The local election results that have come in show at least four things:
- That any idea that British politics has returned to a two party system was far too hasty.
- As a consequence politics is now more unpredictable than ever.
- That if you fudge you lose.
- And that hope comes from beyond party walls.
Let’s briefly unpack this.
Both Labour and the Tories look like they have done badly. Brexit is damaging both parties as Leave and Remain cut across the old class and voting tribes. Labour’s strategy has been to try to fudge the issue in the hope that the Tories implode before they do – and they might. But no one comes out of such an approach well. Indeed, chaos rarely benefits progressives.
Brexit is the most horrendously complex issue – for Compass as much as everyone. How do you square commitments to both internationalism and democracy? Well, you try – you jump into the complexity and talk about it, you listen, learn and adapt. It’s called doing politics. That’s why we have been advocating a Brexit Citizens’ Assembly and will continue to do so. What you don’t do, in the Labour leadership’s case, is really want Brexit to happen because you believe in socialism in one country (in the 21st century, really?) but fail to land any programme to show how it would be carried out – while stringing along Remainers and hoping they can be forever duped.
Three years have been wasted when real leadership would have focused on how to heal the nation not advance narrow party interest. Hence our Causes and Cures of Brexit. Nine years into the most incompetent Tory reign in living memory, Labour has to do better but shows few, if any, signs of learning, changing or developing. Fudging is not the same as healing.
In part, this all helps to explain the unexpectedly good results for the Liberal Democrats whose unambiguous Brexit message looks to have eventually paid off. And also the good results for the Greens – and their unambiguous commitment to the environment – in contrast to Labour who rightly back a Green New Deal and wrongly nod through a third runway at Heathrow. The aspiration is green but the practice is same old, same old. People see this.
One tragedy is that good councillors and councils lose out because national politics in Britain is so dominant that real localism finds it so tough to flourish. And the irony is that British politics is becoming more and more European despite Brexit, with party fragmentation, the rise of more independents and more councils in no overall control.
All this tells us just how fluid and febrile the political world is – and therefore how unpredictable. When people can shift and flow so much so quickly – just look at the way Change UK light up the sky for a week and how the Brexit Party can launch and go to 28% in the polls in a blink – we need a politics that can deal with this complexity and fluidity. Proportional representation is now just the bottom line entry point of the democratic revolution we need. And then it needs to go much deeper – to real deliberation and devolution.
But as ever, as we have been saying in 45° Change and everywhere – the real innovation and change is happening outside Westminster. Just look at the effect of Extinction Rebellion on the climate debate, the way cities and towns are flourishing despite the dominance of the centre, or how a new youthful European-wide party can spring into life. Everywhere you look people are negotiating the future in a world defined by ‘our inalienable right to participation’.
Westminster will wake up and change or it will just become even more irrelevant. The upshot of that is either authoritarian populism or a democratic, social and cultural revolution made by the people for the people through a Progressive Alliance. We know what we want.