If the most frustrating thing you hear on the doorstep is ‘they’re all the same’, a close second is ‘Labour could do with a period on opposition to regroup’. I’ve never bought into this because a period in opposition would mean us abandoning vulnerable people to the whims and heartlessness of Tory policy. So I have respect for those in our party who will do anything to keep the keys to Number 10 in order to serve those who need Labour the most.
Today, however, we face a choice that is quite different and if we choose poorly would almost certainly lead to another generation spent in opposition unable to serve those in need. Let me tell you why I think a ‘progressive alliance’ is the wrong choice at this critical time.
Firstly, it may be an alliance but it certainly wouldn’t be progressive. Electoral arithmetic means it wouldn’t be a homecoming between the Lib Dems and Labour – we’d need every one of the non-Tory leaning MPs in the House; a rag-tag ranging from statists to utopians. Some, like Caroline Lucas of the Green party, need to look up the meaning of ‘progressive’. Her policies such as legalising drugs would rip the heart out of many struggling communities who, unlike the wealthier ones, would be unable to fund the rehab and mental-health services that would result. Progressive it may be, but in the opposite direction to Labour.
It is probably true that the majority of votes were cast with progressive intent, but that isn’t the same thing as having a majority of progressive MPs. The fact is this alliance in government wouldn’t be made up of voters but instead the MPs they elected, and it would be hard to say it is in the nation’s best interests when a chunk of the alliance wants to do away with the very nation we’d be purporting to serve. And with the pork-barrel politics that would accompany such a deal, the electorate’s real priority – the economic recovery – would be relegated.
Everything being discussed publicly at this time is of course well within the constitutional settlement of our country. But maintaining public credibility and trust is another matter. Talk of an alliance quickly becomes a house of cards that teeters on the brink: An alliance led by the party that came a convincing second, joined by the party who came a distant third and others who couldn’t muster more than a few out of 650 MPs; a partnership who often only agree on 30 per cent of policy; a new leader who would become the second consecutive prime minister not to fight, let alone win, a general election. Add to this mix an unremitting campaign by the media and it seems unlikely an alliance would be robust enough to endure the Queen’s speech, party conference season, autumn statement and finally a budget. And that’s only the first year.
I never, ever, thought I would hear my heart tell me that Labour in opposition would better serve the interests of our nation but that is the position I find myself in. My opposition to an alliance does not mean that I am opposed to greater cooperation with other parties, especially during this period of minority government. There will be plenty of opportunity to work together with other parties to ensure a progressive agenda is pursued and achieved, and I believe this will lead to greater trust and indeed respect from the electorate in the coming months. After all, they would expect nothing less of us of us.
Our energy as a party though would be better spent rebuilding a policy platform that is adapted to the country’s future needs and finding the leader who will take us to victory in the next election, rather than maintaining an alliance that has no hope of surviving into the long time or providing Labour with a springboard into the next election.