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Could a Progressive Alliance work?


"Although the alliance is not the silver bullet progressives hope for it is a step in the right direction."

The Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green party have found themselves locked out of power in recent parliamentary cycles, with little evidence this is about to change in the next general election. In the aftermath of Brexit, these parties have found themselves promoting similar progressive agendas, but cannot coordinate this similarity into electoral gains. Instead, these parties often have prevented one another from most effectively challenging the Conservative Party, and in some cases helped the Conservatives win seats they may have otherwise lost. As a result, the idea of these parties coming together in a progressive alliance has gathered momentum, especially as it appears Labour may not be able to win on their own in a new political post-Brexit landscape. This has been recently argued by some in the aftermath of the recent by-election win for the Liberal Democrats, where liberal commentators argue they can win seats in parts of the country Labour and the Greens can’t. The progressive alliance can take form through as a series of electoral pacts, or as an agreement to come together as one party. This article explores the extent these parties working as one party could be electorally successful. For such a coalition to work the three parties would need to be able to capture enough seats off the Conservative and Scottish National Party for the effort to be worth it. This article identifies if this coalition would be worth the tough process of bringing these parties together.


Methodology:

This article explores if such an electoral pact could have worked in the 2019 election and 2021 local elections. It will do this by estimating how these parties attempting to combine their vote shares could have translated into a change in seats the Conservative and Scottish National Party received. The level of success for the progressive alliance will be determined by its ability to take seats off conservative and nationalist parties and put its own representatives in their place. The greater the number of seats that could potentially be redistributed to the progressive alliance the greater the case can be made for this alliance to be formed.


The 2019 General Election:

The first table identifies how many seats the Conservative Party would lose if 100% of the Labour, Green and Lib-Dem vote could be translated into votes for a progressive alliance party. It shows the Conservatives would lose 56 seats, leaving them with 309, which would leave the progressive alliance with 273 seats.


However, due to the gradual collapse of the Brexit Party post-Farage where this vote is likely to flow towards also needs to be taken into account. Recent by-elections results would suggest a significant proportion of this Brexit Party vote will be redistributed towards the Tories. The second part of table one shows how many seats the progressive alliance could be expected to win if 100% of the Brexit Party vote was given to the Conservative Party. It shows the number of seats that could be taken off the Conservative Party decreases by 15, moreover, Labour would lose another 13 seats, further limiting gains made. This would produce an end result of 323 seats for the Conservative Party and 246 seats for the progressive alliance.


Yet, although most of the Brexit Party vote will flow towards the Tories not all of it will. The third section of table one estimates a final scenario where the Brexit Party vote is distributed mostly towards the Conservatives, and slightly towards the progressive alliance. Even in a scenario where the progressive alliance can win over 1 in 10 voters from the Brexit Party, they would still only gain 44 seats off the Tories, leaving the alliance with 251 seats to the Tories 321. It also vitally shows that the progressive alliance’s ability to take seats off the SNP would be limited too. This is probably would have been the best-case scenario for the alliance in the 2019 election. Crucially, showing that even in the best-case scenario the alliance would only just about eliminate the Tories’ overall majority and still would be a smaller party than the Conservatives.


Taking into account voters who may reject this alliance:


It must be noted that this best-case scenario for the progressive alliance would be very unlikely as some Liberal Democrat and Green Party voters would rather vote for the Conservative Party than an alliance that would likely be heavily dominated by the Labour Party. Therefore, there is a need to estimate how many seats the progressive alliance would win if only 9 in 10, or 8 in 10 voters, voters could be secured from the Liberal Democrat and Green Party.

Table two demonstrates how many seats the Conservative Party would lose if only 90% of the Green and Lib-Dem vote could be merged with the Labour Party share of the vote. The table displays that the alliance would only take 43 seats of the Conservative Party, down from 56 when 100% of the vote is transferred.


However, it again has to be estimated where most of the Brexit Party vote will flow towards, especially if the Party chooses not to contest many parliamentary seats in future general elections. The second part of the table estimates how many seats the alliance would gain if the Brexit Party vote was fully transferred to the Conservative Party vote share. The amount of seats the progressive alliance could gain off the Conservative Party decreases from 43 to 27, just preventing the Tories from having an overall majority. Further, this section of the table shows that Labour would lose 13 seats to the Tories in this scenario, bringing the net gain down to 14, leaving the Tories 338 seats, enough for an overall majority.


