‘No’ to the “progressive majority”, ‘Yes’ to reform

At the moment, we are hearing talk from Labourites, social Liberal Democrats and even some Greens, about the potential for a “progressive majority” coalition or, as the right-wing press likes to call it, a “coalition of losers.”

Some debate is happening about the role of Brighton Pavilion’s new Green MP, Caroline Lucas, in such a coalition. This morning, on Radio 4’s ‘Today Show’, Caroline Lucas said the following:

“This has been getting called a progressive coalition, but I have to say from our perspective there isn’t very much that’s progressive about Labour or indeed, in many respects, the Liberal Democrats.

So this is hopefully a coalition of reform, but I think in order to earn that name, if you like, then thorough going electoral and political reform absolutely has to be at its heart.”

This couldn’t be more true. As Greens, we really have to question the “progressive” nature of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Just like the Conservatives, both parties propose cutbacks and further privatisation as a means of “economic recovery”, neither party wants to accept that what we really need is a massive Government investment package in jobs, the scrapping of our entire nuclear arsenal, the cutting off of tax loopholes and the raising of tax for the well-off and, the protection of every last public service that activists and campaigners have fought tooth and nail to see materialise over the last 50 plus years.

We can of course support any move closer to proportional representation and fundamental reform of our electoral and political systems. Our Parliamentary codes and practices have not undergone any radical change since the 19th-century and now, more than ever before, we have to look at fixing the broken system.

Whilst full and proper PR is desirable, it remains unlikely that we’ll see a voting system where every vote counts. The Alternative Vote (AV) isn’t good enough and is not nearly democratic enough, let alone being proportional. As a cynic, I think the best deal progressives could wrangle would probably be a referendum on AV+. Once again, not perfect, but it is considerably better than AV. If anything more proportional looked likely, I would argue for that but, this is significant, throughout the election the Lib Dems were not talking up the single transferable vote (STV), they’re not even discussing that now.

But, what should the Greens demand? We should demand for the most proportional offer that any party is talking about whilst pointing out the faults and deficits of AV and AV+. We should also be talking about how it is not only just Westminster elections that need reforming but local ones too. We need to be arguing for PR to be introduced for local elections right across the country, along with devolving more power and authority to local councils. We should not be forgetting about reform of the House of Lords. We need to remind the public that 2/3s of our democratic institutions are not elected by them, but are either hereditary or nominated by sitting MPs, usually from the Government benches.

However, and this is important, if in the event that the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party decided to enter upon any agreement, be it a “progressive” coalition or a “reform” agreement as Caroline has suggested, then it would be down to Caroline’s constituents, the voters of Brighton Pavilion, to have their say about what kind of role Caroline Lucas should have. It is not for us as a party to decide, it is for those people who did the bold, brave and brilliant thing of electing Caroline to be their MP. A public meeting, open to all shades of opinion from her constituents, would be the most open, honest and transparent way for Caroline to make her decision.

I say, let the voters of Brighton Pavilion be the Kingmakers, not us.

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