Is a Plural Left the way forward for Labour?
Neal Lawson has an interesting piece in the Social Europe Journal criticising the Labour leadership candidates for not mentioning either Europe or the need for coalitions. According to Neal the new Coalition represents the increasing ‘Europeanisation’ of British politics and Labour must respond by forming coalitions of its own. However, there are still significant differences and the challenges to establishing a ‘plural left’ in Britain are different to those on the continent. One obvious and glaring difference is the electoral system which thus far has accommodated Labour’s position of dominance as the progressive centre-left standard-bearer.
Of course, this may well change however there has to be a serious question mark over whether the introduction of AV will usher in that much significant change given its conspicuous lack of proportionality. So at the very least a coalition lacks the urgent impetus of necessity and when push comes to shove this is the mother of most political invention. The electoral system also reduces the pool of suitable suitors; the one party that may have fitted the bill currently sits on the government benches with the Conservatives. For the foreseeable future at least the prospect of Liberal Democrat involvement in a progressive coalition has shrunk from nil to none; if there was skepticism in the Labour ranks before then just imagine what fighting against a ‘ConDem’ coalition will do. Meanwhile, the Greens only have one MP and the problem with the nationalist parties is just that; they maybe broadly centre-left in orientation but they are organised around nationalist shibboleths.
Coalitions are not without their problems; France’s ‘Plural Left’ famously imploded following its electoral defeat (a natural consequence of defeat; coalitions are more brittle than singular parties with their backs against the wall). Work on rebuilding it is making steady progress but the point remains that in adversity single parties are stronger and less likely to fall apart after bad results; bad results for coalitions accentuate differences (and so it will be with the ConDems when that time comes). Nonetheless a strong, almost moral, case exists for a ‘Plural Left’. It would show that Labour was intent on taking a radically different direction and in some regards the experience would benefit Labour both culturally and politically. For the left as well it might well tilt the scales of Labour’s internal coalition slightly in its favour especially now the Liberal Democrats are out of the picture (as time moved on it became obvious that a deal with the Liberal Democrats was the preferred option of Blairites intent on maintaining their crumbling influence).
However, ultimately this is a question for the ages because nothing will happen until such an arrangement becomes more necessary and that time is some way into the future.