The agony of this UK Parliament will end with its dissolution later this week. A parliament that no-one liked ended by an election that no-one wants. My own view of this unnecessary election chimes with that of most MPs – of all parties – it is the wrong time and for the wrong reason. Westminster would do well to understand the reality of fixed-term parliaments rather than to run screaming to the electorate whenever the Prime Minister sees an opportunity for personal and political gain.
But that was last week. We need to focus now on how this election can be a turning point for the progressive voices in Britain and not simply for the right wing for whom Brexit is their talisman.
Against all assumptions Labour has probably had a better first week than the Tories. In Wales the Tories started the week refusing to comment on a key candidate and aide to the Secretary of State deliberately collapsing a rape trial. Even the BBC didn’t believe their explanation. The week ends with another key candidate apologising for suggesting that poor people should be put to sleep. They give the appearance of having selected their candidates from the Brexit Party’s B-list.
Labour, ironically after the last few years, has a reasonable position on Brexit. But it is undermined by the failure of our shadow cabinet to speak purposefully or with any clarity on the matter. And Labour’s election slogan – for real change – will motivate existing supporters but can reach out to those people who feel disenfranchised, that politics has let them down.
My feeling is that we should go further and be far more radical. And in doing so make and change the political weather. We can dominate the campaign and reshape politics after it.
Labour should make this election one which can deliver real radical change rooted not only in our social and economic values but also rooted in a programme of far-reaching political change.
And if we are radical in our policies then we must also be radical in our politics and radical in our approach to this election. And not simply radical when it’s over. And that’s where it gets difficult. Labour as a party has a strong cultural antipathy to coalitions and working across the aisle. Culturally Labour sees itself as a strong but singular voice. Which is ironic because as a party it is a coalition which is constantly making and remaking compromises with itself.
My suggestion would be two-fold. Firstly we accept that this election has the power to change the future of Britain. For good or for ill. Secondly we recognise that we can create and lead a coalition for radical change but – and this is the difficult bit – we can’t do it alone.
If we do this perhaps we may even save the union of the United Kingdom. And this is the unspoken truth about this election.
Hundreds of thousands of people joined a rally for independence in Glasgow over the weekend. The latest of a series of marches which have attracted huge numbers of people over the last few years. It is clear to me that future generations in both Scotland and Northern Ireland have little cultural commitment or personal attachment to the UK. If Labour focuses on our manifesto alone there is a real danger that this may be the last UK election to a parliament that can deliver such a programme in the British Isles.
An alternative is that Labour can put itself at the head of a movement which not only defeats the Johnson and Farage duopoly on radicalism but which also drives the change to empower and enfranchise people across the UK.
But it won’t happen by accident.
It means making painful and difficult decisions.
It is unlikely that Labour will win the 600-odd seats it is contesting in Great Britain. In many places there are other progressive parties which can win some of those seats. And constituencies where our participation in those local contests could help deliver not only the election of a Tory committed to a hard Brexit but an overall result which does not build a broad alliance for radical change either.
This is especially true in this particular election. Polls are polls. People believe polls they like and dismiss those which tell an inconvenient truth. But what every single poll shows is that the electorate is volatile and fragmented. Seats in this election may be won on a little over 30% of the vote which is an appalling reflection of the weakness of our electoral system. But the question I want to answer is how we change it.
And it is our first-past-the-post electoral system that makes such arrangements necessary. If we had a modern system of proportional representation then there would be no need for such a course of action. Under STV everyone gets to vote for both their preferred candidate and others representing their wider preferences.
The easiest thing in the world is to sit around and practice self-indulgence. To criticise the Lib Dems about their record in the coalition government, to criticise the Greens and Plaid and the SNP over many other issues. Easy. Comfortable. And ultimately futile. A thousand Twitter posts about the “Fib Dems” and condemning “separatists” achieve little in reality except to prove the political virtues and virility of the writer.
In Wales we have governed in coalition with the Libs Dems and Plaid in the past. Today we govern with the help of the former leaders of the Welsh Lib Dems and of Plaid Cymru. Both excellent ministers and both delivering not only a policy programme but a political programme as well.
It’s a crashing irony but a surprise to no-one that those people who are most fiercely opposed to any sort of electoral agreement are also the same people who are most strongly opposed to the electoral reform which would make it irrelevant. They appear to prefer the Tories to sell the house rather than to take some hard and tough decisions.
Anyway. It may be time for us to extend this more intelligent, far-sighted and mature approach to politics and political change to the rest of the UK – or at least to the rest of Great Britain. But any electoral alliance must go further than simply a second referendum on Brexit. I don’t want this election to be about Brexit alone. I want to see a commitment to a more fundamental and deeper political change. It could mean that this unwanted election in the depths of winter is a turning point in our history.
Johnson is a catastrophically bad prime minister. His personal record is appalling and his gamesmanship in governing has been laid bare by both scandal and the judiciary. But his removal from office can be more than a return to the failed politics as usual that gave us austerity and Brexit. Real change would mean no more politics as usual.
So for me a political programme which certainly delivers a final say referendum on Brexit but also a broad programme of political reform to include PR for Westminster, a truly federal UK and regulation in renewing and cleansing our politics may be the programme which begins to heal the wounds of the last few years. Such a prize would be worth the pain of compromise in an electoral alliance over the coming weeks.
A reforming parliament and not simply a remain parliament.
It may even mean that there is a UK in which a subsequent election will take place.