Labour ‘Pluralists’ Reach out to Liberal Democrats.
A new cross-party group will be set up by senior Labour figures tomorrow in an attempt to heal the party’s rift with the Liberal Democrats and open the door to Lib-Lab co-operation in another hung parliament.
Labour for Democracy will try to build bridges with other progressive parties, including the Greens. But it will reach out to Nick Clegg’s party, with whom relations were stretched to breaking point when he took the Lib Dems into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010.
Although the launch was planned before last week’s Leveson report on press regulation, it is timely because Ed Miliband and Mr Clegg have backed the inquiry’s call for a new system
For good measure the Greens are added to the ‘progressive’ list.
The background is Labour for Democracy’s analysis of how ‘pluralism’ can further ‘progressive goals’.
Support for progressive values and policies is not restricted to a single political party, as shown by our new analysis of polling data. A real desire to see progressive change means working with supporters of other political parties.’
‘Pluralism is simply a commitment to work with others, including members and supporters of other political parties if that increases our chances of achieving progressive change. While Labour values are most strongly supported by Labour voters, many supporters of other parties also share some of our values. No party today speaks exclusively for progressive opinion; none will do so in the fut
“All Labour members will work hard for every Labour vote. But whether we win the outright majority we seek, or end up with a hung Parliament, the change Britain needs will require the support of all who share our key values. Existing structures encourage tribalism, but Labour’s history has often been of working with others for progressive goals – in trades unions, community organisations, solidarity movements and defending the environment. Some of the changes we are proudest to claim – the NHS, the welfare state and devolution – would not have happened without the support of people outside the Labour movement. At a time when old allegiances to political parties are breaking down, yet organisations like 38 degrees are mobilising active and effective support, we need that approach more than ever.’
The launch of Labour for Democracy on 4 December is an attempt to break down tribal sectarianism and promote a pluralist culture within the Labour movement. The focus is not on coalitions or cross-party deals, but on finding ways of delivering what progressive voters want. We’ve already shown that, in the main, past Lib Dem voters hold similar values to Labour’s, and quite different to most Tory voters. It’s also clear that, despite the failures of the coalition, the public still generally want politicians to work together when they can, rather than exaggerate their differences.
The launch of this initiative has met instant hostile reaction.
Labour First have condemned the creation of the new “Labour for Democracy” group within the party, which according to the Independent will “will try to build bridges with other progressive parties, including the Greens” and “will reach out to Nick Clegg’s party, with whom relations were stretched to breaking point when he took the Lib Dems into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010.”
The Independent reports that the Group is “an attempt to heal the party’s rift with the Liberal Democrats and open the door to Lib-Lab co-operation in another hung parliament.”
Speaking to LabourList this morning, Secretary of Labour First, Luke Akehurst, said:
“The creation of this misnamed group, “Labour for Democracy” is a slap in the face for grassroots campaigners who are working flat out to beat all our political opponents, Greens and Lib Dems as well as Tories, UKIP and BNP, as we did comprehensively in the recent by-elections.
It is completely premature and defeatist to start flirting with the Lib Dems when all the opinion polls and by-elections show we have a realistic chance of a majority Labour government.
We need to continue to squeeze the Lib Dem and Green votes in order both to take seats off them and seats off the Tories. Any move which rehabilitates the Lib Dems and lets them off the hook for having put the Tories in power actually increases the chances of another hung parliament. Their behaviour in 2010 indicates their preferred coalition partner is the Tories.
We had naive talk about pluralism in 2010. The people making those noises should have learned their lesson. The Lib Dems are not a progressive party and the Greens are an anti-working class and anti-economic growth party. We should be seeking to defeat them both intellectually and at the ballot box, not pandering to them.”
There is little to add, immediately to this.
Except apart from the fact that everybody on the left and most of the Labour Party in the UK (including Ipswich) loathes the Liberal Democrats, and that ‘progressive’ is too windy to mean much, there is this:
The Labour for Democracy initiative will strongly remind many people of Charter 88 and the (now wound up) Democratic Left (DL) in the early 1990s. These groups advocated tactical voting, support for ‘anti-Conservative’ candiodates, right up to the 2011 election. They were open to Liberal Democrats and Greens who supported ‘proressice values’ above all on Constitutional issues.
Are Labour for Democracy linked to this tradition?
There is, as yet, no direct evidence.
The old Charter 88 and Democratic Left strategy for a ‘progressive alliance’ is not dead.
On the Web site produced by the remnants of Charter 88 and the Democratic Left (Charter 88 transformed itself , through its merger with the New Politics Network (what remained of the Democratic Left) into Unlock Democracy, we find this today:
“Beyond the Progressive Alliance
Charter 88 was very much a political response to Thatcherism and its basic strategy was to bring together the two parties of the centre and centre left around a programme of democratic and constitutional reform. Probably the high point of this strategy was the Cook-Maclennan talks prior to the 97 General Election between the Lib Dem’s and Labour which lead to joint programme of constitutional reform that included devolution, freedom of information and the HRA.
Though this strategy delivered much it was always a limited one. The reality was then and is now that if democratic change is going to happen it needs to appeal beyond a sterile left right divide. Democratic reform is not a left right issue but one that divides people along a libertarian authoritarian axis and there are people on the left and the right who recognise that our society needs more democracy not less.”
Nothing, it seems, feeds hope like failure.
The challenge over the next few years is not to recreate the alliance between people on the centre left of politics that was at the heart of Charter’s strategy, but to build new alliances that include all those who want to transform politics. Many of these alliances will be issue specific and like the one we created to deliver the Sustainable