The Labour Party of old is gone, the political dynamics have changed and the Left needs to unite behind a movement based on ideas rather than the rosettes worn by MPs on election day. The UK, in its current form, will not last the next twenty years so it is best for Labour to work with other progressive forces, especially at Westminster, to bring about better societies in Scotland, Wales and England. By establishing electoral pacts with other parties a left-wing government will be much easier to elect, but it is up to Labour to make such a move.
Yesterday the Green Party’s former leader and only current MP Caroline Lucas penned an open letter in The Independent to Jeremy Corbyn calling for an electoral pact on a seat-by-seat basis between Labour and the Greens. In effect it would result in Green candidates endorsing candidates and visa versa; Lucas’ statement was courageous because many Labour figures have criticised the Greens for having unrealistic policies and many Green Party activists, although agreeing with Lucas on forming a left-wing front to fight the Tories, are wary of Corbyn because of his previous support for the coal industry. By having candidates run without any left-wing opposition Labour could reallocate resources to other seats or the parties could pool their resources in certain regions to improve their grassroots operations.
In Scotland Labour shouldn’t portray the SNP as an extreme nationalist party because that would only alienate people who used to be Labour supporters and would risk painting those former Labour voters as extremists. Prior to the 2015 General Election I would have called for an electoral pact between Labour and the SNP but based on the spectacular in the election I would say that that ship has sailed. Furthermore the competition for success in the upcoming Holyrood Elections in addition to the shift in Scotland’s political dynamics since the 2014 Independence Referendum which made Labour politically toxic from an SNP perspective.
However it would be foolish for Labour to go it alone at Westminster because the SNP ran on a manifesto in 2015 that was deliberately similar to Labour’s; the SNP’s cohort at Westminster are ideologically similar to most Labour Party members and ignoring 56 MPs due to some policy differences, despite agreeing on most things, is illogical. Labour and the SNP need to work together at Westminster to challenge the Tory austerity agenda; as much as there will be rhetoric and hostility running up to the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary Elections the two parties are united in their disgust at the Tories’ policy programme.
Wales will be an interesting ‘petri dish’ to see how Labour do in heartlands where nationalist sentiment is not as strong as in Scotland. The upcoming Assembly Elections have to take a long-term approach with the 2020 General Election in mind, but Labour AMs and activists won’t like it. Labour and Plaid Cymru should work together with the Greens to form a three-way pact in order to squeeze out Tory and Lib Dem constituency AMs; obviously this won’t affect the number of Lib Dem and Tory list AMs elected but it would give a left-wing government a super-majority at Cardiff Bay. The key part that Labour figures would reject is working to see Plaid Cymru’s candidates elected in their current Assembly constituencies as well as in UK parliamentary constituencies held by the Lib Dems and the Tories where Labour is not in the running.
Obviously, much like the electoral pact with the Greens in England, the reciprocal would be true with Plaid helping out Labour where they have no chance of winning, however it would be more controversial in Welsh elections as Plaid has a significant number of AMs at Cardiff Bay and their success would prevent a Labour majority government. Such a pact with Plaid Cymru would have three purposes: to build up Plaid Cymru in marginals to elect a left-wing candidate, to shore up the Labour vote in heartlands by ending the left-wing voter split thus preventing UKIP from undercutting Labour’s position, and to establish Plaid Cymru in parts of Wales that wouldn’t vote for Labour but may agree with left-wing policies.
An example of where such an electoral pact in Wales in action would be in Cardiff North which saw the Conservative candidate elected on 42.22% of the vote; a three-way pact between the Greens, Labour and Plaid would have taken this left-wing candidate up to 45.21% thus preventing one more Tory MP in Westminster. Another example in reverse would be in the case of the Lib Dem stronghold of Ceredigion where the yellow rosette-wearing candidate was elected on just 35.85%; even if the Greens’ 5.58% is discounted, Labour telling its supporters to vote for Plaid Cymru would have boosted its vote to 37.31% (a three-way pact including the Greens would have been a border-line landslide).
However the other part of this electoral strategy, stemming from the rise of UKIP, is almost certainly going to be rejected by the Labour Party’s activists in Wales. Labour needs to, in effect, build up Plaid Cymru as the Welsh working-class’ protest party and as an alternative to Labour, much like how the SNP are in Scotland. If Plaid can be established as a protest party for working people rather than UKIP, a left-wing candidate will always be elected. This will be difficult as the electoral alliance in parts of Wales risks discouraging UKIP voters from supporting Plaid as they would see that as essentially voting Labour, however in Westminster constituencies occupied by Tories working class UKIP voters supporting Plaid, along with Labour supporters because of an electoral pact, would see fewer Tories elected.
In Preseli Pembrokeshire the Tory candidate won 40.40% of the vote with Labour down on 28.14%; if Plaid Cymru was built up to be working class people’s alternative to Labour and took half of UKIP’s vote, Plaid Cymru, with the electoral support of of the Greens and Labour, would win the seat with 43.18%. Admittedly for Labour activists this example would be particularly hard to take as Labour finished second in 2015, but I would argue that the people who voted UKIP who used to vote Labour feel like Labour left them and want to vote for a different party; Labour reaching out to UKIP voters may not bring them back to left-wing party in the same way as Plaid Cymru’s particular brand of socialism and civic nationalism may well would.
In the run up to the 2015 General Election Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood called for a progressive alliance to lock out the Tories from Downing Street. This concept has to be adopted by Labour in order for the UK, whilst it still exists, to have a left-wing government. Working with the SNP in Westminster, building up Plaid Cymru, and working with the Greens in England and Wales would increase the number of progressive voices in and around Whitehall. The Right in Northern Ireland came together in 2015 to keep out the SDLP and Sinn Fein in a number of seats; it is time that the many left-wing forces stopped fighting each other and worked co-operatively to kick the Tories out of office.