It’s time for progressives in the Liberal Democrats and Greens to unite

By bringing together campaigners from both the Lib Dems and the Greens, the Social Liberal Forum is trying to build a new radical liberalism.

Pic: Green co-leader Caroline Lucas backed a ‘progressive alliance’ with Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney in Richmond in 2016.

Social liberalism is about creating a society based on individual liberty and social justice, where power is devolved to the lowest possible level and where we protect the planet for future generations – and many Green party members share these values.

The Social Liberal Forum (SLF) started out as a faction within the Liberal Democrats about ten years ago. Its founders recognised that tribalism within British progressive politics has played straight in to the hands of the Conservative Party.

Two months ago, the SLF passed a resolution to formally invite supporters and members of the Green Party to join the Forum. At the same meeting, a constitutional amendment was passed that committed the Social Liberal Forum to a “progressive alliance of people, ideas and campaigns”.

So here we are, saying hello, and hoping you’ll join us.

As pluralists, the SLF has long cooperated with those from different backgrounds on issues of common interest. It is apparent that SLF members share a whole host of important concerns and values with many Greens, whether on the environment, social justice, political reform and the EU.

It is dispassionately the case that many social liberals and Greens fall on a similar part of the political spectrum. Social liberals and Greens have big ideas that the wider progressive movement need to prosper in the 21st century.

As well as admiring the contribution made in recent generations by Green philosophy, we both hugely appreciate the risk taken by many Greens in trying to introduce equal votes and make a progressive realignment happen.

For us, there is no denying that the number of local Green parties standing aside candidates in a swathe of seats at the 2017 General Election in England and Wales helped deny the Tories their majority.

Stronger relations are being formed between more and more of us at the local level all the time, and some (though not yet enough!) local Lib Dem parties are findings ways to reciprocate the generosity they have benefited from.

For example, in this year’s local elections in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames Greens and Lib Dems entered into a smart targeting arrangement and made a swathe of gains from Conservatives.

This included a new cohort of four Greens getting onto the Council. But we really don’t think Greens have yet received the appreciation their progressive leadership deserves. So, thank you.

In terms of our recent history, the SLF has been a vehicle for centre-left liberals in the Lib Dem party to push back against the march of free market fundamentalism.

SLF members hold contrasting views on the suitability and effectiveness of the Coalition, but we unambiguously and consistently challenged its austerity economics and many of its reforms, including to the NHS and cuts to welfare (not least the heartless ‘bedroom tax’). We continue to work to restore the Lib Dems’ role as a reliable force in progressive politics.

More generally, social liberals are the successors to Britain’s radical liberal tradition, as are many Green members. This is a tradition that won us political rights, built the foundations of the welfare state, and has continually advocated for greater international cooperation to better tackle global issues. And these battles are far from won, including obtaining fundamental political rights.

Ensuring equal votes should be a basic prerequisite in any democracy, yet in ours many voters – including many Green and Lib Dem voters – are routinely disenfranchised due a voting system that invariably fails to match votes and seats.

There should be room for greens and liberals to assert their distinctive philosophies – and be genuinely represented – in a properly pluralistic political landscape. Yet we will not achieve this if we allow tribalists among us to put up barriers, rather than combine forces to advance common priorities.

And more generally, progressives in all parties should be working more closely for mutual benefit and in ways that honour the best of our values. Far too often we directly compete with or are estranged from one another, to the advantage of those with whom we have far greater differences. If we are to forge a future that is more equal, liberal and green, those that want it need to collaborate.

We are both already Friends of the Green Party and we urge Greens who share our outlook to consider joining the SLF too.

By bringing together social liberals from both the Lib Dems and the Greens, the SLF can grow and ensure our voices are better heard.  Let’s put aside tribalism and rivalry and do what our real enemies fear the most – work better together.

Paul Pettinger and Paul Hindley are members of the Council of the Social Liberal Forum.

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