Lucas: Electoral reform would be a ‘red line’ in pact talks with Labour

A cross-party panel discussed the possibility of progressive alliances at the Green Party Conference


Newly-elected Green Party leader Caroline Lucas has said that a Labour commitment to proportional representation would be a ‘red line’ in any discussions about electoral pacts.

Lucas made the comments as figures from Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens came together at the Green Party’s Autumn Conference for a discussion on the prospect of a ‘progressive alliance’ for the next General Election – a key plank of the Brighton Pavilion MP and Jonathan Bartley’s leadership bid.

Labour-supporting Compass chair Neal Lawson, newly-elected Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas, left-wing Labour MP Lisa Nandy and GreenHouse think tank chair Rupert Read spoke on the same platform to launch GreenHouse’s new report on progressive alliances – and to discuss the basis of any pact for the next General Election.  

Beginning the discussion, Lawson argued that ‘the old ways of operating aren’t working’ – pitching left-wing parties against left-wing parties. ‘If we had a PR system we wouldn’t have to do this’.

However, he sounded a word of caution about the idea behind any pact:

“This cannot be a coalition of the losers…The electoral system cheats us but we have to have a positive message”.

In a session that often returned to Britain’s winner-takes-all voting system, Rupert Read argued ‘there is no prospect of saving the planet under First Past the Post, or securing the crucial constitutional changes we need: federalism, Lords reform and PR’

Read said that any path to PR must rule out a referendum: ‘There need to be manifesto commitments – the last thing we need is a referendum’. But a precondition for any alliance is ‘a manifesto commitment to electoral reform [from Labour]’.

Lisa Nandy MP was the most cautious about the practicalities of any electoral pact. She ruled out the idea of formal pacts, or open primaries, in favour of more cooperative, collaborative working.

By listening and working together we get much better answers. We can either see pluralism in this country as a threat and try to stop it or see it as a strength and use it to make this country and fairer and better place”.

Calling for a proportional voting system, Nandy said that ‘one of the biggest restraints in this country is our electoral system’.

Caroline Lucas MP said the need for a progressive alliance was built on the fact that the climate crisis and need for democratic reform is ‘urgent’.

‘Labour took their eyes off Kemptown in 2015 to fight me – and they lost it,’ she said.

However, reflecting unease within the party about the practicalities of any pact, she said that ‘this is something from the ground up – not being imposed from the top down’.

Lucas outlined a number of options for any alliance.

‘It could mean open primaries, or could mean one party just spending less than usual – there are different ways of doing this. We don’t do it by stitching up agreements behind closed doors or imposing anything from the centre – decisions have to made at the local level.’

At the heart of it is the fact that ‘no one party has a monopoly of wisdom on every single issue’, while harking to the Brexit mood: ‘This whole agenda is about ‘taking back control’’

Journalist and former Lib Dem candidate Chris Bowers said the remit of an alliance needed to be about more than PR.

‘If we make cooperation solely for electoral reform it just looks like a selfish lunge for power. We’re not going to get hope with some technocratic fix – we need ideas.’

The Labour debate on PR

Accoding to Compass chair Neal Lawson the Labour Party is shifting on PR:

“The glacier is melting. There is real movement in the labour movement and the Labour Party towards PR.”

He praised the SNP for continuing to back reform, describing their commitment as ‘amazing’ since the first-past-the-post system hugely benefits them in Westminster elections.

But Read reiterated a key Green position on any alliance: ‘If Labour move on PR, we have something here. If they don’t, we probably don’t.’

Nandy agreed that Labour ‘can’t afford to carry on putting party first’ – and that fellow new MPs were more open to alliances than more traditional Labour MPs.

‘This Labour shift comes from a generational shift – politicians who’ve come in at the same time a me,’ the MP said.

Reiterating her opposition to electoral pacts, Nandy said ‘Anger at devolution in Manchester was about deals done behind closed doors. People are against politicians who seem to be compromising all the time.’

Green unease – and hope

There was some Green unease about whether an alliance was even desirable – including a heckler arguing against deals with Labour, while there was sympathy with another member saying ‘Why should we work with a Labour party that doesn’t even let its members vote?’

Another audience member added ‘there are a lot of green parties who would not be comfortable with standing down without an open primary.’

However, Caroline Lucas said an alliance was needed nonetheless.

“When I joined thirty years ago I thought we’d have more than one MP by now. The climate crisis is urgent, inequality is urgent. Electoral reform is a red line. An MOU [memorandum of understanding] that parked the issue of nuclear is still worth fighting for because this is urgent.”

Lawson finished the fringe on a positive note about the importance of working together: ‘We need to prefigure the kind of world we want – let’s build the world we want to live in now.’

Josiah Mortimer is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward and is reporting from the Green’s Party’s Autumn Conference in Brighton. This report is based on the panel ‘Progressive Alliances: The case for cross-party working and why it could be a game-changer for the Green Party’

See also: Progressive alliances could be a game-changer – for the Greens and the country

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15 Responses to “Lucas: Electoral reform would be a ‘red line’ in pact talks with Labour”

  1. Jan Flowers

    Caroline Lucas. Nice but dim.

  2. Tony Humphrey

    Hilarious. Nandy saying people don’t want compromise on a panel about PR, alliances and coalitions at the Green Party. Why the hell did they invite her?

  3. kris weston

    there seems to be a lot of ( mostly right wing media driven ) personal attacks on anyone with sensible policies at the moment. one unifying factor of all the attacks is – they never mention the policies as above – the article is mostly about PR, how about we comment on that instead of vacuous personal attacks. i will start. the UK will never be anything but cheap supermarket with no skills unless we get rid of these right wing and ‘centralist’ ( ie right wing ) people. the only way to achieve that now, after these boundary reforms ( ie right wing power consolidation ) is by PR.

