In the wake of Labour’s widespread losses in the 6 May nationwide elections (with notable exceptions such as Wales, Manchester, Brighton, Cambridge and London), Labour is undertaking considerable soul-searching. Nick Hopkinson reflects on the lessons.
Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters are already urging Keir Starmer to offer a ’bolder vision’, and to ‘strive for a more equal world’. Arguably, this is code to return to a more left-leaning party strategy.
However, Labour’s performance in the 2019 General Election is hardly a convincing reason for it to do so. The success of Tony Blair, one of only three post-war Labour Prime Ministers to have won a General Election, showed Labour can only win from the centre.
Labour candidates across the UK are increasingly experiencing what it is like to stand for one of the smaller ‘progressive’ parties! My story is a case in point: in the penultimate local election, I turned up at the polling station only to find the party of which I was member wasn’t even on the ballot paper! I reluctantly cast my vote for another party, and angrily told my local party that if no one else came forward in my safe Conservative area next time, I would stand as a backstop candidate. So I put my name forward, knowing full well I would lose. But at least my party secured 16% more votes than it otherwise would have done. Job done.
Well not really. I am not a particularly tribal party member. For me, having a government which wants the closest possible relations with the EU, and in due course rejoining it, are far more important than which party is in power.
To achieve the former, we obviously must win power first. The question is how.
Looking at my area’s results, all ‘progressive’ candidates combined secured 57% of all votes, slightly exceeding the 53% national vote share of pro-European parties at the 2019 General Election.
If Conservatives can unify eurosceptics on the right, surely ‘progressive’ parties can also successfully join up pro-european supporters?
Another Labour drubbing at the polls should make it apparent to its leadership and members alike that it is unlikely to win the next General Election outright. There are some well-established campaigns for electoral reform, not least the Electoral Reform Society.
However, proportional representation (PR) will not be achieved unless a ‘progressive’ alliance secures power. If Labour wants ever to taste government again, it will have to form such an electoral or deeper alliance with other political parties. Labour might take some inspiration from how Joe Biden built a winning broad coalition in the US.
In the UK context, Compass is one such initiative seeking to build a ‘progressive’ alliance. The joint core manifesto commitments would have to be
- Electoral reform
- Closest possible relationship with the EU
- Fighting climate change.
But first Labour must make itself fit for a ‘progressive’ alliance. A key first step would appear to be revising its Rule Book, particularly the requirement to stand candidates in every constituency. The relevant chapters are:
· Chapter VIII B - “ensuring the establishment of and to keep in active operation … a Labour Party Local Campaign Forum (LCF) for each elected level of local authority above parish or community”; and
· Chapter 12, Clause II. 5 - “The LCF shall seek to contest all seats in each electoral area in consultation with the Constituency Labour Party (CLP) concerned”.
I am not a Labour insider, but as a pro-European I want to see the Labour Party - and indeed all political parties - champion pro-European policies. So the other possible route to a ‘progressive’ alliance is the growth of pro-Europeanism in the Conservative Party. We have seen how UKIP eurosceptic entryism reversed the Conservative Party’s stance on Europe. Indeed, the few remaining pro-European Conservatives might want to ‘get their party back’!
We cannot rule out the possibility that the party which took us into the then European Community and then took us out of the EU, might one day again want to forge closer relations with the EU, possibly even taking us back into the EU. But the reality is that this scenario is currently remote and necessarily long term.
So, if we want to rejoin the EU sooner rather than later, ‘progressive’ parties need to join together. And FAST, before the damage of Brexit bites even deeper.
Author: Nick Hopkinson
Vice Chair, London4Europe
London4Europe blogs are edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.