The future of the left since 1884

The age of alliances

For the sake of the country, Labour must team up with other parties, argues Rosie Duffield MP.



It may be a 135-year-old veteran of the political scene, but the Fabian Society has lessons aplenty for today’s politicians.

The society has bequeathed much to us over that time, not least the London School of Economics and the New Statesman, which was the brainchild of two Fabian super-stars, Beatrice and Sidney Webb.

Sidney Webb said the magazine would have a distinctive point of view ‘absolutely untrammelled by party, or sect, or creed’.

That approach holds a valuable lesson for all of us battling against Brexit in the weeks and months ahead – that there is merit in putting aside party differences in pursuit of a greater good.

Partnerships, alliances and pacts are not signs of weakness but of strength, pragmatism and preparedness.

Indeed, those of us in Labour can look back to our own party’s history and see how many times it has proudly put aside partisanship at extraordinary turning points in our country’s history.

In 1906, an electoral pact with the Liberals consolidated Labour’s influence in the passage of landmark Liberal welfare reforms during the Asquith administration, including the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908 and the National Insurance Act of 1911.

In the 1930s, a group on the Labour left led by Nye Bevan called for a popular front with Communists, Liberals and even anti-fascist Tories to halt fascism, paving the way for Labour’s participation in Churchill’s wartime government.

And there are even more recent examples of Labour MPs putting the country’s shared democratic values ahead of political posturing. In the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit vote and the rise of Trump in America, I was one of the many Labour MPs who joined More United, a group with 150,000 members and 50 MPs across seven parties, that has now spent three years campaigning to protect our shared values, from the NHS and disability rights to free movement.

As Boris Johnson prepares to crash us off a cliff on 31  October and wreck the most vulnerable communities Labour represents, how can our party sit on the sidelines this time? We must fight tooth and nail to defeat the Tory right’s Brexit vanity project, but we simply can’t do it alone.

With no single party consistently ahead in the polls and the very real and disturbing prospect of Johnson striking an election deal with Nigel Farage, it is clear we are in the age of alliances.

Analysis by the anti-Brexit group Best for Britain shows  that, to tip the balance of power away from a regressive, pro-Leave alliance at the next election, Labour’s participation in a pact is required in more than 150 seats across the country.

As long as we don’t compromise our party’s mission and principles, Labour should not be scared of electoral pacts with parties which want to stop Brexit.

Building a progressive alliance does not just have to be top-down. In my own constituency of Canterbury, a pro-EU grassroots tactical voting effort in the 2017 general election played a decisive role in helping me overturn a 10,000-strong Tory majority and secure a shock victory for Labour.

While Canterbury had endured 30 years of unabated Tory rule, it was never the Conservative stronghold some professed it to be. Conservative MP Julian Brazier had won the seat in successive elections because the progressive, anti-Conservative vote was split across three parties – Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

The Liberal Democrats had polled strongly in the constituency throughout the early 2000s and it was only after 2015, when the Conservatives nearly annihilated their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, that Labour was given a real opportunity to contest the seat.

All too often, it is claimed that the student vote won it for me in Canterbury, but I know that a strategic mobilisation of the pro-EU, progressive vote, coupled with my unwavering anti-Brexit stance, was crucial in enabling me to win the support of thousands of Liberal Democrat and Green party activists in 2017, to whom I still owe my gratitude. Canterbury is a test case that shows alliances work, and that Labour can benefit if it joins in.

If Boris Johnson wins the next election with a leg-up from Farage, that doesn’t just mean the Brexit zealots getting the hard-right exit from the EU they have been daydreaming about.

That means five years of a majority government tearing down our NHS, rolling back on the decarbonisation of our economy and cutting spending even further to remodel the UK in their image of self-interest and greed.

The stakes have never been higher and that’s why I believe joining forces with pro-European parties to stop a no-deal Brexit at the hands of Nigel Farage and the Conservative party should be considered Labour’s duty, not an option.

The Fabian Society is named, of course, after the Roman general Quintus Fabius, whose defining strategy was to wait for the right moment to strike – and then strike hard.

Our moment has come. For the sake of all our futures, we must strike hard – and we must strike together.

Photo: Cassie Matias on Unsplash

Rosie Duffield MP

Rosie Duffield is the Labour MP for Canterbury.


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