Is it time for Liberals and Greens to work together?

Having taken a few days break from blogging after confessing my election punditry sins, I figured it was time to get back into the habit because who knows when I’m going to be called on to write a general election diary blog again? Will it be in September or October, or might I even have to wait until May next year for the whole thing to come crashing down?

It’s because that next election is so close that we don’t have the usual time we might have had for vacillation about things we’d like to see happen when it comes about. Not that any of them ever do, but perhaps those same good intentions that dissipate over five years might be focused into something more real when the next election might just be months away, and no one really fancies giving up another few hundred thousand pounds in lost deposits when it comes.

One promising development over the last few months has been electoral alliances between parties moving from the vaguely theoretical to the occasionally practical on a local basis. It started with the Greens withdrawing in the Richmond Park by-election in order to help Sarah Olney beat Zac Goldsmith, then was repeated in a number of seats at the general election, with the Liberal Democrats reciprocating by pulling out of Brighton Pavilion and Skipton and Ripon. Caroline Lucas was re-elected with her highest majority yet in Brighton, while in nine of the seats where the Greens withdrew, the Conservatives were defeated including the Lib Dem gain in Oxford West and Abingdon. (The Greens also withdrew from the contests in Richmond Park and St Ives where Lib Dems narrowly lost)

It feels to me that there is (despite resistance from within the parties) an appetite for more working together between Liberal Democrats and Greens, even if Labour’s attitude towards any progressive alliance is one where they insist they should take plenty but give nothing away. Especially since last Thursday, I’ve seen plenty of Labour supporters demand that other parties give them a clear run in seats where they’re second, but no signs that they’re willing to even consider withdrawing anywhere, let alone actually do it.

What also seems clear right now is that the next election, whenever it comes, is going to be framed as being a purely two party affair with every decision framed as being between Corbyn and whoever ends up with the chalice of Tory leadership when May is finally eased out of Number 10. Other parties are going to be churned up underneath that grand narrative, given just enough in the media to justify it being called fair coverage but nothing more.

In that light, would it not make sense for us to work together to not just ensure that we can survive the coming storm, but to build something for the future when the public grow disillusioned with the tired narratives of the two big parties and look for an alternative? The Liberal Democrats and Greens already have large areas of agreement: both parties are pro-European and pro-EU, both have a strong commitment to civil liberties, both want more emphasis on climate change and the environment in public policy, and both want radical reforms in the way our country is governed with power taken from Westminster and placed in the hands of individuals and communities. There’s enough agreement there, and across other policies, to provide a firm basis for exploring deeper co-operation a lot further.

Sure, there are differences between the parties — if there weren’t, they wouldn’t be separate parties — but every political movement has to make a trade-off between ideological coherence and size. I think there’s enough in common between the two parties to form a broad church that includes them both within a common alliance and show the public that we’re capable of talking out our differences and finding common ground rather than retreating behind fences and insisting that we don’t want to talk to others only those we already agree with. As ever, the challenge is that if we think our ideas are right, then surely any good follower in the footsteps of John Stuart Mill should want to grab the opportunity to persuade others of that rightness, not dismiss the opportunity out of hand?

It’s going to take a lot of political will, a lot of forgiving old slights and a lot of good intentions on both sides to make something like this happen, but isn’t it better to try and do something differently and build something new for the future? Both parties are at risk of being shoved to the sidelines as the narrative concentrates on the Tories and Labour, and this is a chance to stand together and pull the country towards a new, more hopeful, future. Who wants to try?

Used to be many different things, including academic and politician. Now working out what comes next. @nickjbarlow on Twitter and Instagram.