Labour’s electoral base has diminished enormously in recent decades
IN THE BACKDROP of the conflicts raging in the Labour party over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, another, quieter debate has been taking place which could prove even more significant in the long run.
Reeling from the 2010 and 2015 General Election defeats, leading party figures and supporters have put forward the idea of Labour heading up a coalition of centre-left forces in the UK’s increasingly fragmented political field.
CommonSpace looks at the debates around the possibility of a “progressive alliance” and why they are happening now.
Why is Labour facing electoral difficulties?
Fuelling the debate about the future direction of the Labour party is the party’s shrinking electoral base.
In the 1945 General Election, Labour won 47.7 per cent of votes cast. In 2010, Labour secured just 29 per cent of the vote, and in 2015 30.4 per cent of the vote, as well as fewer seats than in 2010.
The Conservatives have also suffered an erosion in popular support, though not to the same degree. The reasons for the decline are many, but in Labour’s case represent a weakening of support in traditional Labour areas, especially the north of England and to a lesser extent Wales.
But it is in Scotland that Labour’s position has suffered the most. In 2015 the SNP won 56 MPs, and Scottish Labour’s stock of MPs fell from 40 to just one.
With Labour’s leftwing resurgent, it will struggle to make up for what it has lost in its traditional areas with gains in traditional Consevative seats concentrated in the south of England.
It is in this context that some in the Labour party are calling for a new approach.
Who is calling for an alliance?
The debate about whether Labour should form an alliance with other left of centre political parties is older than the rise of the SNP in the 2015 General Election.
In 2010, hoping to hold on to power after losing the General Election, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for the construction of a “progressive alliance” including the Liberal Democrats, then the third party in the UK with 57 seats, the SNP, the Northern Irish Social Democratic and Labour party and possibly also the Greens.
The improbable strategy fell flat when the Liberal Democrats, led by Nick Clegg, opted to join the Conservative party in a coalition government.
The leading Labour figure to call for an alliance with other opposition parties in recent weeks is Clive Lewis, Labour’s shadow defence secretary, who has said that Labour faces an “existential crisis” and must consider an alliance with parties including the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.
Writing in the Guardian, he said: “Such progressive alliances are now essential not just because that is the only way we can beat the Tories but because that is the way we will make better decisions and take more of the country with us.”
Corbyn’s new shadow Scottish minister, Dave Anderson, an MP for Blaydon in the north of England, on a trip to Aberdeen said that coalition with the SNP might be a “a price we have to pay” to prevent a future Conservative government.
Who is opposing the idea of an alliance?
Lewis and Anderson’s remarks caused consternation in Scottish Labour.
Iain Murray, the former Scottish secretary who resigned his post in protest at Corbyn’s ongoing leadership, said that Anderson’s remarks showed a “lack of understanding” of Scottish politics and that an alliance would damage the position of Labour in Scotland.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has ruled out such an alliance.
Writing in the Daily Record she said: “Labour is a socialist party. The SNP most certainly aren’t. Sure there are some socialists in the SNP, but that is always overtaken by their nationalism.”
For his part, Owen Smith has ruled out an alliance with the SNP, saying that they are “not a proper social democratic party” due to previous SNP policy of lowering corporation tax.
Picture courtesy of Jasn
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