by Chris Jarvis
Imagine waking up on the 8th of May and the parliamentary arithmetic given by our obscenely anachronistic and antiquated electoral system adds up well. Imagine that between a grouping of progressive parties — Labour, the SNP, the Greens, Plaid Cymru, and the SDLP — there is a clear left of centre majority in parliament.
And then imagine an alternative. Imagine that an array of reactionary and right wing parties, a smorgasbord of Eurosceptics, xenophobes, sell out liberals, and firebrand Northern Irish Unionists led by a buoyant Tory party are tipped over the mythical 326 towards cobbling together some form of government.
Which would you prefer?
This isn’t to suggest that either of these scenarios are inevitable — that the election will either produce one result or the other. Elections have produced bigger shocks in the past. But even so, both are very real and possible outcomes this Thursday. And the former is beyond doubt preferable to the latter.
a smorgasbord of Eurosceptics, xenophobes, sell out liberals, and firebrand Northern Irish Unionists
The former opens up some real hope and opportunity. Opportunity for a progressive alliance of political parties collaborating to begin to turn the tide on the coalition’s biggest ills. This would make the prospects in parliament the most exciting they have been since the Second World War.
A Labour Party short of a parliamentary majority puts power firmly in the hands of the left, not only from other parties, but also from within the party itself. The combined weight of both the existing left within the parliamentary party, the John Mcdonnells and the Jeremy Corbyns of the world, in addition to a new intake of Union-backed MPs would place significant pressure on the leadership and could potentially win major concessions on issues from austerity to nuclear weapons and to war.
An additional and concurrent influx of progressive parties within parliament would only add to this pressure. Nationalist parties in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, as well as the Greens in England, have come out strong against the agenda of austerity established by the Tories over the last five years and all are fighting this election pledging to fight against further public sector cuts and shrinking of the state. Should Labour require the support of these parties to pass legislation and form a majority of sorts, it has the potential to be the most progressive Labour government we have seen in a generation.
An additional and concurrent influx of progressive parties within parliament would only add to this pressure
And this makes the short-sighted and sectarian statements from Ed Miliband and Jim Murphy that openly reject the formation of a post-election agreement between Labour and the SNP so destructive. In doing so, the leadership of the Labour party in both Scotland and in Westminster are jeopardising a unique opportunity to build an effective parliamentary grouping that could see a reversal of vast swathes of the damage enacted by the coalition since 2010.
Obviously, a more informal arrangement between these parties is possible. Should the outcome of the election see an anti-Tory majority enter parliament, those to the left of the Labour Party will have a strong hand to influence government policy whatever Miliband & co choose to do. With the threat of voting down a Labour programme, either stated explicitly or otherwise, the smaller parties will be able to pull such a government leftwards, even without a formal agreement. Due to the provocative and anti-SNP rhetoric purported by the Labour leadership, this is a much more likely outcome.
the leadership of the Labour party in both Scotland and in Westminster are jeopardising a unique opportunity
At this stage, it is worth adding some caveats. We’re not going to see Friday morning bringing some form of utopia. We’re not going to see the end of austerity, the end of government scapegoating migrants, or the end of attacks on welfare claimants and the disabled. The Greens and Plaid Cymru will between them have not much more than a handful of MPs once the dust settles on this election. The SNP’s left-wing credentials are often overstated — we shouldn’t forget that central planks of their post-independence proposals for Scotland were to undercut British corporation tax rates and establish an economy built on North Sea Oil and Gas — and their political programme is often slippery and opportunistic. Progressive MPs within the Labour Party will be whipped heavily, and while many of the old guard may resist, it is not yet clear whether a new intake will be as resilient.
But even so, despite us needing to continue to fight against every single cut, for every single school and every single hospital, think back to that other possibility— a collection of the hard right — the Tories, UKIP and the DUP, propped up by the husk of the Liberal Democrats. And remember that in spite of how insufficient any Labour-led government might be, there is an alternative that is much, much worse.
But remember too, that holding your nose and voting Labour won’t necessarily bring about something better. Without the pressure from other parties, Labour will return to its habits of succumbing to their tendency towards neoliberalism and imperialism.
With that pressure, there is a real chance of us beginning to move towards something different. Let’s hope that we wake up on May 8th taking our first baby steps towards that.