Progressive alliances must be locally-led
A few weeks ago, Liberal Democrat members in Brighton Pavilion voted not to stand against Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, following a debate in which local party members from all three Brighton and Hove constituencies were encouraged to make a contribution.
As a local party we had been investigating this possibility before the election was called. Contrary to some reports, our party leadership supported the devolution of the decision to local members.
The motion to stand down passed with a margin of three to one, with members citing two main reasons:
First, we felt that Lucas had been an ally of the Lib Dems, campaigning against the Conservatives’ reckless hard Brexit and sharing our position on a second referendum.
The second popular argument concerned the Green Party’s decision to stand down in support of the ultimately successful Lib Dem candidate Sarah Olney at the Richmond Park by-election. We wanted to show solidarity and acknowledge our debt.
Our decision was without strings — we were the first of the national progressive parties in this election to vote not to field a candidate. We took a leap of faith and hoped that our action would make others act in the same way.
No matter what happens in this election, I will always be proud of our local party for taking this decision.
What is the future for progressive alliances?
I think there are three challenges.
Firstly, we must find constructive ways to amplify the voices of those who stand down. A party that withdraws foregoes the opportunity to share their message at the very time when people are listening. This sacrifice isn’t sustainable if we want a healthy democracy, and so it’s necessary for the beneficiary party to be both gracious and inclusive in their reaction.
Secondly, we should accept and respect that local parties will make different decisions about whether, where and how to collaborate — and for different reasons. There are no rules. Progressive candidates selected to stand in marginal constituencies are not responsible for the failings of our voting system. Their local members may support them standing even when they might injure another progressive candidate with a better chance. Let’s build support for progressive alliances based on positive examples not shame and blame.
Finally, we need to build on the advances we have made and support local parties who make ground-breaking decisions. People will resist change but let’s have an honest appraisal of what has been achieved and acknowledge that those difficult decisions have made a difference for the better.
Increasingly campaigners and voters dislike tribalism and excessive negativity in politics. We need to find smart ways to collaborate given our electoral system rewards unity and compromise. I hope there is a pluralist way forward for progressives to both acknowledge and respect their differences whilst not losing sight of what we have in common.
Michael Wilbur is chair of Brighton and Hove Liberal Democrats
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