Britain’s political centrists and liberals can only look on jealously. The victory of Emmanuel Macron across the English Channel in France’s presidential race is reviving talk in Britain of a progressive alliance to deprive the Conservatives of a likely landslide win in next month’s parliamentary elections.
The leaders of the country’s main opposition Labor Party, however, are rejecting out of hand any electoral pact with the Liberal Democrats and Greens, despite mounting calls from activists for them to do so.
“Labor is a national party and everyone needs to have the opportunity to vote for a Labor candidate,” senior Labor lawmaker John Ashworth told reporters Monday. “Politicians who try to do these backroom deals never, ever come out of it well.”
Last week, Labor candidates in local elections suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of the Conservatives, losing control of councils in the party’s traditional heartland territory of the industrial Midlands and the north, regions that favor Brexit — Britain quitting the European Union.
If the voting pattern is repeated in the parliamentary elections on June 8, Labor could be facing a wipeout as large as the one it suffered in 1983 at the hands of Margaret Thatcher, who secured a 144-seat majority in the House of Commons. One gloomy newspaper columnist quipped that the local election setback was “a bloodbath foreshadowing a full-on abattoir come June 8.”
Nonetheless, Labor leaders also are discouraging supporters from engaging in tactical voting on election day, an idea touted by former Prime Minister Tony Blair to the fury of party stalwarts.
Blair and some other opposition party grandees have urged voters to back “progressive” candidates in the strongest position in their districts to defeat Brexit-supporting Conservative rivals.
Labor’s leader, the hard-left Jeremy Corbyn, is insisting against the facts, “We are closing the gap on the Conservatives.”
The Green Party has decided not to run candidates against Labor’s in London and the southern coastal town of Brighton, and it has demanded to no avail that Corbyn return the favor elsewhere. The Greens’ leader, Caroline Lucas, is accusing the Labor leader of paving the way for a Tory majority by ignoring calls for an election deal.
“We are going to wake up on June 9 and a lot of people are going to be asking themselves, ‘When will the left ever learn?’” she said Monday.
Lucas told BBC Radio, “We’ve still got a few more days where we could build on these alliances, which it isn’t just the Green Party asking for them, it is people up and down the country begging parties of the left and the center-left to get together to do grown-up politics and to be able to put in place a group of people who have a better chance of serving the interests of the people, rather than allowing a massive Tory landslide.”
As an electoral annihilation approaches, the Labor Party — moderates and hard-left alike — appears more eager to focus on internal ideological battles and to position itself for an internecine fight after the election. The ideological divisions are spilling out publicly on the campaign trail as party members fight for the soul of their party and Labor candidates opposed to Corbyn distance themselves publicly from their leader.
Labor moderates see a huge defeat on June 8 as the only way of forcing Corbyn, who has weathered several attempts by them to oust him, to resign. As they see it, that would clear the path for a moderate to replace him. The party could then begin the arduous process of expunging the hard left from its ranks, modernizing the party and returning Labor to credibility, much as the Labor modernizer Tony Blair and his supporters did more than 20 years ago after Thatcher’s three-on-the-trot [one after the other] election victories.
Corbyn loyalists, many of whom are young entryists from far-left Trotskyite groups, are less interested in electoral politics, say their critics, and are focused on refashioning the party as a revolutionary protest movement, pure in ideology and untainted by the nasty compromises electoral politics require.
Some Labor stalwarts are turning away from the party’s tribal politics. A former Labor minister, Chris Mullin, a former darling of the Labor left and a one-time editor of the weekly Tribune newspaper, once the home of writer George Orwell, believes “the only way forward” is “an eventual pact between Labor, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens not to oppose each other in marginal seats.”
“It will be difficult for any party that is not the Conservative party to form a government on its own in the foreseeable future,” Mullin recently argued.
“It may take three or four election defeats for the penny to drop,” he added.
Even if the penny did drop [meaning: an understanding of the situation occurs] before June 8, it is not clear, thanks to Britain’s first-past-the-post voting system, that a ‘progressive’ electoral pact could even stop the Conservative juggernaut. Pollsters say a functioning progressive alliance would only reduce a likely Tory majority.