The idea of a ‘progressive alliance’ – tactical electoral agreements between broadly centre-left and left-nationalist forces – has been widely trumpeted recently within and beyond the ranks of the Labour Party. In one sense this is an understandable outcome of the growing convergence of political platforms involving Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, the Greens, the nationalist parties and – more controversially – the chastened and diminished Lib Dems under Tim Farron.
The areas of disagreement, the argument runs, are less significant than the ground we share in opposing the Tories (or UKIP). Many in the Labour Party would instinctively feel closer to, say, Mhairi Black of the SNP than to their ‘own’ Liz Kendall. Why would we reinforce exaggerated tribal hostilities when it is in our mutual interests to make accommodations with each other to maximise the anti-Tory vote? To that extent the argument appears compelling.
However, how are we to understand what constitutes the boundaries of what is considered ‘progressive’, and which social demographic is being targeted? The Richmond Park by-election as a test case revealed a more problematic aspect to the ‘progressive alliance’ agenda. Forces around the left think-tank Compass and the Greens’ national leadership argued for turning the by-election into a mini-referendum on the issue of leaving the EU, by swinging behind the Liberal Democrats as best placed to beat former Tory MP Zac Goldsmith.
We might question whether it was ‘progressive’ to take the heat off Theresa May on the issue of Heathrow expansion by insisting that the politics of Brexit was a more important issue. Equally, we might argue that in effectively reducing the choice on offer to the Tories or their former coalition partners, the ‘progressive alliance’ approach would have meant taking an anti-austerity alternative off the ballot paper and giving misplaced credibility to the idea that the post-Clegg Lib Dems are worthy of support. This amnesia is surely easier for the denizens of leafy Richmond Park than for those who suffered directly from the bedroom tax or punitive benefit sanctions that Tim Farron’s party facilitated.
And where does this logic end? Would it be ‘progressive’ to support a pro-European Tory against a pro-Brexit Labour candidate? Would it be progressive to support a Tory advocate of a soft Brexit against a UKIP candidate?
What often lies behind the appeal to a form a ‘progressive bloc’ is an implicit belief that it is no longer possible – or desirable – to build an electorally significant force at the same time as representing working-class interests. The predominantly white working class in the former industrial heartlands is especially liable to be treated as though it no longer represents a constituency worth appealing to. The anger and alienation of these communities finds no reflection in a smug, professional liberal elite that barely conceals its disinterest or contempt for people it condemns as inherently racist, reactionary or stupid.
In place of Labour’s founding aspiration to represent working-class people and build a wider, electorally successful project around their interests has grown a desire to realign the middle class with socially liberal public sector workers, city dwellers and students. The effect is to push huge sections of communities who traditionally voted Labour – in places like Sunderland or Burnley – into the arms of the right, and sometimes far right.
The Brexit result and the victory of Trump are both reactions to this colonisation of ‘progressive’ politics by forces with neither experience of, nor interest in, the lives of people outside their own liberal bubble. Any alliance that simply represents a realignment of these forces across party boundaries would only at best forestall the pace at which sections of the working class desert their ‘progressive’ assumptions.
For Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, any political alliance should be judged by how far it corresponds to the interests of working-class communities. To be sure, any such project will need to reach out and solidify a bloc of support with other social strata, including liberal professionals. But without this base, it is surely destined to be destroyed.
What we need is not an alliance around amorphous ‘progressive’ values – especially if that means continuing to ignore the wider electorate that voted for Brexit. Instead, we need an anti-austerity alliance, in which the precondition for any agreement is a commitment to standing up to the bosses and bankers to deliver a significant boost to living standards.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency
Empire en vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy
Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences