In a few places in England local agreements have been brokered, against central party wishes, whereby one or more anti-Tory parties stand aside in June’s general election. Here in Cornwall hopes for a ‘progressive’ alliance have been cruelly dashed. Yesterday the news emerged that it was a non-starter. And who did this dastardly deed and killed it off? According to Lib Dem social media it’s all the fault of those nasty Greens, who have decided to stand a candidate in St Ives again. The pure cheek of them!
What lies behind this? We hear that on Tuesday last, Lib Dems (including at least one candidate), Labour and Greens met behind closed doors at a secret location amidst tight security to discuss the prospect of some sort of deal for the upcoming general election. But they couldn’t agree on policy issues. On Friday the Greens, meeting at Redruth, decided to stand a candidate in St Ives and also put someone up in Camborne-Redruth. (So much for my suggestion of 48 hours ago, which is a very long time in Cornish politics, almost as long as dreckly.)
Their decision has triggered a veritable storm of outrage from a facebook full of Lib Dems. The Greens were allowing the Tories in, being divisive, selfish, stupid, idiotic and generally being sinful and very bad dudes. In the absence of more accounts of what actually went on at that secret meeting, we’d best rise above this predictable hysteria.
One might have thought it was up to the strongest party in any area to make the first moves in order to generate the level of trust required for any electoral pact. To my knowledge, the Liberal Democrats have made no such public overture in relation to Cornwall. Quite the opposite. Their decision to stand candidates in every single ward in Thursday’s local elections – even paper candidates – looked like tribalism at its worst and was hardly best designed to encourage collaboration with anti-Tory parties. In doing so, they foolishly threw away a golden opportunity to test the ‘progressive’ alliance and take the moral high ground.
The squeals of outrage from Lib Dems should be ignored. Their calls for ‘unity’ are always in practice calls for people to vote for them. Rightly or wrongly, this is seen by others as arrogant presumption, a cynical attempt to muzzle alternatives and maintain Cornwall’s antiquated two-party system. In similar fashion calls to be ‘patient’ and ‘lend’ them our votes ‘this time’ turn out to be a permanent loan with no interest paid. It’s precisely the same mantra we heard in 2015 and 2010 and in elections before then. And where does patience get us? Precisely nowhere.
Given their record, Lib Dem candidates in Cornwall need to do a lot more to convince voters they’re worth voting for. For a start they could pledge not to support another coalition of chaos with the Tories and if Farron takes them down that road to resign the whip and become an Independent. Or they could apologise publicly for having supported austerity politics.
They also need to calm down. The ‘progressive’ alliance may be dead, but that doesn’t mean tactical voting is. It’s up to individual Lib Dem candidates to convince voters to vote for them rather than their first preference. Some will, some won’t. In some places, this might be a sensible strategy; in others it plainly isn’t. It could be better to leave it to voters anyway, rather than stitching up secret deals behind closed doors. If it’s ever going to work any ‘progressive’ alliance has to be a grassroots initiative, not a top-down decision by party hacks.