Uniting the Left
5 March 2020, Blog
Recently, former Prime Minister Tony Blair gave a speech to audiences ahead of Labour’s 120th birthday celebration.
Journalists however, focused on one key aspect of Blair’s speech: How does the party go from being in opposition to being in power once again? More specifically; what role might the Liberal Democrats play in this transition.
During the 2019 election, the Liberal Democrats, Green Party, Plaid Cymru and in certain seats the Women’s Equality Party and Reform Party, formed the so-called Remain Alliance. The Alliance stood aside candidates in order to increase the ‘strongest’ candidate’s chances of success.
But this rainbow assortment of political parties noticeably missed a shade of red. The Alliance failed and Boris Johnson returned to Parliament with a sweeping majority.
It was largely understood that talks between the Remain Alliance (led by the Liberal Democrats) and senior figures of the Labour Party, took place but with no avail. Unsurprising, this was not the first time all-party cross-party talks failed.
During the latter stages of the parliamentary gridlock that plagued British politics during the two years that preceded the 2019 election, plans were drawn up by MPs who sought to replace the sitting Conservative Government with a Government of National Unity. However, talks came to a halt when those very MPs failed to agree on which individual should lead said National Government (see our blog: A Government of National Unity?).
Since the election, the Labour Party has been left significantly weakened and are currently undergoing a leadership contest to replace Jeremy Corbyn (The Labour Leadership Election).
The Liberal Democrats are equally as exhausted as Labour, and also seek a new leader.
The premise of an alliance between Labour and the other, smaller opposition parties, would previously serve those smaller parties (and particularly the Liberal Democrats) the greatest – the election changed this.
Advocates for such an alliance were predominantly parties that sought to gain the most, naturally – the volatility of this election meant that it was anyone’s best guess as to who would emerge as the least compromised.
Labour was less than forthcoming. They, understandably, sought to claim Downing Street by their own means. The Liberal Democrats, Greens, Plaid Cymru and Change UK were the most vocal in favour of such plans. They knew that without a united opposition, Johnson would be gift-wrapped Number 10; and he was, just in time for Christmas.
An election loss of this magnitude desperately needs reassessment. Therefore, whoever is elected to replace Jeremy Corbyn must recognise the position that the Party now finds itself in. They must win an additional 124 seats to govern once again. If successful, this would be far from comfortable as Labour would be governing on a slim majority which would be reliant on oppositional support.
A swing of this size is unlikely to be achieved in one election, unless some sort of new alliance can be forged. After two failed attempts at unifying the Left, largely down to Labour’s unwillingness to compromise, the onus is on the new Labour leader to extend an olive branch to all members.
Indeed, the Liberal Democrats are not free from judgement, they too demonstrated a reluctance to cooperate. If talks were unsuccessful with Labour HQ, the Liberal Democrats could have sought out individuals’ seats, where individual candidates could have forged local alliances.
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats should focus on what they can unite on and not what divides them. For as long as they stand at odds, the progressive, social and liberal agendas that both advocate for will never see the chance for enactment.