Has Corbyn just opened up the prospect of an electoral pact?
We’re a long way from the 2020 General Election, but already we’re hearing hints about party strategies – on Saturday the Telegraph ran a piece entitled: “Jeremy Corbyn ‘to protect Caroline Lucas in pact with Greens’”. It was hyperbolic nonsense, of course – he said nothing of the sort. But, there was an element of possible truth in the story.
In an interview with Red Pepper magazine last week, Corbyn did suggest an openness to the idea of electoral pacts that’s not been seen among Labour leaders for decades (if not since the Lib-Lab pact at the start of the 20th century). It’s worth quoting the interview question by Hilary Wainwright – and Corbyn’s response – in full:
Hilary: OK, just one final question. You are known for your exemplary lack of sectarianism. You work with whoever is on board for the cause. You worked with the Greens, for example, in Stop the War, on anti-austerity platforms and so on. Now people are worried – and this is reflected in the crowdsourced questions – about the party’s electoral approach to the Greens, and in particular whether the Labour Party should stand down in the next election from challenging their leader [sic], Caroline Lucas, in the Brighton constituency she is MP for. How does a non-sectarian ethic extend to that level as a party leader?
Jeremy: That’s tomorrow’s problem, that’s not today’s. We’ve got to build the ideas, then develop the movement, and then we’ll see. Today is what we’ve achieved so far.
It’s the ‘we’ll see’ that really matters of course – the rest is politician hedging/guff.
The funniest thing is how Labour MPs are already spinning it: as ‘fixing the system’. Peter Kyle, Labour MP for Hove, is quoted in the Telegraph piece as saying: “We can attract voters from the Right and unify the Left. But we cannot do it by fiddling the electoral system and limiting who voters can vote for. The public will take a very dim view that we are fixing the system.”
The reality is that many progressive-minded voters find it disgraceful that Labour still stand against Caroline in Brighton Pavilion and spend so much time trying to undermine her. The same of course goes for the Greens standing against left-wing Labour candidates in marginal seats: Caroline Lucas noted at Autumn Conference in Bournemouth in September that it was a shame that two left wing candidates (from Green & Labour Parties) stood against each other in Brighton Kemptown in May. She called for genuinely reciprocal electoral pacts between Labour and the Greens in 2020 – something that won widespread applause on the conference floor.
So we are now at a fairly unique juncture in progressive politics. The door is actually open for the first time to Green/Labour talks. We can’t read too much into what Corbyn said last week. But we do know that he didn’t rule it out – and in politics, that is often an affirmation that something is very strongly on the cards.
Caroline Lucas’ office was asked for comment but a spokesperson was unavailable (it’s Christmas time!)