Laurie Wilcockson argues against a Progressive Alliance between anti-Tory parties, instead advocating for more targeted independent campaigning from each party.
I’m a student, of the generation that first entered politics in the immediate aftermath of the Coalition. Because of that, I could never vote Lib Dem. It’s not because they’re awful or that I hate them, but on principle, I could never vote for the Government that brought us austerity and tripled tuition fees. Ed Davey, amongst others still in the party, was a member of it. Hence, if I was in a position where I lived in a Tory constituency and the Labour candidate stood aside, it would be a completely false assumption on Labour’s behalf to presume that the anti-Tory vote would solidify – I would likely rather spoil my ballot. I don’t think I’m unique either: I think a considerable amount of people, either Labour, Lib Dem, Plaid or Green voters, would have certain hesitations about voting for certain parties irrespective of it rallying the progressive vote. And because of that fact alone, I think a formal progressive alliance would be stupid.
Of course, I’m not attempting to ignore the fact that the next General Election will have to be fought tactically, and I’d actively support at least an open dialogue between the opposition parties with a more cynical approach as to who amongst them might win each seat. In my local constituency of what will become the newly created North Suffolk, for example, it would be a waste of money for Labour to campaign hard, because it is one of the few seats that is brazenly more likely to turn Green than it is Labour, even though the numbers have Labour in second place. I wrote an article specifically about it. But my point is, if a general election were to be called, Labour voters there can be trusted to vote Green, especially if party advertising makes clear that that’s what needs to happen. We live in an age of tactical voting, and most people aren’t naïve to it. We’ve seen that in all the latest by-election victories, and while it is an axiom of British politics that by-elections are never reflective of movements at a GE, the sheer extent to which North Shropshire turned yellow is so huge that it is indicative of a shift towards anti-Tory voting more prolific than we’ve ever really seen before. Furthermore, the development of social media has meant that the means of communicating to a constituency the target party for tactical voters is easier than ever. This even happened in the 2019 General Election, one simply has to look at Monica Harding’s near-success against Dominic Raab, or Ali Milani’s against Boris Johnson.
No, what the priority of the progressive parties should be is not some formal pact, borne of deliberate machinations between parties, exposed by the Daily Mail, flaunted by Tory campaigners (Coalition of Chaos, they’ll once again howl). They should not stand down candidates, because it would be a snub to those who are party loyal, or worse, those more likely to vote blue than consider the alternative. I am sure there are at least a few amongst the Lib Dem and Green faithful who would be quicker to vote Conservative than Labour in some commuter constituencies, or a gentrified rural toss-up seat like North Norfolk. Rather, what parties should be doing is targeting their resources at particular seats and targeting specifically with an understanding that the other parties will not. For the Lib Dems to stand down in Uxbridge and South Ruislip would ooze accusations of sleazy backroom deals, of a debt owed by the reds to the yellows to be cashed in somewhere in the south-west to the cost of all the Labour voters there. However, for the Uxbridge and South Ruislip Labour campaign to focus on a narrative that “a vote for anything else would be a vote for the Conservatives”, and for the Lib Dems to independently recognise that pushing Facebook ads and sending flyers would be detrimental to anti-Tory interests, when those same ads and leaflets would be better served in Rees Mogg’s North-East Somerset. It would do the party cheque books a favour and be a much better use of such restrictive campaign spending, all for the sake of a better chance of unseating the incumbent Prime Minister.
Of course, those dedicated to the notion of a formalised Progressive Alliance will insist that messaging will not, in practice, be clear or effective enough to push parties over the edge, and voters in a general election setting will always follow the national narrative rather than the local one. But in response to this I point out that post-2019, the national narrative is never going to be, “vote for Labour; they want a majority”, but rather from all parties, “vote out these witless Conservatives, and keep them out for good.” Of course, the Labour rhetoric will inevitably spin for a majority, even if privately its leadership is doubtful of it, but the right-wing media will be busy hastily downplaying the threat the Reds pose, saying that a coalition government is the best they can hope for. Those more amenable to tactical voting won’t mind the prospect of voting anti-Tory as a result; they’re fine with a coalition. It is only those party-diehards, in red, yellow and green clothing that will refuse, and they wouldn’t sell their vote even in the event of a formal alliance. For them, the standing down of candidates and cross-party collaboration would do little more than alienate party loyalists from their own leaderships.
Laurie Wilcockson is a History student at the University of Cambridge. He was formerly Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Cambridge Student, and is an occasional contributor to East Anglia Bylines. He grew up in rural Norfolk, and discovered a passion for political journalism when he found himself at the wrong end of the 2020 A Level Algorithm Fiasco, and had to fight for his place at university. He tweets at @LaurieWilcocks1.
Cover image from Bondegezu, accessed via Wikimedia Commons.