How to win the 2020 election. Why we need a progressive alliance.
The present Conservative government claims a popular mandate that it doesn't really possess. In 2015 the Tories secured the votes of just 36.9% of those who voted. Most people voted against the Tories but they are still the government: pushing through more austerity, fracking, airport extension. We can all name Tory policies that we hate.
The Tories can do this because of our outdated electoral system. Look at the constituency of Lewes in Sussex: the anti-Tory parties all fielded candidates - with the predictable result that the opposition was split and a Conservative MP was elected on just 38% of the vote. There are seats all over the country where that picture was repeated.
A progressive alliance has the potential to change that. What is needed is an electoral pact - an agreement not to split the vote. This means that in some seats there would be no Green candidate. In others there would be no Labour candidate.
So, who decides which party stands where? How do they arrive at those decisions? For the sake of simplicity this article only explores a pact in English constituencies. One way would be to take a snapshot of electoral support in, say, May 2019. If the Greens are polling at 5% then the starting point could be that the Green candidate is unopposed by Labour or LibDem in 5% of English constituencies. Repeat the exercise for LibDems and Labour. This would provide a starting point.
Stage two is to decide who stands where. There are Tory-held seats in the West Country that Labour will never win. But they can be won by the LibDems. This is the kind of assessment that has to be made. Yes, it will involve lots of horse-trading and argument: that's an unavoidable part of the process.
What would voters make of this? It's possible that some would be annoyed because they don't have an opportunity to vote for the party they really like. I believe such people would be a small minority. Millions of ordinary people without a strong party allegiance would understand the point of the exercise and support it. Millions of people who are seeing their benefits slashed have little patience with party activists who refuse to work together for the sake of ideological purity. People like politicians who abandon tribal motives, stop bickering and work together.
And such a pact could result in a "government of all the talents" that combines the best of each party's policies.
What happens after the election? Some people suggest that, if successful, an incoming progressive Parliament should make the introduction of Proportional Representation its priority and hold a second election, under PR, as soon as the arrangements can be made. In reality, this is likely to be a lengthy process; in the meantime the country still needs to be run. If Labour was the largest single party should LibDems, Greens, SNP or Plaid Cymru MPs be invited to join the Government? Many LibDems will be understandably reluctant to join another coalition! The alternatives could be a confidence & supply arrangement or an agreement to support the Government on a vote-by-vote basis.
Of course, we can all find reasons not to do this. Some regard the Greens as a bunch of tree-huggers; or despise the LibDems for propping up Cameron in 2010; or refuse to co-operate with Labour because so many Labour MPs support Trident renewal. There are hundreds of reasons why people won't want to work together.
But the prize is huge - an electoral system fit for multi-party democracy. This could reduce the Conservatives to a permanent rump in Parliament and cut them down to a size that properly reflects their support in the country. It could mean the end of Tory policies that reward the rich, hammer the poor and destroy the environment.
And what is the alternative? To carry on in the same old way? Does anyone seriously think that Labour alone can beat the Tories in 2020? What are the prospects for a Green Party that's bumping along the bottom with 3% of voter support?
If this task is to be undertaken then we need to start now. No doubt there are many other models to choose from when it comes to alliances. That's why the matter is urgent. Although the chance of a snap election is receding the progressive parties need to be talking to each other in 2017, not 2019. There is hard talking to be done and it can't be left until the last minute.
The author is a member of the Green Party. He writes here in a personal capacity.