Why a #progressivemajority – latest

One terrible danger of a Tory government is a snap election this autumn (in which the Tories’ big cash-bank – and Cashcroft himself – would swamp the rest of us, who are all out of cash after this election-campaign). A rainbow progressive-majority government could prevent this hazard. This is a key reason for Labour, the LibDems, the Nats and the Greens to welcome the idea.
Furthermore, if the LibDems go in with the Tories, they will have to get a form of PR which is kind to small Parties – because they may well BE a small Party, after propping up the Tories… But the Tories will not yield up genuine PR that is kind to small Parties (such as AMS, or AV-Plus with a decent top-up or STV with reasonably large constituencies). But a rainbow coalition would.
I.e.: There are strong practical reasons why all of us in the #progressivemajority Parties should favour this idea. (For more, see my earlier post: http://rupertread.org/rupertread.org/wordpress/?p=613 )

Tory civil war breaking out already – Why this isn’t surprising:

Because Cameron HAS failed drastically to get his Party what he promised: a majority, if they went down his semi-Blairite road. They have squandered an election-winning lead in the polls, despite an epochal economic and political crisis. Their campaign was utterly inept, in so many ways, as people have pointed out in so many ways in so many places (e.g. their posters had ALL the wrong messages – “I’ll cut [the NHS]” “I’ve never voted Tory”, etc etc). And Cameron was awful in the debates – he lost the first and third to Brown and the second to Clegg, and this is only not seen because of the right-wing press in this country, which were desperate to try to deliver a majority for him, and are now understandably disappointed that he still managed to screw it up.
SO: It is unsurprising that the Tory true-believers are wondering why they squandered their homophobia and their climate-denial and their class warfare etc. just so that they could end up kissing up to Clegg.

How the Green Party can help stop the Tories

I want to believe in a “progressive majority“. I really do. If we take both Labour and the Lib Dems as ‘progressive’, then there is a clear progressive majority in terms of votes, and also a slender progressive majority in terms of seats – provided you include additionally most or all of the SNP, the SDLP, Plaid Cymru, the Alliance Party and (of course) the Green Party. All these parties combined would deliver 329 seats.

But there are very serious problems. One is that both Labour and the Lib Dems are wounded. Labour, for getting only 150,000 more votes than Michael Foot; the Lib Dems for losing five seats and not getting the vote-surge that everyone was expecting. This makes it hard to feel any momentum behind the possibility of a Lib/Lab or a broader rainbow ‘coalition’ (and it is the latter, with the immense complexities it would bring, that would be required in order to marshal an actual majority).

Another large problem is the political identity of the Lib Dems. Are they really ‘progressive’? As I write, the LibDems are in negotiation with the Tories, negotiations that may well be successful. The Lib Dems have been dominated for some years now by the “Orange book” free-marketeers . In particular by David Laws, Vince Cable, Chris Huhne, and Nick “Savage-Cuts” Clegg himself. This is threatening to tear the LibDems apart as one can see if one peruses the comments here:







It is pretty clear that many grassroots Lib Dems are alienated even by the talks, let alone by the prospect of an actual deal with the Conservatives. They are light-years from the happy neoliberalism shared by parliamentary Liberal Democrats and the Tories. Perhaps the LibDems’ voters and members can make a #progressive majority administration possible…

If, in light of Gordon Brown’s offer of real electoral reform, Nick Clegg does decide to talk to Labour as well, the arithmetic requires negotiators will have to address what to do with some or all of the Alliance, the SDLP, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Greens.

Which brings me to my question: How should and how will my Party, the Green Party, react?

The answer is pretty clear. Our Leader and first Member of Parliament Caroline Lucas said it herself in her first interview with Jeremy Paxman, just after being elected. The Green Party will not enter into any coalition. If we were to be involved in any way with a rainbow government of the progressive majority, it would be on the basis of some kind of far more conservative ‘Co-operation Agreement’ (See http://findarticles.com/p/news-articles/green-pages/mi_8125/is_20070701/scottish-greens-support-minority-government/ai_n50686682/ ), as has taken place in recent years between Green MSPs and the SNP minority government in Scotland. In such a circumstance, the Green Party would focus on ensuring that some of our core issues – such as green investment (rather than cuts) as the answer to the ongoing risk of a Depression, and major constitutional and political reform (including proportional representation) – were taken seriously by such a government.

Cleverly, Alex Salmond has already publicly called for something like this: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/election_2010/scotland/8669883.stm . He is ready to enter into the same kind of arrangement in Westminster with Labour and the LibDems as the Green Party already has with him in Holyrood.

