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21 July

A progressive alliance would have won Uxbridge

The centre left needs a cross-party coalition to defeat the Tories and defend policies such as Ulez.

By Neal Lawson

The people of Uxbridge and South Ruislip should have a Labour MP representing them today, and the country should feel more confident that the Tories will be firmly shown the door at the next election. Perhaps more importantly, policies such as the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) should be winning broad support but aren’t.

That a progressive candidate and a big progressive idea lost is in large part due to the fact Keir Starmer and Ed Davey would rather compete than cooperate. The tragedy of Uxbridge, and almost certainly the next general election, is that the Tories will keep on winning in places where the progressive vote is bigger than theirs but splits let them through.

Why did the Liberal Democrats stand a candidate in a seat they couldn’t possibly hope to win and drain away more votes (526) than the margin of Conservative victory (495)? But equally, why did Labour stand a candidate in Somerton and Frome when, had that election been closer, they would also have let a Tory through? 

Small but often constructive differences separate liberal socialists from social liberals. Progressives agree on so much, especially in the face of a wretched Tory government and the growing threat from the authoritarian right (as we may see in the Spanish election on Sunday).

But Uxbridge offers wider political lessons. The Tories won on the single issue of Ulez. This is a tricky policy to adopt in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis but ideas such as this are essential if we are to reduce the human contribution to climate change. The green transition demands a cross-party alliance to defend and embed it. 

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But cooperation has other merits. If Labour had brought the Liberal Democrats and Greens into discussions about the nature of Ulez, the policy might have been more nuanced and balanced – exploring compensation for those struggling to pay the charge.

In the absence of concerted cooperation, both Labour’s electoral prospects and its policy offer could shrink. Where is the logic in progressive competition over cooperation? Why won’t the Labour and Lib Dem leaderships get around the table with the Greens and decide who is best placed to defeat the Tories where?

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As the Labour Party enters a crucial weekend with the National Policy Forum in Nottingham – where many of its manifesto policies for the next election will be decided – it is essential that the party emerges with the strongest possible backing for proportional representation, an electoral system the party membership, major trade unions and the country support. 

By backing electoral reform, Labour can turbocharge cross-party working and incentivise Liberal Democrat and Green supporters to support the best-placed Labour candidates in the knowledge that everyone’s votes will count equally. This is the policy change that the Conservatives most fear.

[See also: Would Boris Johnson have won in Uxbridge?]

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