  4. Michael WALKER

    ” People are against politicians who seem to be compromising all the time.’

    The only people who can afford not to compromise are:
    those with a huge majority in Parliament

    As Green are neither….

  5. CR

    PR would mean that Labour would never again win an overall majority. We would have compromise and coalition politics. Utter disaster for the working class of this country.

  6. Richard Lung

    Most countries degraded proportional representation to elections instituting political parties as the ruling class. Hence the Labour partys imposing that incumbents paradise, MMP, denounced by the Richard report, as denying the voters the fundamental democratic right to reject candidates. Most independent reports have favored STV/PR.
    Richard Lung.
    Peace-making Power-sharing.
    Scientific Method Of Elections.
    Science is Ethics as Electics.
    (All 3 free e-books now also available in pdf:

  7. Graham Wroe

    Labour need to wake up to the fact that the Tories are about to reduce the number of safe Labour seats in the boundary changes, which will make it practically impossible for them to beat the Tories under FPTP. They need to cooperate with other parties to beat the Tories and they must embrace PR.

  8. Robert Price

    I often wonder just what people mean by the word progress. I especially wonder what they mean by the word when they are talking about progressive politics. I know Left Wing has a meaning, even if it’s been deliberately mis-portrayed by people, so do the Political Economic ideas of Anarchy, Communism, Socialism, Egalitarianism, Democratic or State Socialism, Capitalism, Feudalism, and Fascism, though they are also mis-portrayed by many. Progressive, to me seems a word which avoids specific meaning.
    It seems to many in the Green Party progress means electoral reform; which is often accompanied by an explanation of how many more MPs the Party would have; a seeming call for more power for those who will be chosen to stand for the Green Party. The other part is, as I’ve read elsewhere, “at least some support for an anti-austerity and environmental platform.”
    So progress is more of the chosen few of the Party being better off as MPs; hopefully then as secondary thing we’ll also have some fight against austerity and climate change. The austerity which is killing people, and the climate change which may wipe our species off the face of the earth being secondary to the privileged few within the Green Party. Can nobody see why this is not what some may term as progress?
    I think progress would be an end to the economically illiterate idea of austerity and a recognition that Modern Monetary Theory is the correct explanation of the way our current economy works. This would then underpin Left Wing policies; that is those designed to reduce economic inequality; I say this since economic equality is the greatest it has ever been in recorded history, and it is so bad it is damaging the economy to the point where it ceases to function. The best way to do this is the Egalitarian system of Universal Minimum Income.
    I think progress would be an immediate move to fully renewable energy base. A move towards, we know it can’t be done overnight, but we need an effort to make it immediate and do all we can as we are in a situation of some urgency. This is best done in some way by Democratic Socialism and state action, but also by some level of co-ops in local areas for locally provided energy. Local level Democratic Socialism, and of course local level Socialism.
    For either of these to work we also need to remove the private greed from our public services. We need to have them run as best serves the nation and it’s inhabitants; this is best done nationalised and controlled by the nation through Democratic Socialism,
    If those three things are done by the Tory government and no other Party gets a single nose in the trough, I would be quite happy. We know they are unlikely to be done by an economically illiterate, ideologically driven, Conservative Party. We therefore look for those who actually want to improve things. They are not UKIP who at the core have the same faults in Political Economic ideology as the Conservatives. It is not also the Right Wing of the Labour Party who we hope will fail with their latest coup attempt.
    So we should look to those who will actually do the things which are desperately needed, rather than those who simply want power. it is and should be the main focus. If that means alliances with Communists, Socialists, or any other group big or small, it is those three aims which should be first ahead of any personal partisan desires. If they aren’t, and personal partisan desire for power is the main aim, then anyone in any political party is as unworthy of that power as the current incumbents.

  9. Victoria Priestley


  10. Anonymous

    A meme/slogan that is hopefully useful in framing the debate on progressive alliance : ‘Vision before pragmatism’. We need vision arising from more holistic, joined-up thinking to deal with the deliberately divided and individualistic society that neoliberalism has delivered, since it is accidentally unsustainable. If we’re going to challenge the dominant position of neoliberal thinking in our society, and move towards what we could label as **post**-neoliberal politics, we have to push boundaries and question the definitions of what is currently regarded as ‘pragmatic’ , ‘possible’ , ‘electable’ etc., and put aside stupid 2 party system mentality. The UKIP / referendum vote shows the demand for rejecting the status quo and demanding real change, a different politics (though not ‘progressive’, as UKIP are not post-neoliberal ). Those on the right must recognise that a £1.2 trillion tax-payer funded bank bailout, negative interest rates and food banks signals that neoliberalism hasn’t deiivered unalloyed progress, surely ? There are differences in emphasis of Labour (socio-economic, centralism) and the Greens (social / ecological sustainability, localism), but don’t throw out the baby with the bath-water ! There is so much common ground in terms of seeking joined-up / holistically-minded solutions to the division, fragmentation and unsustainability of neoliberalism , that we must move towards thinking in terms of alliances, and work against vested interests in promoting inter-party squabbling, which works very well for the status quo. With vision, the Green Party vote could be seen as an opportunity, not a threat within Labour and bolster post-neoliberalism in the Labour party; changing the voting system is a pragmatic step in letting the electorate vote for what they believe in, knowing that post-neoliberal parties will achknowledge differences, but work together on common ground for a change.

  11. Caroline Lucas: Electoral Reform Would Be a ‘Red Line’ In Pact Talks With Labour – Hub Politic

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  12. Michael WALKER

    I distrust any ideas which are lengthy a or are written in very long paragraphs.

    This is the internet: LONG replies just lose their impact.. And LONG paragraphs are impossible to follow.

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