The Green Party in my opinion should make a similar call.

As outlined above, Labour and the Lib Dems alone don’t have the numbers, momentum, or legitimacy. By contrast, the entry of the Green Party (and the Alliance Party) into Westminster provides, in a small but nevertheless significant way, a sign of life. Our addition is something healthy and new, and a basis on which to face down the Tories and the Unionists and say that they do not represent an insurgent majority.

A rainbow progressive majority administration – presumably a Lib-Lab coalition, with a ‘Co-operation Agreement’ arrangement with the Nationalist Parties and the Greens – might just work. It is, I believe, our best option at this time.

[Appendix: More detail on what a ‘Co-operation Agreement’ would mean:

Note that a ‘Co-operation Agreement’ does not, as some ‘Confidence and Supply’ deals around the world have done, contain any cast-iron commitment on future confidence votes, nor on future budgets. (Of course, such commitments can never really be ‘cast-iron’ in any case, because the deal itself can always be abrograted.) It would some kind of ‘Co-operation Agreement’ which I think would be most likely to work with the Green Party (and the Nats). This, as Caroline said in her first interview on election night, with the BBC, allows one to take issues on a case by case basis, but nevertheless provides a general expectation of governmental stability, under the framework of the Agreement.
(N.B. The SDLP MPs generally take the Labour whip, and the Alliance MP is expected to take the LibDem whip.)

I am calling then for a rainbow ‘progressive majority’ arrangement, similar in nature to that in Scotland. The arrangement in Scotland is very basic; it is significantly weaker than ‘true’/’full’ ‘Confidence and Supply’ arrangements. The Scottish Cooperation Agreement basically calls for co-operation in certain key areas where there are some interests in common (environmental, economic, political), and in return pledges not to vote against the government in a confidence vote so long as those areas of co-operation continue to show progress. It is in fact very mild and non-committal. But it could keep the Tories out, improve our economy and environment and political/electoral system – and the offer of it, alone, would make us many friends.]

This generalelectionresult gives hope to the Green Party, the green movement, and the world

I believe that, now that we have broken the Westminster barrier, anything is possible for the Green Party. It all depends on how people now react, what people now choose to do and to hope for. If enough people start joining us, then we could be a phenomenon in the 21st century to start to rival Labour and its huge growth in the 20th.
It is _not_ wishful thinking, but hope-full thinking, that can spread and grow, and that might yet save our endangered civilisation, to remark that there is now suddenly a huge potentially-self-fulfilling political phenomenon beginning. That’s the remarkable thing about human being – that it can make possible things that seem impossible, through individual and collective belief in them.
This election, having turned into a classic two-Party squeeze (it came down to whether one hated the Tories or Labour more, as a potential Party of government; earlier in the election campaign, it was a novel phenomenon, a 3-Party-squeeze, which already was very tough for smaller Parties such as the Greens – ‘Others’ shrank from c.13% to c.6% in the national opinion polls, as a result of Cleggmania), was always going to be very very tough for a Party many of whose voters are thoughtful. People vote for the BNP and UKIP because they are angry and are flailing around for a scapegoat (namely: people of a different skin colour / culture / religion). People vote for the Green Party because they want a better future and have thought about how to try to bring that future into being. This makes Green Party voters far far more inclined to vote tactically. We know for a fact that here in Norwich South many many would-be Green voters voted Libdem or Labour for tactical reasons, especially in middle-class areas where we have typically our strongest ‘core’ support. This effect was present tenfold or a hundredfold stronger in virtually every other seat in the country that we contested. This explains the drop in our vote outside Brighton Pavillion, Norwich South, Cambridge and a handful of other places. [ If you want to know more specifically what happened in NorwichSouth, check out my earlier post: http://rupertread.org/rupertread.org/wordpress/?p=618 ]  Green voters are very likely to vote for other Parties, under FPTP. BNP and UKIP voters, far less so – _they_ are just expressing their anger and frustration, and venting it on an easy target.
All that Green voters need to do is to realise that there are many others like them, and to think collectively about how to make things better. It is a ‘co-ordination problem’. But Caroline’s victory should make solving that problem far easier. We now have a good example that we can show to voters. People in Brighton believed – and it happened! So: make it happen the same way here, too…
So, there is no need to worry (as some are doing at this time, with electoral reform in the air, but widespread concern that we may not get real PR) that Greens would do badly under AV. AV is not a proportional system, but it would allow people who want to vote Green to give us their first preference. In many many places, these first preferences would very soon start stacking up enormously – because AV allows people to vote for what they believe in (and so goes quite a long way in itself to solving the ‘co-ordination problem’). In Norwich South, huge numbers of people want to vote Green; and some do, already. The Party which should fear AV is the LibDems. For how many people have LibDem as their first preference? Hardly any. The LibDems are purely the ‘We’re not Labour and we’re not the Tories’ Party. The LibDems could do well under AV if they get more first preferences than (one of) Labour or Tory, and so survive to clean up on their 2nd prefs. But in how many constituencies would that happen? Very few, is my educated guess.
Now that Caroline has been elected, we will grow, and grow at Westminster. Here of course is another absolutely huge difference between BNP and Green elected politicians – where Greens get elected, we usually stay elected, and often grow and grow. When people get Greens, they like what they get, and want more of us. When the BNP get elected, they are out on their ear within a few years’ time (as in Barking and Dagenham, and several other places too, this time).
Without PR, the next General Election will be tough for us. Norwich South is our only obvious strong prospect for a gain, next time around. But going from 1 to 2 wouldn’t be bad; and we could get set up at the same time for a big tranche of gains at the following G.E. (See http://rupertread.org/rupertread.org/wordpress/?p=619 ). With AV, the sky’s the limit. And the same with any genuine form of (real) proportional representation. The Euro elections give a reasonable indication of our potential at a PR election. We would make any likely threshold in a national system. We would beat the BNP, and probably beat UKIP too (obviously, the Euro-elections over-estimate UKIP’s general level of support, because in the Euro elections people’s minds are focussed on the EU specifically).
Hope and belief in a survivable, fairer, happier future is fragile. Optimism of the will is what is needed in these times. As a philosopher, I note that Gramsci and Wittgenstein and William James would have approved of that…
Yes, we can…


