Liberal Democrat/Green Party primaries
by Keith Melton – Green Lib Dem Vice Chair (Campaigns)
Flying a Kite
Like many Lib Dems around the country I was busy fighting elections in May, both local and European. Then I got caught up organising the Green Liberal Democrat summer conference in Nottingham for 15th June. So, during those weeks/months of intensive politicking my mind was taking in the developing political scene.
As you will see from the sub-heading, I am taking the opportunity now to “Fly a kite”.
It is an idea that popped into my head recently, one early morning on waking. I may have said this before, but I take these serendipitous ideas seriously. That is because they are usually the end point of some serious sub-conscious brain-working-analysis which happens whilst my conscious mind is sleeping.
It is a process which seems to involve no biased prejudicial thoughts (not that I would ever admit to being prejudiced anyway! But conscious value-judgements do sometimes err on the side of stereotype. However, I feel pretty sure on the basis of over 70 years of life experience that these early morning “light-bulb” moments do not contain overt value-judgements in that way.)
The background to my “Kite” is that there has been a whole lot of complaining that the Remain parties failed to get our acts together for the European elections on 23 May. In fact, we did not do badly even having said this. However, there are indications that we could actually have done better with some pre-planning. There has been quite a lot of tribalistic blaming going on, on Facebook, as to who was really responsible for this lack of “act-getting-togetherness”.
You may be pleased to know I am not about to get into that argument at all, but I would like to pose a tentative solution which could avoid a similar problem whenever the next General election turns up. Some people suggest that this may be as soon as sometime within the next six months. If that occurs there may not be enough time to get this kite flying before the election process overtakes us, so for the moment let us assume that we have at least 12 months grace before an election arrives.
Change UK has now clearly hit Zombie status and Chuka Umunna has – apparently quite contentedly – joined the Liberal Democrats. Generally, he seems to have been very much welcomed. And there are suggestions of more switchers in the bubble of parliament.
Recent polling has been fluctuating rather wildly, but may generally be summed up as being now a four-way party split. Smoothing things out with a 28-day moving average puts the Labour Party on about 23-24% Conservative and Brexit parties on about 21% and the Liberal Democrats on about 19%. One recent poll gave Liberal Democrats a clear lead on about 30% – with a hypothetical position of the Corbyn-led Labour Party still sitting on the fence about Europe. The more that possibility stays alive (and I see no immediate change happening) the more likely it is that Liberal Democrats can take a consistent lead in the polls.
However, for the purposes of this article, let us assume that the four-way split is roughly as above. And then there is the Green Party, whose 28-day average rests at about 8%. More positive polls have them at around 10%. So, if you take a liberty and add the Lib Dems and the Green Party together the definitely pro-remain English parties are in the lead with around 28%.
Given the strange nature of the First-past-the-post system which currently rules our electioneering, this is probably not enough to provide a leading position, especially given the fact that in many places we will be fighting for the same votes.
As a Green Liberal Democrat, I would very much like to encourage Lib Dems and the Green Party to fight a combined ticket, as you may have seen in my recent blog posts. However, there are several strands of tribalism that may prevent that from happening, not least from the joint leaders of the Green Party at their conference last month. It might happen in a few places, but it might not be tolerated in others.
But, there may be another way….
So, here it is. My idea is that we import a notion from the USA, the idea of having a PRIMARY election process involving both parties in the most sensitive seats – i.e. those seats where both parties think they may have a winning chance. We give all registered members of both parties in such a constituency a vote to choose their agreed candidate and then both parties would throw their full support behind the agreed candidate.
Such a system does not require a merging of the parties to work, but it would require a very high level of trust and we are going to have to work to engender that trust over quite an extended period, perhaps at a regional level, sooner rather than later.
It is likely that most of the votes cast would follow party lines, but that may have two benefits. The first is that local parties will know well in advance that they should be getting busy recruiting new members – which will be good for both parties anyway. And even if the vote does go along party lines, the result will then reflect the actual strength on the ground of each party, which is fundamental to fighting a successful election anyway.
What it would avoid, is our two parties wasting energy fighting each other, when we should be spending our time fighting the REAL opposition, whether it be Brexit Party or the Tories or Labour, depending upon the area. Also it would probably not be necessary in those constituencies where neither party has real strength on the ground.
In a real Four-way split nationally it is not beyond the bounds of possibility we could see a Liberal /Green government – or, at the very least, a Liberal and Green LED government with support from an emasculated Labour Party (which would have to choose a new leader, because the results of the Euro election showed that Lib Dems beat Labour in Islington!)
The FIRST item of business would then be to change the electoral system to bring in Proportional Representation. If the General election that produces this result were to be called before Brexit was settled, changing the electoral system would have to be the second item of business – the first item being the Revocation of Article 50 – AND WHAT A RELIEF THAT WOULD BE!
Please feel free to let me know what you think of my Kite – will it fly? Leave a comment on my post or send me an email as below.
Keith Melton, Vice Chair (Campaigns) GLD