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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Has May 7th signalled the beginning of a new progressive alliance?

A consolation of no longer being in government is that I feel that I am able to read the Guardian again. And tucked away at the bottom of this article about the need to reclaim the Liberal Democrats for the progressive left is a tantalising proposal that is well-worth further discussion.

Although I associate myself with the progressive left of my own party I do not necessarily agree with the analysis that says that Clegg and his fellow Ministers led the party down a 'centrist blind alley'. The discipline of government and the difficulties of coalition meant that we inevitably had to compromise on many of our policies.

The mistake was not going into coalition, and after all many of those criticising Clegg now voted for that coalition, but the way we conducted ourselves in the crucial first few years. Liberal Democrat Ministers failed to understand the constituency that had put them there in the first place and allowed the office to put a distance between themselves and voters. So instead of having clear red lines in negotiations, and understanding that tuition fees had to be one of those, we went with the flow and lost the trust of our supporters.

I think that Meral Hussein-Ece is absolutely right when she says that presenting ourselves as a coalition party rather than setting out our values and where we come from was a serious mistake.

How we come back from this is a matter up for discussion, but I am intrigued by the suggestion of Caroline Lucas, that in the absence of a fair voting system we need to co-operate on the progressive left as we have never done so before. She says:

“The system is wrong and we should have electoral reform, but that could be some time coming. So we need other ways to work together in a progressive alliance. Where it is appropriate, only one progressive candidate could stand in a seat – a sort of electoral pact. Cooperation during the EU referendum campaign could be the start of it.”

If we can form a genuine cross-party pro-Europe coalition to fight the in-out referendum then that really could be the start of something bigger. My one caveat is that if we do it and if we succeed then the first priority of that progressive left government must be to change the voting system for ever so that we can ensure that in the future the way people vote is reflected in the result.
The only way a progressive alliance could be credible is under a single banner, with a single leader (or nominee PM) and an agreed manifesto. That's probably not the best thing for a party like ours that's trying to rebuild itself and gain new traction for its beliefs and identity (and to do that faster than Labour!!)

The election debates were a gift for Cameron because it condensed the election as a fight between 'him', the PM and the team (excl Lib Dems) that got the county back on its feet; and 'them' - squabbling lefties that want to spend people's money and risk the recovery (especially the anti-austerity voices at a time the Greek government - Greece again - were asking for donations to pay doctors). That's how so many independent voters got it!

And, no I don't know that I can suggest another, better option right now. And the Tories are going to alter the boundaries to give themselves another 20 seat buffer.

Let's talk privately to others but for the next two years at least we need to be flying our own flag and attracting people to the cause imho.

Morning Peter.
I too support your view that it was the right and responsible action for the Party to go into coalition 5 years ago. You know only too well from your time in coalition in the Welsh Assembly that compromise has to be reached to make any progress. Life for the Lib Dems will continue to be tough for the next few years and elections (good luck next year!) but now is the time to truly re-establish our identity..........and enough of this horrible phrase 'red lines'! We should state these are OUR policies and promote them accordingly.
On a further note the issue of PR must be kept on the agenda - it is much fairer than FPTP. However, a considered argument will need to be made to counter the very real fear that people have seeing the number of seats that UKIP would have attained applying PR to the results from last Thursday. Of course, people may well have voted differently if the system was different. Finally, the result is what it is as I believe you have said/written yourself. People of other political persuasions need to accept that and stop looking backwards and reacting to last week's outcome but forwards as you suggest in a constructive and collegiate manner.
Howard (Evans)
The biggest failure was to lose the AV referendum. That's when I tore up my L-D party card after 30 years! (So it was the Liberal Party that I had joined.)

But the lacklustre performance by L-Ds, the stupidity of having it on the same day as assembly elections, the failure to threaten Cameron BEFOREHand.

Just this one victory would have justified Coalition. L-D failure justifies the wipeou
The failure was compromising on AV and on a referendum. We should have insisted on implementation without one. Come back Conall. We can rebuild from here.
I, too, have read the article you mention in the Guardian and the comments from Caroline Lucas. One of the issues for me is that we need to remember that this type of analysis is based on the political environment in England (and often the southern half of England). As we all know, the political environment here in Wales is different.

For me, the greatest block to political progress and a progressive agenda in Wales is not the Conservative Party, it's the Welsh Labour Party. Yes, the election of a majority Conservative Government in London is bad news all round for all progressives. However, in the context of Wales, I cannot conceive that any progressive alliance could include the Labour Party. So, it would be an alliance of the Welsh Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and perhaps the Green Party (although I find the Green Party worrying illiberal and it doesn't seem to recognise Wales as a distinct Nation).

However, we seem to be ignoring the progressive centre and centre-right - with which I identify. Unfortunately, this has no real voice in Welsh politics and consists of individuals in both the Welsh Lib Dems and the Welsh Conservatives. Perhaps a real home for these people can be made in the Welsh Lib Dems or a Welsh Liberal Party? I would suggest they need to be part of any emerging progressive alliance here in Wales.

In the absence of any realistic prospect of electoral reform, I agree with Caroline Lucas that we need to think about how we co-operate together to oppose the forces of conservatism - in Wales represented by the Welsh Labour Party and the Welsh Conservatives. I also agree that the starting point for this is likely to be the EU referendum campaign.
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