An openletter to theLibDems: Proportional Representation now!


[I have sent this Open Letter to those LibDem MPs who I know personally. Why not do the same?]
 I know that you will be very busy right now. Indeed, it is because of the cause of that busy-ness that I am writing today.
 I’m writing to ask that you use your influence to try to help ensure that this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for real electoral reform is not lost. From my teenage years, as part of the Fair Votes campaign and petition, through all my years in the LibDems, and (then) in the Green Party, I, like you, have been a consistent and passionate advocate of PR surrounded by other such advocates. Whether you make a deal with the Tories, or (as I would hope and prefer) a ‘progressive majority’ deal with Labour and the other Parties of the centre-Left at Westminster (including the Greens), I would urge you to insist upon proportional representation – on AMS, STV, or a proportional form of AV-plus – as part of that deal. The number of votes that it took to elect a LibDem at this election (letalone the number it took to elect the first Green MP) is entirely and quite grotesquely disproportionate to the number needed to elect a Labour or Tory MP. So, now is not the time to ease off what we have collectively been insisting upon for so long. Britain’s political system is broken – PR is part of what is needed to heal it. Crises are there for a reason – so that real change can be made, to heal what is in crisis, what is broken.
Rupert Read.
[Former LibDem activist and now a Green Party Councillor]

Caroline Lucas does it for the Greens

(First published in www.opendemocracy.net)

It’s been a bizarre and confusing election that defied all predictions. But what does it mean for the our politics and democracy? OK will be publishing reactions to the result from party campaigners. Here Rupert Read welcomes the Greens’ first MP.

Now is not the time for soundbites, but I feel the hand of history on my shoulder, so I can’t help it. A century ago, the Labour Party won its first seats in Westminster. Just a generation later, it formed its first government. And another generation later, it formed perhaps the greatest government that this country has ever had, the 1945 Labour government. Now the torch has been passed. The first Green Party MP.

Now, we’ll be similarly unstoppable, I believe. (And the time-scale needs to be shorter. The planet can’t wait 50 years.)

Here in Norwich South, where I’m writing from, we have achieved a phenomenal result. In 2005, we got just 7.5% of the vote. The surge in our vote this time is one of the greatest ever seen for a political Party at a General Election.

The excellence of the result doesn’t surprise me. We had over 800 garden posters up (Have there ever been more, in one seat at a General Election?), and a total of about 2500 posters up (We have no idea of the exact figure). We knocked on every door – which is more than all the other Parties put together did, in terms of trying to speak to people. Our candidate, Adrian Ramsay, is one of the rising stars of British politics. Only a typically-untruthful LibDem campaign going on and on about the seat being allegedly a ‘two-horse race’ between them and Labour

I think that OK could and should take very seriously the proposals made here, by the excellent people at THE STRAIGHT CHOICE, about how such dirty politics could be outlawed.

