Saturday, September 15, 2007

 

'Party of Progress' Unity Still a Viable Option

Martin Kettle has provided me with an excuse to use this wonderful picture of CP Scott and his Manchester Guardian colleagues in 1921 with CE Montagu second left back row and LT Hobhouse front row on the right of Scott. Scott saw Labour and Liberals as 'Two divisions of the party of progress', and, together with his two leader writers, thought that their hostility enabled the 'Conservative dog to run away with the bone'. And that, as we now know, was the story of the remaining 79 years of the century.

Kettle suggests the idea is still as relevant now as it was then. Certainly Blair thought so in 1997, the plan being foiled largely by the unexpectedly huge extent of his electoral success. Now, as the margins have shrunk and Labour's mandate given diminished legitimacy by its 35% of the vote back in 2005, the possibility of the 'party of progress' re-emerging either in alliance or via merger is now one of the options: Gordon must surely be mulling them over.

Despite the hostility which many in Labour feel for the Lib Dems, born of street campaign fighting, I can see more pluses than cons to the idea:

1. Essentially, the Liberals have won the central 'progressive' argument over the economy as the last century advanced: once Labour abandoned the abolition of capitalism, the 'revisionism' of Wilson/Callaghan/Healey/Kinnock removed any major difference between the parties.

2. An arrangement with the Lib Dems would drive a stake through the heart of the Conservatives for several decades.

3. The cost of the alliance-reform of the voting system- is the only logical way to go anyway, given that virtually every other voting system in the UK is now proportional: Euro-elections, London mayoral and local government in Scotland and Ulster.

Gordon's promise to 'review' voting systems shortly after his accession to power, suggests he has all these options handily placed on fairly close to the front burners. Expect them to be nudged yet closer if Conservative prospects begin to rally dangerously as the next general election approaches.

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