Saturday, 13 June 2015

A Merger Of Labour and the Lib Dems Would Be Bad For British Democracy

There has been some talk of late of the need for the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats to merge. Such talk is not unexpected. We are in a period of great political uncertainty. Two unions (the United Kingdom itself and its union with the EU) are now at risk of falling apart. Both Labour and the Lib Dems have suffered significant defeats. Nationalists now form the main party in Scotland (SNP) and the third party in England (UKIP). Both Labour and the Lib Dems need to contemplate their next steps carefully.

So a discussion of a merger should not be taboo. I quite agree that all options should be open. But such a merger in order to "gain power" would come at the detriment of British democracy. All the major parties of the United Kingdom are unwieldy coalitions of quite different groups. The Lib Dems don't just break down into Social Democrats and Liberals. There are classical liberals, social liberals, social democrats and people further to the left. All find a home in the Lib Dems for entirely practical reasons... there is no other party that represents their interests better even if it is far from perfect. Whereas, for example, these groups would have 3 or 4 different parties in most northern European countries to choose from that more closely align to their beliefs, here in the United Kingdom our electoral systems mean we must make some uncomfortable compromises.

This is already detrimental to our democratic choices. We should be working to enable MORE choice politically not only to encourage more people to engage with politics but also to allow more diverse voices to be heard in our Parliament and better represent the real feelings of the British people.

Merging the Lib Dems with another coalition of divergent groups (i.e. the Labour party) might make everyone feel like their are being very grown-up and overcoming nasty partisan feelings and able to make those "uncomfortable decisions" that are "for the greater good". But what they will really be doing is denying people a choice of parties with a reasonable chance of affecting Government policy that best fit their beliefs.

I, as a liberal, would find it incredibly difficult to support a Lab-Lib Dem candidate who, perhaps, is of the Bennite tradition. I shouldn't need to put party unity ahead of agreeing with the candidate for my constituency. But that would be exactly what I'd be asked to do. This sort of merger does not decrease partisan feelings. It seeks to curtail diverse voices and replace diversity with conformity to a unified party of the "left". Surely putting such a mongrel of a party before your own personal beliefs would be the very definition of "partisan"?

Better we get a better electoral system which allows for a greater diversity of parties which, though none will ever represent us all, will allow people in this country to stop making uncomfortable compromises at every election and allow their true voices to be heard.

Then the parties will be the ones having to make those uncomfortable decisions and be grown-ups and work together in coalitions "for the greater good". That would be far superior and must be what we all work together to achieve.

There's nothing stopping the Labour and Lib Dem parties working together towards such electoral reform. Better that than an unhappy marriage of convenience for nothing more than power-hungry reasons.


Anonymous said...

" a discussion of a merger should not be taboo"

But won't last long - there is nothing liberal about the labour party - there is nothing liberal about socialism

Manfarang said...

There won't be much discussion of a merger in the Labour Party.

Alison said...

A Labour friend said to me that Lab and Lib Dem needed to get together to provide a proper opposition to the Tories. I have heard other Labour supporters express similar views. I haven't heard a single Lib Dem argue for getting together with Labour. I suspect that Labour doesn't know what it stands for any more, so joining with the Liberals might give it a reason for living. It is incredible that the main opposition party is saying: "Let's see what the voters want, and let that be our policy!" Is that their only underlying principle: to get power by providing what the voters want?
I love it, that the principles I campaigned on 20 years ago are much the same these days: environmentalism, internationalism within a reformed Europe, personal and civil liberties, democratic reform, help to those who need it. Plus education as a priority. Who needs Labour? All we need is some way of getting this basic identity of ours over to the voting electorate.

Anonymous said...

Part of the compromise involved in a pact would be being prepared to vote for candidates you didn't like if doing so would enable more candidates you did like to ultimately get elected; I'm not sure the 'Bennite objection', so to speak, entirely undermines the utilitarian arguments for an electoral pact. It could also be argued that such compromises were the price to pay to hasten the introduction of PR, after which compromise will no longer be necessary.

I do not think an electoral pact should be countenanced for separate reasons.

Supposing in all seats where the combined Labour and Liberal Democrat vote was greater than the vote for all other individual parties a 'Lib-Lab Alliance' candidate was elected (with, of course, Labour candidates standing aside where the Lib Dem vote was greater and vice versa), the results of the last general election would have been as follows:
Conservative: 298
Labour: 249
Liberal Democrats: 25
SNP: 54

In this scenario, the Conservatives would remain the largest party and could only be defeated by a coalition which relied on the support of the SNP. Such a coalition would likely be disastrous, infuriating millions of people. Moreover, a Lib-Lab-SNP coalition would have to explain how it is legitimate that a group of parties with only around 43% of the vote had a mandate to govern.

But that whole hypothetical scenario is itself, of course, ludicrously idealised. Those many English voters who are frightened of the SNP propping up a national government would, for example, be less likely to vote for the Liberal Democrats. Moreover, all the seat gains from this pact, with the exception of two Lib Dem gains from the SNP, are gains from the conservatives. This would obviously require many Lib Dem voters in Tory constituencies to vote for Labour, and many Labour voters to switch tactically to the Lib Dems (when they already had not done so); it is clearly preposterous to think that the many left-wing Labour voters who are presently very angry at the Lib Dems, or that the Lib Dem voters who might prefer the conservatives over Labour are directly transferable voters between the two parties. The coalition, rightly or wrongly, alienated many left-leaning Lib Dem sympathisers; any pact with Labour would likely alienate many right-leaning Lib Dems too- the Lib Dems would be depicted as unprincipled and power-hungry. It is likely that any pact would therefore affect the outcome of Lib Dem and Labour Tory marginals. It is also unclear how the prospect of improved Labour and Lib Dem success would affect the tactical voting of, say, UKIP voters. Moreover, in the event of a pact, presumably both parties would have to entirely accurately identify in advance of the election in which constituencies agreements of one party not to stand would affect the outcome- which, even if polling were entirely credible, would be no simple task.

In summary, the risks of any pact would be severe and the advantages uncertain.

Peter Wrigley said...

I think we should keep our minds open re a re-alignment of the left. Things may look very different in a couple of years' time. In my view any serious discussion with Labour should be dependent on a cast iron guarantee of their support for the implementation (not just bringing forward proposals and then not voting the time to discuss them)of proportional representation by single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies. and nothing less.