Lib-Lab pact; the future of progressive politics?

This argument is always bound to generate alot of heat and that is to a degree understandable because people’s party loyalties are tribal in character. Sometimes that is a good thing and sometimes that is a bad thing; generally, when it gets in the way of advancing common causes or agendas it’s a bad thing. However, with the prospect of a hung-parliament advancing over the horizon if not with a dread certainty then at least with the air of expectant possibility it is certainly an issue that needs discussing.

David Osler on Liberal Conspiracy doesn’t like the idea that much. He is totally right to argue;

The historic significance  of Labourism rests in its partial expression of a clear desire for an independent working class voice in electoral politics in the opening decades of the twentieth century.

Something that I have time and time again we simply culturally havent got a clue about nor do we, as a party, appreciate the significance of this. We simply don’t culturally ‘get’ the Labour Party (or indeed to a large degree the working class either) so, it is unsurprising that we are characterised as opportunists often because it often speaks to a truth. Dave rightly also sees that the ‘centre-right’ drift of the Labour Party means the Liberal Democrats would not act as a ‘radical break’ on Labour; indeed, in some areas there is much to commend our radicalism and in initiatives like the ones over tax we bring important and worthy ideas to the mix.

Furthermore, there is a generalised crisis of representation which doesn’t just apply to the working class and a feeling that ‘us’ against ‘them’ actually means the rest of us versus the ‘political class’ as Jim Jepps rightly points out. So, a radical progressive party has more than one crisis of representation to solve and all this is taking place in an ideological ferment where liberalism’s time has passed and it’s relevance is marginal in a world where the freedom of trade is no longer a burning issue and the heady days of the Enlightenment are long-gone. However, so is Social Democracy which is having its own crisis in a world which is showing signs of discontent with how things are but shows no great desire for a radically different form of society. In fact, there is a strong renewal of the belief in the capacities of reformism and that if things were just done a little better, then capitalism might well be ok. In other words, both sides have precious little, if anything to lose. Incidentally, this applies to the wider picture; Labour is in definite need of an injection of new ideals and zeal and we are never going to supplant the Labour Party or get close to ruling this country as the majority party accept as the adjunct of one of the ‘big two’.

Both would benefit from the ideological ferment that such a merger would create and something that is more than the sum of its parts would emerge. Something that could meet the challenges of a Conservatism that is trying to reinvent itself to fill the progressive void.  Both parties would pay a price for a coalition but ultimately it would be one worth paying. Labour would almost certainly have to change their leader, something they will naturally do in any case, and support at least electoral reform in the form of AV+ but this is something they should have done long ago. No doubt Liberal Democrats who love the free market will take flight at such a creation but this would be no bad thing as it would stop the blunting of our narrative which occurs as the leadership scrambles to appease both wings and keep them happy in the ‘Big Tent’.

No doubt such an arrangement would present massive challenges but it would also present a unique opportunity to, in opposing the Conservatives, finding a way to breath new life into progressive politics….


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10 responses to “Lib-Lab pact; the future of progressive politics?”

  1. plumbus says :

    There is so much in Marks article I disagree with its hard to know where to begin. I have no interest in going over old, dead issues but i would strongly contest the idea that Labour ever saw itself as the voice of the working class. Labour was founded by & for the trade unions ie the organised male working class, the party never showed much interest in votes for women, for example.
    I am fairly confident that the GE will result in a hung parliament, giving Labour the choice of going into opposition or trying to make a deal with us. We should certainly try to get adeal, if only to protect the country from a Tory government. Our choice is whether to go for coalition or to support a minority administration, there are strong arguments both ways.
    We should focus on fair taxes, the green economy & civil rights, not get hung up on AV vs AV+.
    As for overtaking Labour, there a good chance we will get more votes than them next year. Even if we dont they are in long term decline, tied to unions in decline, with an aging membership, we can beat them.


  2. darrellgoodliffe says :


    Well, I think you can argue there is a dichotomy between how it saw itself and how things actually were but I think there is little basis to deny that the idea of working class representation was the Labour Party’s ‘USP’ in it’s early years so in terms of self-preception I think your largely wrong to be honest though of course that is not how it sees itself now.

    Sections of it did (ie, Keir Hardie) and sections of it didnt as you rightly say. Glad that you ackowledge the menace that is the prospect of a Conservative government. Agreed but id be in favour of a coalition I think because it would cause the ideological ferment I pointed too. Agreed on the policy focuses.

    I doubt it very much and I do not at all see either of the things you mention in terminal decline. In fact, they are heading in the opposite direction I would argue….


  3. Joe Otten says :

    If this merged party were to be a genuine voice of the working class, then most of the current Labour Party would have to leave it too.


  4. darrellgoodliffe says :


    True enough; the Blairites probably would….


  5. Joe Otten says :

    Which begs the question – why would you try to make a party which is the voice of the working class by merging two parties neither of which are?

    Why should I agonise about the genuine voice of the working class when as a middle class person I could never be it?


  6. darrellgoodliffe says :


    Are you willfully ignoring this part of the central text?

    “Furthermore, there is a generalised crisis of representation which doesn’t just apply to the working class and a feeling that ‘us’ against ‘them’ actually means the rest of us versus the ‘political class’ as Jim Jepps rightly points out.”


  7. Joe Otten says :

    Darell, it seems to me that the class analysis talks up these divisions in society, which will only make your crisis of representation worse.

    I suggest the answer lies not in replacing one elite-identity group with the next but engaging citizens in the political process as individuals.


  8. darrellgoodliffe says :


    And I think that is a patently absurd position. Lets all hold hands and sing together and pretend everything is rosy in the garden shall we?

    The problem is that your view is so fundementally disconnected from reality; for example, once people engage as individuals they enter collective action either in the form of a party or campaign. So engaging with them just as atomised individuals doesnt make much sense from that perspective…..


  9. Joe Otten says :

    No Darrell, what is absurd is your contention that the solution to the country’s problems is to divide people up according to what kind of job they do, and to promote the interests of some groups against that of others.

    Clearly, as you say, engagement in the political process is not being an atomised individual. What is important is that people get to speak for themselves, and are not defined and pigeonholed by the social class, race, religion, or whatever, they belong to.


  10. darrellgoodliffe says :


    I don’t need to divide anybody; objective reality exists much though you would deny it.

    However, it is only when people express a collective identity and fight as a group that progress is made and that is a historical fact which is rather awkward for you is it not?


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