The progressive alliance? (Photo: Getty)
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For all our politicians fail to grasp it, a progressive alliance can still be built

Supporters of the three anti-Conservative parties must put aside the disagreements of the last five years - and vote tactically

The election looms and the polls stay locked.  No one yet looks set to win an outright majority.  So how are progressives supposed to vote?  So many questions abound – do we vote with our head or our heart, for what we most want or against what we least want? Our wretched and totally out of date electoral system  orces these horrendous private dilemmas on each of us.  It demands collective debate. 

Back in 2010 it was a lot easier. Voting to keep the Tories out was the order of the day and that meant by and large voting Labour or in some seats Liberal Democrat.  But the formation of the Coalition and the further fragmentation of party politics muddies the water a lot.

One big question is this: is the most important result the maximization of national vote share for a party or seats in the Commons? The answers dictates very different voting behaviors.  Constitutionally what matters is numbers of MPs – so this would suggest a requirement to think and vote tactically. 

So, do Labour people hold their nose and vote Liberal Democrat where a Liberal Democrat might win?  The rational answer is yes but will they just end up supporting the Tories again?

A less tribal and more nuanced response might be that the Lib Dems are more likely go with Labour if Labour has any interest – unlike 2010 – of going with them.  And if the Lib Dems go back into government in some way with the Tories – isn’t that better than outright Tory control? They can still stop some of the worse things happening. And maybe some Lib Dem candidates could make it clear that they will never prop up a Tory government. 

Of course this all works the other way round – Lib Dem voters need to hold their nose and vote for Labour – despite the rather wretched way that party’s leadership has treated them.  Here the total lack of empathy across the party divide divides Westminster out from the rest of the world – the lack of relational skills just marks it out as weird. 

And what of Green voters?  They face an awful decision.  In reality they can only win in Brighton Pavilion - the chances of success elsewhere are remote – maybe at a push in Bristol West.  But what voting Green could do is let the Tories in – in seats like Brighton Kemptown, Chester, Morecombe and a dozen others.  These seats could decide who governs Britain. I know Greens want to build their party and they have every right to do this - but I hope they will find it in themselves to    do what they can to stop the Tories. The question is what will Labour do to encourage that process?

At the last election Compass, the organisation I chair, debated the issue and its members voted to back and support tactical voting – this time we are having the debate again – and its more complicated. Anyone can join it here.  It will shape what we do.  We would love to know what you think.

If no one is going to win outright then the country needs to prepare now.  The closed tribalists of all parties are woefully prepared for the complex political landscape their narrow views have created.  But a progressive alliance will be formed in the country before Westminster follows in its slipstream.  In the coming months the people of this country are going to have to act like adults and negotiate a future that will be more complex than ever – I think they are up to it. What about the politicians?  

Behind their obvious public calls for you to vote for their party – they are secretly and desperately hoping that you will vote in the best way to stop the Tories – because then, and only then, will progressive parties have a chance. Because of the closed tribalism of Westminster and the out of date voting system they can’t take the lead – but we can.  And we must. The alternative is just too horrendous.

Neal Lawson is chair of the pressure group Compass, which brings together progressives from all parties and none. His views on internal Labour matters are personal ones. 

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Single parent families are already struggling - universal credit is making things worse

Austerity and financial hardship are not inevitable – politicians have a choice.

“I don’t live, I merely keep existing”. So says one single parent in Gingerbread’s final report from a project tracking single parent finances since 2013. Their experience is typical of single parents across the country. The majority we surveyed are struggling financially and three-quarters have had to borrow from friends, family or lenders to make ends meet.

This is not the story that the government wants to hear. With a focus on a jobs boom and a promise to "make work pay", a relentlessly positive outlook shines from the DWP. The reality is somewhat different. Benefit cuts have taken their toll, and single parents have been among the hardest hit. Estimates suggest over six per cent of their annual income was lost through reforms under the 2010-15 government. The 2015 Summer Budget cuts will add another 7.6 per cent loss on top by 2020, even after wage and tax gains.

What’s more, for all the talk of tackling worklessness, working families have not escaped unscathed. Single parent employment is at a record high – thanks in no small part to their own tenacity in a tough environment. But the squeeze on incomes has hit those in work too. The original one per cent cap on uprating benefits meant a single parent working part-time lost around £900 over three years. Benefits are now frozen, rapidly losing value as inflation rises. On top of stagnant and often low pay and high living costs, it’s perhaps unsurprising that we found working single parents surveyed just as likely to run out of money as those out of work – shockingly, around half didn’t have enough to reach the end of the month.

Single parent families – along with many others on low incomes – are being pushed into precarious financial positions. One in eight single parents had turned to emergency provision, including payday lenders and food banks. Debt in particular casts a long shadow over families. A third of single parents surveyed were behind on payments, and they described how debt often lingers for a long time as they struggle to pay it off from already stretched budgets.

All of this may be depressingly familiar to some – but it comes at something of a crossroads for politicians. With the accelerated roll-out of universal credit around the corner, the government risks putting many more people under significant strain – and potentially into debt. Encouragingly, the increasing noise around the delays to a first payment is raising red flags across political parties. Perhaps most alarming is that delays are not purely administrative, but deliberate – they reflect in-built, intentional, cost-saving measures. These choices serve no constructive purpose: they risk debt and anxiety for families the government intended to help, and costs for the services left to pick up the pieces.

But will the recent warning signs be enough? Despite new data showing around half of new claimants needed "advance payments" (loans to deal with financial hardship while waiting for a first payment), the Department for Work and Pensions stuck doggedly to its lines, lauding the universal credit project that “lies at the heart of welfare reform to help “people to improve their lives”.

And, as valuable as additional scrutiny is, must we wait for committees to gather and report on yet more evidence, and for the National Audit Office to forensically examine and report on progress once again? The reality is glaringly evident. Families have already been pushed to the brink without universal credit. Those entering the new system – and those supporting them, including councils – have made it abundantly clear that moving onto universal credit makes things worse for too many.

This is not to dismiss universal credit in its entirety. It’s hard to argue with the original intention to simplify the benefit system and make sure work pays. It was always going to be an ambitious (possibly over-ambitious) project. But salami slicing the promised support – from the added seven day "waiting period" for a first payment, to the slashed work allowances intended to herald improved work incentives – leaves us with a system that won’t merely overpromise and under-deliver, but endanger many families’ already fragile financial security. The impact should not be underestimated – this is not just about finances, but families’ lives and the emotional stress and turmoil that can follow.

With increasing political and economic uncertainty, with Brexit looming, this is not the time for petty leadership squabbles, but a time to reassure voters and revitalise the government’s promises to the nation. The DWP committed to a "test and learn" approach to rolling out universal credit – to pause and fix these urgent problems is no U-turn. And of course, the Prime Minister promised a transformed social justice agenda, tackling the "burning injustices" of the day. Nearly all of the UK’s 2 million single parent families will be eligible for universal credit once it is fully rolled out; making this flagship support fit for purpose would surely be a good place to start.

Sumi Rabindrakumar is a research officer at single parents charity Gingerbread.