The current British political landscape of looming fiscal austerity and Alternative Voting actually now favours the Conservatives and to a lesser extent their new Liberal Democrat coalition partners both against Labour but also against minor party challenges from the Green left and the populist right. It is quite logical for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to comprise on electoral reform, the Alternative Vote favours coalition politics, it enables party activists to find a role in supporting candidates from their own party against those of their coalition partner, but also ensures that eventually votes end up in the same pool. It is no coincidence that Australia where Alternative Voting applies has what is probably the oldest electoral Coalition in history, and there are signs that the Alternative Vote may underpin an emerging alignment between Labor and the Greens here. One reason for the stagnation of the Indian left is that first past the post has meant that the left has had to sign up to electoral pacts whereby they only run candidates in their areas of traditional strength and have been deprived any chance to expand. The Alternative Vote would shield both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives from challenge. The agonies of right-wing Tories, such as Melanie Phillips and hes commentators, about the coalition suggest that under proportional representation the Tories could be challenged from the right, by a populist Euro-sceptic and anti-immigration party, however the Liberal Democrats could also face competition from the Greens. Under PR the Greens would increase their overall vote substantially but would struggle to win any seats, in Brighton Pavilion in 2010 Caroline Lucas won with 31.3% would they have won under preferential voting? More broadly some Labour partisans think that the likely austerity program of the new government will be unpopular. Perhaps, but swinging voters can like moderate sacrifices, particularly when they are more likely to hit voters in safe Labour seats. Remember all the anti-Kennett protests of 1992-93 and the easy re-election of Kennett in 1996? Some Liberal Democrat voters may be unhappy with the coalition but to regain government Labour will need to win over more than just this group of voters. Hopi Sen:
As of this moment, two thirds of voters may well support a Conservative-Liberal alliance and one third support Labour. For us to win, we have to expand our share of support into the ground that the formerly free Liberal Democrats found so congenial. That won’t be easy for us. It is not as if the “captured” Liberal Democrats have vacated that political space, they have merely allied themselves with another electoral wedge, which involves compromise. Some will be disillusioned with that alliance, but that doesn’t mean they will all fall swooning into our arms. Indeed, we will be tempted to comfortably fortify at a little larger than we are now, and thus allow a centre-right alliance to dominate us electorally, complaining all the while at the betrayal of the centrists. To mem, simply expressing disgust does not seem to be a fruitful long term strategy (though we should not take any prisoners in exposing the departures from the centre and left the Liberal Democrats make in the name of their new alliance). Instead, Labour’s challenge will be to find a policy position that re-energises our party and our wider movement while responding to the concerns of those in the middle ground of British life.
Retro old Labour nostalgia is fun and it has its place as a defensive strategy against competition from the left (which was part of the appeal of the ‘old’ Liberal Democrats) but it won’t secure an electoral majority nor will complaining about the Liberal Democrats. Reminded of Australian Labor endlessly complaining about Green misdeeds.