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 Our wretched and totally out of date electoral system  orces these horrendous private dilemmas on each of us.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. 

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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