in common.

parties could be more ambitious

Labour’s manifesto outlines a transformative vision but it would be foolish to argue that it has all the answers. Perhaps together their approach could be more ambitious.

Labour would boost annual funding for the NHS and social care by £7.6 billion through reversing tax cuts for corporations and high-income earners. The Lib Dems propose a 1p increase in income tax to raise £6 billion annually.

Combined this could raise £86 billion over five years, fairer that the unpopular Tory plans for a “dementia tax”.

Another health-related Lib Dem policy is their proposal to legalise cannabis. The Lib Dems estimate that a strictly-controlled, taxed legal cannabis market would raise £1 billion annually, removing cannabis from the black market and providing law enforcement with more resources to tackle violent and serious crime.

Part of the wider Lib Dem strategy to treat drug addiction as a public health problem rather a criminal one, it addresses the crisis in the prisons system, where overcrowding is causing a meltdown that endangers society and prevents rehabilitation. Undeniably bold, it creates an overlap with both Labour and Greens on justice policy.

Meanwhile, the Greens would divert the £6 billion in annual subsidises from fossil fuel companies into infrastructure and renewable energy projects to create skilled jobs, and build homes, moving towards environmental sustainability. Once again there is a crossover.

More radical is the Green universal basic income which would replace most working age benefits with £80 per week for all adults. Estimated at £320 billion annually (including pensions), UBI would be cost neutral through stimulating the economy and distributing jobs more evenly. It would reward workers for valuable unpaid labour like voluntary work and caring for relatives. It is also an idea Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has floated.

In 1997, Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown considered forming a Labour-Lib Dem coalition. There was no formal alliance, but their obvious closeness allowed voters to draw their own conclusions. The Lib Dems increased their seat share despite losing votes, while Labour won over 400 seats. They and the voters used First Past the Post against the Conservatives, who won a quarter of the seats in the House of Commons on 31% of the vote.

Blair’s timidity stopped him from offering the Lib Dems government jobs, but he and Ashdown successfully worked together on devolution.

Should the predicted happen and Labour not win the election, parties could be more ambitious than Blair and Ashdown.

A progressive alliance could mean Labour standing down in seats where the Lib Dems and Greens came second in England and Wales in 2015. In the Lib Dems’ case this was 60 winnable mostly Tory-held seats. The case is clear.

Never has there been a greater need for progressives to put aside partisan tribalism 

Jeremy Corbyn has rebuffed the idea of an alliance, perhaps because he fears similar scaremongering about a Labour-SNP pact that won David Cameron his slim majority.

The attack was effective because Ed Miliband never confronted its hypocrisy, instead bewilderingly suggesting he would rather let a Tory government take office.

Sensible cooperation with the SNP on a UK level could bring also Scots back into the fold. Labour has to start being honest with itself and voters: with Scottish Labour’s collapse, any future progressive majority needs SNP votes.

They need to show, not during an election campaign but in opposition, how an alliance would work.

The parties could form their own policies but agree a unified agenda for government, allocating cabinet positions to different parties. At Westminster, Caroline Lucas could speak  on environmental issues, Angus Robertson on defence and Tim Farron on the EU and Brexit - from the official opposition frontbench.

If they worked together in opposition not just on a programme but on strategy to oppose the Tories, they would prove to sceptics that they could cooperate in government. Voters would see not chaos, but competence and a willingness to compromise for good of the nation. As in the 90s, they could draw their own conclusions.

Never has there been a greater need for progressives to put aside partisan tribalism and work together to oppose the Tories. The mutual stealing of policies should not be an insult but flattery and something to be embraced.

More about the author

About the author

Jacob Richardson began his career with Disclaimer and writes on culture, politics and society. Politically he is a democratic socialist and Labour Party supporter. His other interests include cinema, psychoanalysis and professional wrestling.

Follow Jacob on Twitter.

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