Rob Bryher examines the consequences if Remainers or anti-Tories join forces to fight Brexit.
I have written previously with reservations about a Remain alliance: see 10 reasons Greens should avoid a Remain alliance. With the distinct prospect of a Brexit-oriented general election, what would be the specific aims?
Would it be a Remain alliance or an anti-Tory alliance?
Firstly, we need to ask whether the aims of a Remain alliance are clear and obvious. Superficially, the aim would be to return MPs who support some combination of revoking article 50 and a People’s Vote on the negotiated Brexit deal (or no deal) versus a Remain option.
Theoretically, there could be a number of Tory MPs who support this concept, but they have all been cast out and are now sitting as independents. So, in actual fact, this could more broadly be described as an anti-Tory alliance.
This is pretty much what was arranged in 2017 under the title of the progressive alliance. I think it would be more honest if we just called it an anti-Tory alliance and forgot the Brexit element — with the simple aim of returning non-Tory MPs.
The question is then how and whether this would work to stop the Tories from continuing in office.
Labour doesn’t seem interested in the idea — as it would involve them standing down for other parties, which is against their constitution. Therefore the alliance would be between Greens, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the SNP.
As an English person living in England, arrangements in Scotland and Wales are not something on which I will comment, except to say that it is probably much harder to negotiate three ways than two.
In England, the choice would then effectively be between Labour and either the Greens or Lib Dems. This means that floating anti-Tory voters would still receive at least two choices, which sort of defeats the point of an alliance from the word ‘go’ in most seats.
Which seats, then, should Lib Dems and Greens negotiate over, if they’re going to negotiate at all?
Greens will want to do well in key seats like Bristol West and Sheffield Central and they may think that Lib Dems not being on the ballot paper would help in such places.
Lib Dems will want more of a free run in Lib Dem/Tory marginals, particularly in the South West. This might lead to a few seats changing hands, but it is difficult to see this as anything other than a limited operation when the voting system produces such a lopsided electoral map between Greens and Lib Dems.
Lib Dems have more fingers in more electoral pies at present.
Is it good for Greens and the left generally? There are huge political questions about the Green Party allying solely with the Lib Dems and how that is perceived by the public. Very little time has passed since the Lib Dems enabled the Tories to implement brutal austerity measures and some of the Green activist base who focus primarily on council elections will naturally feel sceptical of the whole venture.
The gains are mostly, seemingly, for the Lib Dems in any negotiations.
Would such an arrangement directly lead to an ousting of the Tories from government? This seems unlikely in and of itself if there are only a few seats over which to negotiate. However, many Greens and others on the left may believe the price of limited short-term cooperation with a pro-austerity party is worth it if it succeeds in this goal.
It could result in a People’s Vote and an opportunity for proportional representation and constitutional reform, if the anti-Tory parties need to negotiate a shared power arrangement. This is catnip to anyone dreaming of a more progressive future, with a marginalised Conservative Party and an end to the Brexit mess.
Rob Bryher is coordinator of the Bristol Green Party but is writing in a personal capacity.
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