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 Our wretched and totally out of date electoral system  orces these horrendous private dilemmas on each of us.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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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.