Furthermore, there is another problem for the progressive alliance. This analysis assumes Labour will keep most of their vote from the last election, yet in some seats, Labour may not be able to do this, and they may already be losing more voters to the Tories in the so-called “Red Wall” seats. Indeed, one of the 13 seats Labour could lose if Brexit Party voters switch to the Tories in large numbers has already been lost in a by-election, with another loss potentially coming in Batley & Spen. Further, forming a progressive alliance could provoke more voters to drift to the Tories, and as this table shows this may limit the effectiveness such an alliance could have.


What if 80 in 10 of Green and Lib-Dem voters reject the alliance?


If forming a progressive alliance did push 2 in 10 Liberal Democrat and Green Party voters over to the Conservative Party then the gains, although useful, would become much more limited. Without taking into account where the Brexit Party vote might flow towards the progressive alliance would gain 26 votes, but would lose one Lib-Dem seat, bringing the gain down to 25 seats. The last part of table three demonstrates that when estimating 90% of the Brexit Party vote flowing towards the Tories and 10% going to the progressive alliance then only 16 seats would be gained. Moreover, in this instance Labour would lose a minimum of 10-16 seats, producing little if any overall net gains for the alliance. Further, it can again be stated little headway would be made in Scotland, where the SNP would lose few seats. This shows that a high transfer of votes from the Lib-Dem and Green party, along with Labour holding up their vote, would be needed for a progressive alliance to have a good enough impact for it to be worth the trouble at the parliamentary level.



The local elections 2021:

Conservative seats:

The 2021 elections showed how the Brexit Party and UKIP vote was redistributed largely towards the Tories, helping them gain more council seats in key areas. Moreover, as these elections occurred within England this takes out the nationalist parties’ influence. This allows analysis of comparing seats the Tories hold and the seats the progressive parties hold at a very local level. Table four focuses just on the council seats the Tories won in the last local elections. If a progressive alliance was formed in these seats and 100% of the Labour, Liberal Democrat and the Green Party vote could be successfully merged then this would have allowed these parties to have obtained over 500 more seats. Yet, as stated earlier the possibility of successfully bringing all these voters together is low, and even if 9 in 10 of these voters could be brought together then 350 council seats would be gained off the Tories. If only 8 in 10 voters could be brought together, with the other 20% going to the Tories, then only just over 208 seats would be gained.


Seats the progressive alliance already holds

Crucially, table 5 shows a progressive alliance could cost these parties seats if some of their voters opt to reject the alliance and defect to the Tories. If only 9 in 10 voters were brought onside then the Tories and other parties could gain around 250 sea: ts off these three parties, producing a net gain of only 100 seats. If less than 8 in 10 voters were brought on-side then the progressive alliance could risk losing more council seats than they gain. Crucially, this shows that these parties’ voters will need to heavily support a progressive alliance if it is to be successful at a local and parliamentary level.


Hastings as an example:

A progressive alliance during the Hastings Borough Council elections could have stopped the Conservative Party gaining two seats. Moreover, it may have also helped increase majorities that are dwindling in former Labour strongholds. Therefore, this example vitally shows that a progressive alliance within a key marginal constituency might be able to produce positive results, and do so at a very local level.


Conclusion:

Overall the analysis of the potential electoral success of a progressive alliance shows that although it is not the silver bullet progressives hope for it is probably a step in the right direction. Such a move would certainly make developing an electoral strategy and targeting voters easier. Moreover, there are a few seats that could be gained relatively easier if the parties of Labour, Lib-Dem and the Greens worked together. In terms of parliamentary seats, it could make some of the key marginal seats easier for such parties to gain, with a more diverse set of seats potentially also being gained. However, the number of seats that could be gained by such a move should not be overstated and it must be noted that if not enough of these parties’ voters could be brought on-side, and consequently results in them defecting to the Conservatives, this could produce very limited gains for progressives. Therefore, whilst a progressive alliance is probably a good way forward it will not suddenly result in the political changes these parties desire. For this to occur, a progressive alliance would need to form, establish a foothold and then expand into more diverse voter groupings currently not voting for progressive parties, such as Red Wall voters.



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