A Progressive Alliance vs A Rebel Alliance

Mark Perryman

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Mark Perryman (editor of Corbynism From Below) argues that it’s a bottom up campaign that the opposition need to win.

We can argue the case for and against tactical voting ’til the cows come home and vote. It happens, mainly of its own will, but as the central objective of oppositional politics for a 2019 General Election? I’m not convinced.

Firstly, tactical voting demoralises. Where is the uplift in voting for the least-worst option because the party you believe in can’t win?

Secondly, tactical voting demobilises. Who in their right minds is going to get out and campaign for a party you don’t believe in but will vote for as the least-worst option?

Three, tactical voting is doubtful. The campaigns in its favour largely reach those who will be doing so anyway. A limited impact further muddied by parties using the tactical voting argument to their own advantage on dodgy grounds. The examples are numerous: Putney is number thirty-five on Labour’s list of target seats, the Lib-Dems have never held the seat, never come better than a distant third and have no councillors in the constituency.  Yet it has been claimed – on the basis of a poll, commissioned by Nick Lowles of Hope not Hate, who admits it wasjust a snapshot of where attitudes were in late August’- that the best tactical vote there is to stop the Tories is for the Lib-Dems.

But time is probably short. There will be organisations who promote tactical voting, and there will be plenty who follow that advice. If it results in less Tory MPs the morning after the General Election than before, good and I’ll have no complaints.  

What I suggest therefore isn’t the polar opposite to ‘The Progressive Alliance’ rather it complements it via all positives in place of the negatives of tactical voting. Its tactical campaigning, or if you prefer, the jazzed-up version, The Rebel Alliance.

Tactical campaigning is forsaking the seats where a decent third is all we can hope for or an extra thousand on an already almighty majority. 

In the county where I live, Sussex, there are two more-or-less safe Labour seats, both in Brighton – Hove and Portslade, Kemptown. There are three Tory/Labour marginals that Labour can reasonably expect to win: Hastings and Rye, Crawley, East Worthing and Shoreham. Tactical campaigning is all about Labour members in the rest of the county prioritising, above all else, those three victories. And the same everywhere else, such a pattern is more or less universal.

Party chauvinism? No, if I was a Liberal Democrat (which I’m not), I’d be urging Sussex party members to do the same for their two winnable targets in the county: Lewes and Eastbourne, and the Greens to ensure Caroline Lucas holds on to her Brighton Pavilion seat.  

It’s a patchwork of bottom-up activism that serves our own parties’ interest as well as whatever might be the common cause of opposition.  

But politics is shaped, of course by the top down. Jo Swinson’s denunciation of Jeremy Corbyn as just as bad as Boris Johnson beggars belief.  Didn’t Jo notice who she was sitting beside as all the opposition parties met up to plan their successful defeat of No Deal? And wasn’t it obvious why Johnson prorogued parliament, precisely because he knows that with the opposition working together, he’d be defeated over and over again.  

Westminster party leaders play these games for their own narrow interests.  The Labour leadership brushing aside any question of a coalition with the blanket assertion that it will be them in government, and nobody else, doesn’t help either. But on the ground, as a Rebel Alliance, there’s no obligation for us to join in.

And for those of us inspired by Corbynism it fits well too, such an alliance is bottom-up, a grassroots rebellion, collective and horizontalist. Localist too as we criss-cross the regions where we live, individually and collectively to win those target marginals, by our own, rank and file, efforts, nobody else’s.

In this age of social media saturation and ever-expanding automation there is something really warm about the simple act of canvassing. A face-to-face conversation on the doorstep, representing your party, making your party’s case, putting a human face to the manifesto. And this kind of campaign can’t be bought by hedge fund donors either. We win by the fruit of our own collective efforts on a mass scale. Ruthlessly targeting the winnable marginals, playing the system of our rotten electoral set-up and the impact is multiplied.  Street-by-street, a politics from below, to win.

Mark Perryman’s new book Corbynism from Below is out now, published by Lawrence and Wishart.

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