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A note on the Progressive Alliance and Common Platform

Compass (Part 2 - Examples of What Good Looks Like - Getting Organised) has and is promoting a Progressive Alliance together with the development of a common platform.

  • The Progressive Alliance is (as I understand it) an electoral alliance whereby the broad left of centre parties (calling themselves progressives) field a single candidate rather than split the anti-conservative vote. This should make a centre-left government more likely.
  • The common platform is the programme for that government following the success of the electoral alliance. The common platform is being worked on right now, one certain inclusion will be the creation of some form of PR so that after this landmark government all future ones will need to build coalitions that have at least 51% electoral support. 

The electoral alliance was proposed in 2016 but failed to persuade enough people to make a difference. I assume it was the fact that the electoral alliance failed to gain much traction in the 2016 general election that has led to the idea of the common platform, because it makes the offer more concrete. The Progressive Alliance has a mountain to climb, which roughly summed up translates into this, its means and ends don’t match up as I explain below. This criticism does not make me happy, Compass has some really creative ideas and the Electoral Alliance is very seductive one, so let’s look at it in more detail.

  • It is, in the end a tactic of the status quo; it is directed to the achievement of a parliamentary majority followed by the enactment of top down change.

Although the government elected as a result of the Electoral Alliance will enact a change so that all subsequent ones will require a coalition that add up to 51% electoral support, there is after that change (an other things in the Common Programme) has been enacted a return to the party-political process and a resumption of the competition to win control of the state. The problem is that there is no perfect form of representative democracy. Where first past the post delivers parliamentary majorities to parties with minority support in the country, PR delivers minorities in the country a powerful (and so corrupting?) role in parliament as power brokers. This is not just a design issue, the current problems in Israel where small right-wing parties have a disproportionate say, or the problems experienced in Belgium which failed to form a government for over a year, cannot be wished away, they are real problems. We just swap one set of rules for another, it’s not a transformational change.

Holistic Political Economy envisages a situation in which party politics becomes irrelevant. The critique is that it is party discipline, withers inevitable tribalism that is damaging. It reinforces confrontational behaviours. The mechanism, within holistic political economy, by which this negative behaviour is addressed is wide engagement of people in policy making using lots where necessary. Consensus is the by-product of open policy making and policy making itself becomes an integral part of the process. Policy is not longer the preserve of interest groups, think tanks and party back rooms. The practice of politics becomes the quest for good governance both in policy formulation and execution, this requires a fundamental change.

  • Although those advocating the Electoral Alliance and Common Platform have a healthy scepticism of tribalism it relies on existing parties & collides with their party discipline.

Small parties find it easier to agree to an Electoral Alliance, but maybe the greens would have more support now if they had not agreed to it in 2016 (Note: Greens Review Electoral Alliance), large parties are still seduced by the prospect of winning on their own terms. Labour coming on side looks like a deal breaker, some members of the party were actually disciplined for supporting the progressive alliance in 2016 and since then Jeremy Corbyn has transformed the party boosting its membership to over 500,000 members this is hardly likely to make it amenable to standing down in any seats. Many left-wing activists have concluded that the better tactic is (as they see it) to ride the wave that is supporting Jeremy Corbyn even if they have doubts about his leadership. We should not forget that Tony Blair had an arrangement with Paddy Ashdown in 1997 only to abandon it because of the landslide victory.

  • There may be alternative vision within Compass, but it is not widely shared, nor coherently presented.

After 30 years of the destruction of left positions as an intellectual argument, alongside the devastation of the communities, institutions and manufacturing base that supported it, we are starting from scratch. We first have to propose an intellectually coherent alternative story to neo-liberalism and then we have to propose a constructive alternative through the promotion of (and action based on) the long-term vision of what good looks like. The first step is to build the demand for an alternative, that is to build the culture that it will gain strength from. 

  • Although the electoral alliance is designed to overcome the first past the post barrier (which it can easily do on paper) it collides with the widespread disenchantment and disengagement with current politics and politicians.

I explore this in Present, Limited Participation and Disengagement – The structure of Disengagement. A side effect of this is that he electoral alliance is vulnerable to being criticised in ways that plays to this disaffection, for example that it is nothing short of limiting people’s choice at the ballot box. The potency of criticism like this, especially when, as I argue above, the Vision and the widespread culture to support it is missing, should not be underestimated.