A Progressive Alliance for the 2019 European elections? Compass says no.

Several of our members and supporters have been in touch to ask whether Compass will take the lead in a ‘progressive alliance’ campaign for the European elections in the UK, taking place on 23 May 2019. The suggestion being that a multi-party alliance could be necessary to help avoid splitting the vote between progressive parties – especially on the issue of Brexit.

Of course, Compass ran the Progressive Alliance in the 2017 general election and encouraged candidates, campaigners and voters of progressive parties to work together, because of our winner-takes-all voting system, to prevent the ‘regressive alliance’ of Tories and UKIP winning in constituencies where the majority of people wanted a progressive party to win, just not agreeing on which one.

In some constituencies, progressive parties – and especially the Green Party – agreed to stand down to maximise the vote for the best-placed progressive candidate; elsewhere voters decided to cast a ‘tactical vote’, voting not for their first-choice candidate, but for the candidate that was most likely to inflict defeat on the Conservatives.

The 2017 Progressive Alliance really caught the mood of the nation and tactical voting was one of the factors that brought about the surge in Labour’s vote share. But it was only a partial victory for us progressives, as the Labour Party’s refusal to engage with the Progressive Alliance meant that a Corbyn-led progressive government remained out of reach, while Labour failed to even recognise the collaborative approach of others – let alone reciprocate.

So, should we reboot the Progressive Alliance for this month’s European elections? Our answer is no – not this time.

First, because such a strategy would in effect turn the European elections into a poor proxy second referendum or poll on the UK’s membership of the EU, brushing aside the stakes involved in democratically electing UK representatives in the European Parliament, who, if elected, have no locus over Brexit decisions. And while it may make sense for candidates opposed to continued EU membership to have little ambition for their time in Brussels, those who want the UK to remain a member would be expected to have longer-term aspirations as MEPs.

This makes it all the more important that they are elected on the substance of their manifestos, and that’s where we can see issues when it comes to building a meaningful alliance. While the pro-Remain parties have some common objectives in domestic politics, such commonality is harder to find in their ambitions for the EU – which is what the elections are meant to be about. When it comes to European politics, a Remain alliance might not be much of a progressive alliance at all.

If it was seen as indispensable to pool the pro-Remain vote where possible – and we go on below to argue against this – it would be up to organisations with an outspoken Remain agenda to intervene here. So far, Compass has sought to take an inclusive approach throughout the Brexit debate, seeking to bridge the divide between people who voted Leave and Remain, for example through our publication on the causes and cures of Brexit and our recent campaign to establish a citizens’ assembly on Brexit.  

The second key consideration for us is the voting system, and in contrast to general elections, European elections are run under a proportional system. This system is not without flaws and still disadvantages smaller parties, but overall it allows a much broader range of parties to win representation. Because multiple parties can win seats in each regional constituency, the need for electoral alliances to address the problem of a split (progressive) vote isn’t as clear-cut as it is under first-past-the-post.

The upcoming European elections are a democratic bonus: somewhat unexpectedly we’ve been given a say about our future and our representation in the EU. Our view is that we should embrace this opportunity and, for once, because of PR, boldly vote for what we believe in, this time not giving in to considerations about voting systems, bar charts, and tactics.

Our advice to voters would be: take this opportunity to compare parties’ priorities, then cast your vote for the party with the most compelling policies and candidates. There is no guarantee, but in most regions the prospect of electing an MEP of your first-choice party is realistic. In the current context, the overall vote share of each of the parties will give us the clearest insight into the deeper political fabric of the country; right now electoral alliances would only obscure this.

For the future, Compass is working to develop the idea of alliance-based politics, learning the lessons of 2017, how to overcome Labour’s innate and self-defeating tribalism, and change our democratic system for good.   

9 thoughts on “A Progressive Alliance for the 2019 European elections? Compass says no.

  1. That sounds almost as mealy-mouthed as Corbyn. Now get real and tell us how to stop Farage and his nasties getting elected – constituency by constituency.

  2. A fair assessment of the eu election.
    It is not in anyone’s interest to divide the country
    once again . I voted leave , and find the arrogance
    of those assuming a public vote would prevent
    Brexit an appalling thought. I would point out I am in my later
    working years so apart from the effect on annuity rates
    my opinion is blasé about it. Compass is designed to help
    everyone succeed, it’s not a means to get Corbyn
    elected ( if that’s what you want join Momentum ).
    The EU elections are a great way to express your feelings about Brexit
    but remember we have far more important issues
    to deal with everyday

  3. I’ve been looking at the 2014 results and the D’Hondt method, with a few assumptions and an excel spreadsheet for each English region.

    There is little, to no, advantage in the Greens and LibDems having an arrangement. Even joining together produces no advantages.

    To maximise the number of MEPs from pro-EU parties in England – vote Green or LibDem, whichever you prefer.

  4. On first reading this seemed to demonstrate a rather stunning inability to come to any conclusion at all, but on re-reading I see the hidden wisdom: Vote for who you like them after the election it will be clear how everboby voted. I couldn’t have written it, congratulations.

  5. Yes – but delivering the message of the strength and size of the anti-Brexit opinion (after all only 37% of those entitled to vote supported Brexit) must surely come before all other considerations at the moment ? !

  6. Sad to see Compass abdicate responsibility with this fence-sitting post – a Corbynite fudge that threatens assist the Tories in dragging us out of the EU.

    Labour deserves to be deserted in droves in these elections. Anyone with a claim to the badge of ‘progressive’ should be shoving Corbyn off the fence – not joining him on it.

  7. This is so terribly disappointing. Compass was set up to challenge conventional political divisions but it can’t make up its mind on one of the most important elections this year. It looks like Farage will romp home. Such that there was any prospect of a ‘progressive alliance’ to try to stop him that in now in tatters…

  8. It’s important to remember that tactical voting in whichever direction will not affect the vote share of the Brexit party, nor that of the progressive (or pro-EU, whichever way you are inclined) parties combined.

    Rather than fence-sitting, Compass takes a firm stance against tactical voting and in favour of progressives voting for their first-choice party – whichever.

    It’s near-impossible to ‘game’ a proportional voting system through tactical voting, especially with the polls being as varied (thus unreliable) as they are. The likely outcome is regret.

    As progressives, if we want to stand up to Farage c.s., the best way is to get more of our fellow progressives to vote on the 23rd of May – it’s the only way to increase the progressive vote share. Tactical voting only shifts it around.

    See also today’s comment piece by the founders of the tactical2017.com

  9. Surely this must be a time to vote tactically. I have voted Labour all my life, and occasionally Green in recent times, but I shall be voting Lib Dem in the European elections as the general consensus, among the progressive left I know, is to vote for the party mostly likely to win some seats, even if the Brexit Party wins a majority. Sometimes too much theorising (and political theory is important) can be a way of distancing oneself from the grim reality we are facing. It is always easier to preach to the converted, and nod our heads wisely over finely honed theses, than it is to compromise in the face of the most dangerous political reality materialising before our increasingly bewildered eyes.

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