Soon after the Brexit Referendum vote I attended an event on ‘Post-Brexit Alliance Building‘ hosted by Compass. The event was billed as the first in a number of “public meetings to explore: what could a progressive alliance look like? How possible is it? And what can we do to start to make it feasible?” You can watch the whole thing on YouTube here.
With all the discussion about prospective alliances in post-Brexit UK I was interested to attend something billed as a form of consultation, however limited. That Caroline Lucas would be there – understood to have got the ball rolling – indicated that there might be some real content to the discussion on what such an alliance would look like. I’m glad I went, it clarified a number of thoughts I had about the risks and challenges we may face along this path.
1. Politics has changed irrevocably, but not all political parties have cottoned on…
…or at least if they have, they are not discussing it publically. If the results of the Referendum showed anything, the UK has split along lines that bear little relationship to the traditional party allegances. The speakers on the panel tried to reflect this, discussing the many reasons why the traditional heartlands of the Labour party were voting for Brexit – most eloquently by John Harris. But then the conversation – whether expressed from the panel or the audience – returned to Tory and UKIP bashing. One audience member stood up to speak for a broader alliance and reaching out to Conservative Remain voters, but it was a lone voice.
In this new political order, vocally demonising Conservative and UKIP voters will be the limit to the realignment of politics and will block the opportunity to bring people together along these new lines. If I had been a Leave voter on the left, I would not have felt welcome here. If I had been a Remain voter who aligned usually with the centre-right I would have felt equally unwelcome.
I agree with the need for alliance building, I agree wholeheartedly with the need to change the way we do politics in our country, but Tories & UKIP voters and supporters are not themselves the cause of the split across the country.
2. We are preaching to the choir.
Throughout the event there was an understandably hefty amount of preaching to the choir – much applause for Caroline indicating a welcome Green presence, appropriate welcome was given to the excellent speech from Amina Gichinga from Take Back the City, but the loudest applause was reserved for Clive Lewis MP when talking about his decision to stand behind Jeremy Corbyn MP as Labour leader. There was no question that there was a healthy number of Momentum supporters in the audience, and so it was no surprise when the event descended into a discussion of internal Labour politics at a number of points.
A #ProgressiveAlliance already exists – containing socialists, social democrats, liberals and trade unionists. It's called the Labour Party.
— George Aylett (@GeorgeAylett) July 5, 2016
Everyone is preaching to the choir, while the congregation is listening to UKIP shouting at the back.
Aside from awareness that the audience was almost entirely made up of party faithful (albeit of a lightly larger number of stripes than usual), the sheer number of times conversation turned to internal Labour politics leads me to conclude that…
3. The path of a post-Brexit #ProgressiveAlliance will depend on what happens inside Labour party.
It was interesting to note that it was a ‘Corbynist’ who attended this event from the Labour party. The Liberal Democrats were ably represented by Vince Cable, but in conversations I have heard since seems to be clear that the ‘centre left’ are more attractive partners than the ‘far left’. This was partnered by the twitterverse on the night indicating that the Lib Dems would not be welcome.
Out of curiosity, who thought it was a good idea to invite the Lib Dems into a prospective #ProgressiveAlliance
— Michael Wright (@posh_mike) July 5, 2016
It was very clear that the public conversation at the moment is very much swayed by the idea that ‘Progressive’ = far left of the centre. But we know that in the real world this is not the case.
Let us be honest, if the Labour Party does split, either side will rely on some form of alliance if they are to hold onto their position as primary opposition. Whether and how the party splits will direct everything if the political landscape is to move beyond the simplification of UK politics into a Left/Right axis, along with the chance for a reformulation of the political system beyond that.
#Brexit is only the start.