Back in June, the Green Party called for a “progressive alliance” of all parties on the left, and they want it in Richmond too. With the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn, here’s why that wouldn’t work.
During the fallout of Brexit, the Green Party were quick to propose a “progressive alliance”, ripe to form against the result – a coalition including all the opposition parties that campaigned for Remain. Their aim: to reunify the Remain vote for the Brexit era. They thought it an indefatigable prospect. Indeed, in the context of Richmond Park, it could be the nail in Zac Goldsmith’s coffin; hence why the Greens were quick to bring it up again, buoyed by a range of organisations and pressure groups.
A broad range of left-leaning political parties operating as one on a national ballot sounds like a fantastic idea in principle. In terms of ensuring the representation of left-wing ideas in the Houses of Parliament, it would be the perfect solution. The parties involved could have separate conferences, manifestos and priorities, but they would all operate under a single banner upon the ballot. The idea sounded so good to shadow business secretary Clive Lewis that he actually endorsed it in July as an “electoral pact”.
Why the endorsement? Perhaps because it would mean that Labour could engineer a split without suffering “electoral Armageddon“. Both of its separate wings could form part of the “progressive alliance”, giving them both representation on a decision-making level while maintaining a certain stability in an election. Second, it could give the Liberal Democrats the chance to rebuild following their massive defeat last year, on the basis that a presence within an alliance would give them significant power (tantamount, if not larger than that found in the Coalition Government) without having to maintain their paltry seat count. Thirdly, it could bring the Green Party into mainstream political discourse, after their period of dwindling on and off the fringes prior to the 2015 election, when they peaked at around eight per cent in the polls. But why wouldn’t this progressive alliance work, and why could it actually prove deadly?
In order to answer the question as to why this alliance wouldn’t work, we actually have to answer a completely different question: why did the Green vote collapse after 2015? Why didn’t they come back up to their peak of eight per cent in national polls? One entirely possible explanation is that Labour’s swerve to the left took the wind out of the sails of many Green Party supporters.
The Green Party once served as the bastion of the liberal left, arguably more middle class than those such as TUSC and the Respect Party, and with a more reputable presence both on councils and more generally in the media. After Jeremy Corbyn’s victory, the Greens found themselves placed far closer to the average Labour member, meaning those previously inclined to vote Green would be more inclined to vote Labour – especially considering Green stalwart Caroline Lucas and Corbyn have shared platforms on various issues, such as their involvement in the Stop the War Coalition. With this in mind, the combined polling of the Greens and Labour would still lie far below that of the Conservatives. Indeed, a voluntarily organised electoral pact between the Greens and Labour, dubbed Vote Swap at the 2015 general election, failed to have any real impact on the difference in seats where Labour would have edged out the Conservatives had Green voters all gone red. A formal electoral pact might be more successful, but any potentially electable Green candidate would then carry the red flags (metaphorically and literally) of Corbyn’s support, to any undecided voter.
With the re-election of Corbyn at the Labour Party Conference, Labour has reaffirmed its status as a party of left wingers rather than the pragmatists present under New Labour. In this respect, it has swung far closer to the Greens, for example with Corbyn’s pledge to have no restrictions on immigration. Additionally, Corbyn’s victory in this contest, by a margin of almost twelve percentage points, emphasises his personality within the party, something that would be no doubt shrouded by any alliance or pact. In fact, it’s an idea that Corbyn forcefully rejected when a variation was put to him in an interview. Labour thrives on its identity and its independence, as well as its ever-present vote from long term working class communities. Already eroded by Ukip, a partnership with the Greens would further threaten this bond.
Furthermore, the degree to which Tim Farron vilifies Corbyn makes it seem unlikely that the Liberal Democrats would consider a pact including what would be its largest bedfellow. This rivalry has manifested itself in Richmond Park; while the Greens have stood down, Labour is determined to run a candidate, despite the fact that the constituency has never been painted red – not even during the Blair years. This act in itself demonstrates the obliviousness that renders an alliance near impossible. Labour is so clouded by the idea that it has a dog’s chance of winning that it will not yield to the Lib Dem candidate. This is a problem that would see itself mirrored across the country: a party with eight seats and a stubbornness above its station squabbling with a party determined to win, even when it knows it is doomed to fail. This could easily lead to Zac Goldsmith winning a plurality in Richmond Park, a result that could lead the Conservatives to pursue a strategy of pitting the Europhile vote against itself, nationwide.
However convenient it may seem to rally political parties around the Remain vote, British politics remains far too fragmented for them to unite, even informally. Corbyn’s marmite-like identity alone is reason enough for Labour to stick to its guns – and for other parties to stay out of its sight. If that means Richmond falls to the Brexiteers, so be it; one more lesson learned.