In last year’s Norwich North byelection, the old Parties (and UKIP) were able to flood the seat with money, which we couldn’t begin to match. But at a General Election, their effort is inevitably spread wider, and the election expenses limits are far tighter. So, this time, we had something approaching a fair fight. I think we made the most of it.

What does this mean for British democracy and for the British constitution? That remains to be seen; but OK readers can be confident in the knowledge that Greens in Westminster will be avid fighters for massive reform. We want proportional representation, a fully-elected House of Lords, an end to the monarchy, and much much more – but that is only the start. We want real democracy. The people ruling. That means experiments in deliberative democracy, participatory budgeting, real localisation (i.e. a massive return of powers to local authorities), and support for co-operatives rather than for corporations.

As I write, I am, naturally, elated.




It seems an age ago now that Murdoch played his hand, having decided in which direction he felt the prevailing wind was blowing, and declared that the Sun would be backing the Tories in the General Election.  The Australian with the American citizenship doesn’t like to be on the losing side in a UK election, see.  He likes to think he holds sway over the British electorate.  No doubt he’s in his office right now trying to figure out how he can spin ‘IT WAS THE SUN WOT HUNG IT’.  Pull the other one mate.  You’re quite possibly ‘done’ in this country.  The one result that really screws you is being shouted from the roof-tops; the two-party system that has worked so well for you is now consigned to history.  No more Thatchers, no more Blairs… not in Britain‘s balanced-Parliament / electorally reformed future.


I like to think that he had a hand in his own downfall.  The electoral boundaries, plus Labour’s core vote, plus an endorsement from the newspaper with the largest circulation in the country (The Sun) could possibly have swung it for New Labour one last time and Murdoch would have had 5 more years to plot his way to global domination.  Luckily for us the power-crazed ‘media’ mogul – one eye on the opinion polls, the other on the BBC – threw his lot in with the Tory Party.  The rest, as they say, is history. Not even his ludicrous ‘Hope’ Sun cover, with Cameron a Bullingdonian Obama, could get the Tories a majority. (See http://t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:wRonWiGT2nQcpM:http://jonbernstein.wordpress.com/files/2009/09/sun_backs_cameron_cartoon.jpg &

http://t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:rvgnoxugw1dQrM:http://z.about.com/d/politicalhumor/1/0/L/R/2/obama-nope.gif for a couple of great responses.)


Perhaps even the following is true: IT WAS THE SUN WOT HUNG IT(SELF).  Priceless.



[Thanks to Paul Roome for inspiration!]

So, what happened in NorwichSouth?

So, what happened in Norwich South? I confess, I was gobsmacked by the result. I didn’t expect that we would win – but I didn’t expect that the LibDems would win, either. How come the LibDems won in Norwich South, while they gained hardly anywhere else, and had a shockingly bad night overall, losing seats in total, contrary to everyone’s expectations?
I knew that we were losing some votes in our ‘heartlands’ to the LibDems, due to people voting ‘tactically’; but I thought that we were more than making up for those with votes that we were winning off Labour, in its heartlands. And we did. I was right about that. And there was the clue. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming.
The BBC’s graph of what happened to the four Parties’s results in Norwich South told the story. The Tories and LibDems flatlined; in fact, the LibDem percentage actually dropped slightly! But the Labour percentage dropped catastrophically – by almost precisely the same amount that the Green percentage rose by…
Basically, Labour lost thousands of votes to the Greens, on the Council estates etc. of Norwich – and the LibDems were therefore victorious, without having to do anything except hold more or less steady.
So there we have it. Irony of ironies; a huge advance for the Greens; no advance for the LibDems; and yet they take the seat off Charles Clarke.
This is why the LibDems won in Norwich South, whereas they didn’t win in much stronger targets of theirs around the country, such as for instance Oxford East, to name but one.
The Norwich LibDems are fortunate to have lucked out, benefitting from, not a LibDem surge (there was none) but a Green surge.

Tactical voting? STRATEGIC voting…

Tactical voting isn’t really good enough. What’s needed now is STRATEGIC voting. And the centre-piece of the strategy surely has to be: build a climate-friendly polity, a more egalitarian society, over the medium- and long-term, by boosting the only Party that is really serious on ecology and on social justice: the Greens.

A Green tide… Norwich South, today

Voting Green in Norwich South is voting with your heart – for what you believe in, for what will _really_ make a difference – AND voting with your head – for the Party on the rise, rather than (in the case of the LibDems) crashing and burning. Did you know that the LibDems in Norwich have gone from having 30 City Council seats to just 6? Looking at the posters around the city makes it clear that the Greens are the Party on the up here.