Here's what you could have won. Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The time has come for the progressive parties to put aside their differences

The Conservatives took office with just 36 per cent of the vote. Only a radical rethink will stop this happening again, says John Wright. 

I can’t be the only Labour Party member still depressed by the election results, feeling queasy at the leadership contest, and beginning to think that something other than Labour trimming to the left or to the right - and crossing our fingers - is called for if progressive politics is to survive in the UK.

Although  the Tories have won 13 out of the 19 general elections held since 1945, in only one of these elections did their proportion the vote exceed the proportion cast for the Labour Party and the Liberal Party (or Alliance, or Liberal Democrats) combined. That was in 1955, when the Tory vote nudged ahead of the Labour/Liberal combined vote by a slim 0.7 per cent. Even in the 1979 ‘Nightmare on Downing Street’ election Mrs. Thatcher only polled 43.9 per cent of the vote to the Labour/Liberal combined vote of 53.7 per cent.

The fact is the Tories have won the majority of elections over the last 70 years without the support of a majority of the voters, let alone a majority of the population at large.

In this May’s election the progressive parties (broadly speaking, Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru) out-polled the Tories by 14,556,946 to 11,334,567; yet because the Tories won the majority of seats, they now run the country.

The Electoral Reform Society’s report on the election shows that had it been held under the Single Transferable Vote the progressive parties (as I’ve listed them), in addition to polling the majority of votes, would have won 302 seats to the Tories’ 276, presenting them with the opportunity for a progressive coalition government. The ERS uses these statistics to call on progressive activists to campaign for voting reform. But the snag is that no party which has achieved power under the first-past-the-post system, neither Tory nor Labour, is going to ditch that system for PR.

So although it’s laudably progressive to urge us all to lobby David Cameron to adopt PR, it is manifestly a waste of both time and political energy.

Instead, the progressive parties should be making plans, in advance of the next election, to ‘manage’ their political differences in order to offer the country a common policy package which could win majority support. Had there been a hung parliament this time round these parties would have done the necessary: everyone knows that the prospect of being yoked together to run the country was not just being discussed pre-election by the progressive parties, it was being actively planned for.

There is, then, no practical or principled reason why there should not be a pre-election pact between the progressive parties for the 2020 election, based on an agreed common manifesto and a shared slate of candidates, and every reason why work on this should start straight away.

There’s already a commonality there: look at the websites of the Labour Women’s Network, Liberal Democrat Women, SNP Women and Plaid Cymru Women and the Women’s Equality Party (newly launched and planning to field candidates in 2020): their policy goals are virtually interchangeable -  equal representation of men and women in politics, civil and business life; equal pay; equal child care support; an end to violence of all kinds against women and girls. These common goals would form a firm basis for the joint manifesto for the combined progressive parties in 2020.

In addition to these gender equality issues and other, already largely shared, progressive themes (an austerity-less plan for paying down the deficit, regulating the city and the banks, pursuing wealthy tax avoiders, introducing the living wage, resolute action on climate change including growth in production via public investment in green technology, etc.) a commitment to introducing PR within the lifetime of the 2020 progressive coalition government would reassure voters that the progressive parties were not seeking to establish themselves as a permanent ‘power bloc’ in British politics, but rather to improve our democracy by ensuring that general election outcomes in future in Britain will more closely reflect the views and desires of voters.

This is not a plea for the amalgamation of the progressive parties. Other than at the time of general elections a thousand flowers need to bloom. But when it’s being decided who will run the country for the next five years the progressive parties must find an alternative to arguing amongst themselves and voting against each other’s candidates – ‘spoiling’ as America’s arch-spoiler Ralph Nader calls it, he who took thousands of votes from Al Gore in Florida in 2000, thereby enthroning George W Bush (with devastating effects not just on the USA but the whole world).

For as long as the progressive parties fail to face up to the reality of our current electoral system and continue ‘spoiling’ each other’s campaigns they, the representatives of majority opinion, will be destined  (for a further 70 years?) to hand power on a plate to the Tories – the minority-supported faction in British politics.

Getty
Show Hide image

Westminster terror: Parliament hit by deadly attack

The Met Police is treating the events in Westminster as a "terrorist incident". 

A terrorist attack outside Parliament in Westminster has left four dead, plus the attacker, and injured at least 40 others. 

Police shot dead a man who attacked officers in front of the parliament building in London, after a grey 4x4 mowed down more than a dozen people on Westminster Bridge.

At least two people died on the bridge, and a number of others were seriously hurt, according to the BBC. The victims are understood to include a group of French teenagers. 

