The future of the left since 1884

A genuine progressive alliance

Labour is a party of strongly held values. We believe in those who can helping those who cannot. We implore people, as in the words of the parable of the good samaritan, ‘to go and do likewise’. Our belief in...


Labour is a party of strongly held values. We believe in those who can helping those who cannot. We implore people, as in the words of the parable of the good samaritan, ‘to go and do likewise’. Our belief in the big society isn’t tokenism it is our faith. We believe in the ability of active, democratic government to do good. That is why the parliamentary route to power is enshrined in Clause 1 of the Labour party’s constitution, and history has shown Labour only achieves government if we are a genuine progressive alliance.

Labour’s progressive alliance in 1945 saw the creation of the NHS, the welfare state and comprehensive education. The same alliance in 1997 delivered the minimum wage, the re-birth of the NHS, sustained economic growth, and removed the Tories from power for the longest period since 1762.

Those victories were achieved by the only progressive alliance worth cherishing: the alliance between Labour and British voters. They were victories based on Labour values, honed to the times, which reached out beyond our core voters and convinced others those values were also for them. Clem Atlee called it, in a rather clunky phrase which is nonetheless true, ‘the triumph of reasonableness and practicality over doctrinaire impossibilism’.

The belief in another alliance thriving on the fringe of the Labour party but pedals only a falsehood. This alliance sees the Labour party entering some kind of electoral pact with a combination of the Lib Dems, Greens, Plaid Cymru and the SNP to beat the Tories. For example, the Labour candidate would stand down in favour of another party’s candidate most likely to defeat the Tory in a contested seat. This approach tells us what the proposers are against but not necessarily what they are for.

The proposition is false for other reasons. False because these parties do not share our values. Plaid and the SNP are not left of centre parties. They are nationalist parties. The Lib Dems are here, there and everywhere on the political spectrum and after a coalition with the Tories have ended up nowhere. I do not want to give them a compass and a fresh sense of direction. As for the Greens, Caroline Lucas is no Keir Hardie. She is no leader of any great, fledgling movement, which is probably why she supports a cobbled together alternative. These are not Labour’s allies. They are our political opponents and should be treated as such.

To contemplate even a dalliance with such a fractious club, reveals in those Labour supporters who propose the idea, a lack of confidence in Labour’s mission and the party’s ability to deliver. They act as though it is all too difficult, and proceed to wrap themselves in a comfort blanket to keep out the cold light of day. However, if their course of action was followed, the result would be a poorly stitched together patchwork quilt, offering no comfort to the Labour party and no warmth to our supporters.

I joined the Labour party because I believed in our cause and our values. Thirty-five years later I still do. I do not want to see our cause and values traded away by a coalition of wishful thinkers and political enemies.

On the doorstep in Copeland and Stoke, our supporters do not talk about a ‘progressive alliance’ with the Greens, or whoever. But they do talk about the issues that affect their everyday lives. I do not believe they will find greater affinity with the Labour party if we start urging them to support other parties because it is expedient to do so. Our supporters want to see a confident and competent Labour party capable of standing by its values, with the ability to adapt them for an insecure age. They want to see us stand on our own two feet.

Electoral pacts are not the answer. A progressive alliance between Labour and the British electorate is, and always will be, the answer. We can align all we like. Pledge platitudes aplenty. Without tailoring our appeal to the British people, we will find the going tough, as we are now finding it to be.

There is also something else we need to do. We need to re-establish that emotional bond between Labour and Labour voter. We should be their party of choice, not just another party to choose from. In a Brexit-age, we need to bridge the divide between cosmopolitan Labour on the one hand, and working class Labour on the other. We will not win power again if Labour becomes merely a cosmopolitan pastime or retreats into heartlands.

Talk of a progressive alliance where values are transactional distracts the Labour party from focusing on the hard decisions we need to make. It is a pastime that must not become a way of life. The two genuine progressive alliances in Labour history of 1945 and 1997 were fifty-two years apart. I don’t want to wait until the year 2049 before that day dawns again. If Labour is even to have any chance of seeing mid-century, we must recognise now is the time to face our demons.  Now is the time for confidence in what we stand for. Because if we don’t have confidence in what we stand for, why should anyone else?

Image: David Pizzitola


Phil Wilson MP

Phil Wilson is Labour MP for Sedgefield.


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