What is the Progressive Alliance for Cornwall?
It’s a growing group of people drawn from centre left parties – Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green Party and Mebyon Kernow – who want to build trust and better co-operation between our parties. It also includes people who belong to no particular party because they don’t see party politics in its present form as answering their needs.
As centre-left parties, we have more in common with each other than we do with the Conservatives. Our aim is to unseat Tory MP’s and councillors in Cornwall and be part of a wider network to remove them from power at the next General Election.
Are you a separate party?
No. We are neither a separate party nor an umbrella group. We want to develop stronger links between our parties and promote better co-operation at elections. We also want to promote a more consensual politics by campaigning on issues of joint concern, rather than dwelling only on those issues that puts them apart. In particular we want to work for a stronger democracy and accountability.
What do centre-left parties have in common?
Much more unites us than divides us. All want to restore the NHS to a fully funded public body and roll back the privatisation measures introduced by this government. Unlike the Conservatives, centre-left parties want to address climate change head on and implement the transition to a low carbon economy. Other common policy concerns include addressing the housing crisis,protecting human rights, the introduction of proportional representation and real devolution to the regions.
Why is a progressive alliance needed?
Well firstly the majority of people in the UK do not vote Conservative. The fact that they form a majority in the House of Commons shows how deeply dysfunctional our present election system is. The non-Tory parties need to cooperate more, particularly in order to introduce proportional representation that better reflects the increased political plurality we see today.
However there is now much more at stake: Brexit, the election of Trump and the rise of nationalist and far right parties in Europe have given a particular urgency for the need for a progressive alliance. We are now living in a completely different world to the one we had a year ago. The multilateral framework that underpinned globalisation and promoted peace and prosperity is now being rolled back. That prosperity was not fairly shared and it gave rise to the yawning inequalities both within and between nation states we see today. A transnational elite has benefitted far more from the free movement of people, jobs and money than ordinary resident populations. Loss of identity, impoverishment and powerlessness are key drivers of the more angry, aggressive and nationalist politics we see today.
So this is no time for politics as usual. There are bigger battles to be fought and centre-left parties urgently need to come together to defend the values and principles we cherish – tolerance, fair play, diversity, human rights and equality – and to jointly campaign on those issues where there is clear common ground. Climate change, the future of our NHS and the housing crisis are all big issues where we share roughly the same common ground. Not to co-operate in a time of national need, to revert to old enmities is to do a great disservice to the constituents we seek to serve.
Why is PR needed?
In the last general election a majority Conservative government was voted in on only 37 percent of the vote, while five million votes were gained by UKIP and the Greens who won just two seats between them. If we include those who did not vote – and the non-voting public was by far the largest party – this Conservative government holds absolute power with less than 24% of the electorate. How can this be called a functioning democracy that fairly reflects the will of the people?
But voting reform isn’t exactly top of the list of public concerns – it is the NHS, Housing and Jobs
True. But those public concerns will never be met if unrepresentative governments are voted into power on a minority of votes. We need electoral reform that gives Britain a democracy and a government that reflects the will of the people. Only one in four people voted for the present government with millions of wasted votes in Labour or Tory safe seats.
The EU and Scottish Referendums showed that when people know their vote counts, they will come out in large numbers-voter turnout was 72% and 84.6% respectively, significantly higher than the 66% at the 2015 General Election. We need to build on that and ensure that future elections follow that principle. Proportional Representation is about ensuring that the proportion of seats won actually reflects the proportion of votes cast for a particular party and that no vote is wasted.
Is this a sort of ‘left unity’ project that glosses over party differences?
Absolutely not. There will always be strong differences between parties on key policy issues and that’s essential for a healthy democracy. We see those differences now when we look at the biggest issues of the day: Brexit, immigration and our future relationship with the EU. The trouble is these differences tend to dominate party politics, while ignoring what we have in common – and that polarising approach is unhealthy for our democracy.
We hope to re-balance party politics away from polarising differences. No-one is pretending that there are no differences and no distinct party identity. It’s about being pragmatic: where we have common ground, let’s work together. Where we don’t, let’s disagree but do so in a way that is robust and constructive. Let’s ditch the polarising language, ya-boo politics, the personal attacks and under-hand electioneering that is such a turn-off to a wider public.
Why should a party such as the Liberal Democrats align with Labour? After all they were part of the coalition government from 2010 to 2015?
A progressive alliance is about negotiation with no certainty of outcome. That means parties such as Labour, the Greens and Libdems and Mebyon Kernow have to listen carefully to each other and not make assumptions or take each other for granted. We have to keep looking for the common ground, build trust, and work together where we can but robustly disagree where we cannot.
Doesn’t Brexit show the impossibility of a progressive alliance-Liberal Democrats and Labour appear poles apart?
Let’s be clear: Brexit has upended the political settlement between people and government on a scale no one imagined; it is not just a problem for Labour and Liberal Democrats but all parties and the whole relationship between Westminster and the regions.
Labour is deeply divided and supported the Article 50 vote. The Liberal Democrats voted against and have been strongly critical of Labour’s stance. Yet even here there is common ground: neither party wants to see a hard Brexit which does away with regulations designed to protect the environment, labour rights and human rights. Both urgently need to work together to ensure that doesn’t happen.
So what is the way forward?
A progressive alliance is driven by an overwhelming imperative not just to co-operate to get the Tories out, but to put forward a radical agenda of change which includes constitutional and electoral reform, to reconnect with disaffected voters and to defend liberal values of inclusivity, tolerance, human rights, economic and social justice.
It seeks to promote a new kind of politics which is more honest, pragmatic and consensual; and it recognises that no single party has all the answers to the most pressing challenges that now face us: climate change, yawning inequality and the rise of populist far right right parties both here and abroad.