Journalists at the scene saw a police officer being stabbed outside Parliament, who was later confirmed to have died. His name was confirmed late on Wednesday night as Keith Palmer, 48.

The assailant was shot by other officers, and is also dead. The Met Police confirmed they are treating the events as a "terrorist incident". There was one assailant, whose identity is known to the police but has not yet been released. 

Theresa May gave a statement outside Number 10 after chairing a COBRA committee. "The terrorists chose to strike at the heart of our Capital City, where people of all nationalities, religions and cultures come together to celebrate the values of liberty, democracy and freedom of speech," she said.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has tweeted his thanks for the "tremendous bravery" of the emergency services. 

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also released a short statement. He said: "Reports suggest the ongoing incident in Westminster this afternoon is extremely serious. Our thoughts are with the victims of this horrific attack, their families and friends. The police and security staff have taken swift action to ensure the safety of the public, MPs and staff, and we are grateful to them."

After the incident this afternoon, journalists shared footage of injured people in the street, and pictures of a car which crashed into the railings outside Big Ben. After the shots rang out, Parliament was placed under lockdown, with the main rooms including the Commons Chamber and the tearoom sealed off. The streets around Parliament were also cordoned off and Westminster Tube station was closed. 

Those caught up in the incident include visitors to Parliament, such as schoolchildren, who spent the afternoon trapped alongside politicians and political journalists. Hours after the incident, the security services began evacuating MPs and others trapped inside Parliament in small groups. 

The MP Richard Benyon tweeted: "We are locked in Chamber of House of Commons." Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner tweeted: "I'm inside Parliament and me and my staff are safe."

The MP Jo Stevens was one of the first to confirm reports that a police officer had been attacked. She tweeted: "We've just been told a police officer here has been stabbed & the assailant shot."

George Eaton, the New Statesman politics editor, was in the building. He has written about his experience here:

From the window of the parliamentary Press Gallery, I have just seen police shoot a man who charged at officers while carrying what appeared to be a knife. A large crowd was seen fleeing the man before he entered the parliamentary estate. After several officers evaded him he was swiftly shot by armed police. Ministers have been evacuated and journalists ordered to remain at their desks.   

According to The Telegraph, foreign minister Tobias Ellwood, a former soldier, tried to resucitate the police officer who later died. Meanwhile another MP, Mary Creagh, who was going into Westminster to vote, managed to persuade the Westminster tube staff to shut down the station and prevent tourists from wandering on to the scene of the attack. 

A helicopter, ambulances and paramedics soon crowded the scene. There were reports of many badly injured victims. However, one woman was pulled from the River Thames alive.

MPs trapped inside the building shared messages of sympathy for the victims on Westminster Bridge, and in defence of democracy. The Labour MP Jon Trickett has tweeted that "democracy will not be intimidated". MPs in the Chamber stood up to witness the removal of the mace, the symbol of Parliamentary democracy, which symbolises that Parliament is adjourned. 

Brendan Cox, the widower of the late, murdered MP Jo Cox, has tweeted: "Whoever has attacked our parliament for whatever motive will not succeed in dividing us. All of my thoughts with those injured."

Hillary Benn, the Labour MP, has released a video from inside Parliament conveying a message from MPs to the families of the victims.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron has also expressed his sympathy. 

While many MPs praised the security services, they also seemed stunned by the surreal scenes inside Parliament, where counter-terrorism police led evacuations. 

Those trapped inside Parliament included 40 children visiting on a school trip, and a group of boxers, according to the Press Association's Laura Harding. The teachers tried to distract the children by leading them in song and giving them lessons about Parliament. 

In Scotland, the debate over whether to have a second independence referendum initially continued, despite the news, amid bolstered security. After pressure from Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, the session was later suspended. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that her "thoughts are with everyone in and around Westminster". The Welsh Assembly also suspended proceedings. 

A spokesman for New Scotland Yard, the police headquarters, said: "There is an ongoing investigation led by the counter-terrorism command and we would ask anybody who has images or film of the incident to pass it onto police. We know there are a number of casualties, including police officers, but at this stage we cannot confirm numbers or the nature of these injuries."

Three students from a high school from Concarneau, Britanny, were among the people hurt on the bridge, according to French local newspaper Le Telegramme (translated by my colleague Pauline). They were walking when the car hit them, and are understood to be in a critical condition. 

The French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has also tweeted his solidarity with the UK and the victims, saying: "Solidarity with our British friends, terribly hit, our full support to the French high schoolers who are hurt, to their families and schoolmates."

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.