I want to believe in a “progressive majority“. I really do. If we take both Labour and the Lib Dems as ‘progressive’, then there is a clear progressive majority in terms of votes, and also a slender progressive majority in terms of seats provided you include additionally most or all of the SNP, the SDLP, Plaid Cymru, the Alliance Party and (of course) the Green Party. All these parties combined would deliver 329 seats.
But there are very serious problems. One is that both Labour and the Lib Dems are wounded. Labour, for getting only 150,000 more votes than Michael Foot; the Lib Dems for losing five seats and not getting the vote-surge that everyone was expecting. This makes it hard to feel any momentum behind the possibility of a Lib/Lab or a broader rainbow ‘coalition’ (and it is the latter, with the immense complexities it would bring, that would be required in order to marshal an actual majority).
Another large problem is the political identity of the Lib Dems. Are they really ‘progressive’? As I write, the LibDems are in negotiation with the Tories, negotiations that may well be successful. The Lib Dems have been dominated for some years now by the “Orange book” free-marketeers . In particular by David Laws, Vince Cable, Chris Huhne, and Nick “Savage-Cuts” Clegg himself. This is threatening to tear the LibDems apart as one can see if one peruses the comments here:
It is pretty clear that many grassroots Lib Dems are alienated even by the talks, let alone by the prospect of an actual deal with the Conservatives. They are light-years from the happy neoliberalism shared by parliamentary Liberal Democrats and the Tories. Perhaps the LibDems’ voters and members can make a #progressive majority administration possible…
If, in light of Gordon Brown’s offer of real electoral reform, Nick Clegg does decide to talk to Labour as well, the arithmetic requires negotiators will have to address what to do with some or all of the Alliance, the SDLP, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Greens.
Which brings me to my question: How should and how will my Party, the Green Party, react?
The answer is pretty clear. Our Leader and first Member of Parliament Caroline Lucas said it herself in her first interview with Jeremy Paxman, just after being elected. The Green Party will not enter into any coalition. If we were to be involved in any way with a rainbow government of the progressive majority, it would be on the basis of some kind of far more conservative ‘Co-operation Agreement’ (See http://findarticles.com/p/news-articles/green-pages/mi_8125/is_20070701/scottish-greens-support-minority-government/ai_n50686682/ ), as has taken place in recent years between Green MSPs and the SNP minority government in Scotland. In such a circumstance, the Green Party would focus on ensuring that some of our core issues such as green investment (rather than cuts) as the answer to the ongoing risk of a Depression, and major constitutional and political reform (including proportional representation) were taken seriously by such a government.
Cleverly, Alex Salmond has already publicly called for something like this: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/election_2010/scotland/8669883.stm . He is ready to enter into the same kind of arrangement in Westminster with Labour and the LibDems as the Green Party already has with him in Holyrood.
The Green Party in my opinion should make a similar call.
As outlined above, Labour and the Lib Dems alone don’t have the numbers, momentum, or legitimacy. By contrast, the entry of the Green Party (and the Alliance Party) into Westminster provides, in a small but nevertheless significant way, a sign of life. Our addition is something healthy and new, and a basis on which to face down the Tories and the Unionists and say that they do not represent an insurgent majority.
A rainbow progressive majority administration presumably a Lib-Lab coalition, with a ‘Co-operation Agreement’ arrangement with the Nationalist Parties and the Greens might just work. It is, I believe, our best option at this time.
[Appendix: More detail on what a ‘Co-operation Agreement’ would mean:
Note that a ‘Co-operation Agreement’ does not, as some ‘Confidence and Supply’ deals around the world have done, contain any cast-iron commitment on future confidence votes, nor on future budgets. (Of course, such commitments can never really be ‘cast-iron’ in any case, because the deal itself can always be abrograted.) It would some kind of ‘Co-operation Agreement’ which I think would be most likely to work with the Green Party (and the Nats). This, as Caroline said in her first interview on election night, with the BBC, allows one to take issues on a case by case basis, but nevertheless provides a general expectation of governmental stability, under the framework of the Agreement.
(N.B. The SDLP MPs generally take the Labour whip, and the Alliance MP is expected to take the LibDem whip.)
I am calling then for a rainbow ‘progressive majority’ arrangement, similar in nature to that in Scotland. The arrangement in Scotland is very basic; it is significantly weaker than ‘true’/’full’ ‘Confidence and Supply’ arrangements. The Scottish Cooperation Agreement basically calls for co-operation in certain key areas where there are some interests in common (environmental, economic, political), and in return pledges not to vote against the government in a confidence vote so long as those areas of co-operation continue to show progress. It is in fact very mild and non-committal. But it could keep the Tories out, improve our economy and environment and political/electoral system – and the offer of it, alone, would make us many friends.]