There is a destructive mindset in the Labour Party that says that by forming a coalition with the Conservatives the Lib Dems are acting true to form, with the implication that there has never been a ‘progressive consensus’ – merely This Great Movement Of Ours and Them. But let’s look at Labour’s relations with the Conservatives.
Labour’s way of preventing a Conservative government over the past decade has been to turn itself into one. The concessions the Lib Dems have made to David Cameron over the budget reduction strategy pale beside the concessions Labour made to the Tories – ceding the whole economic ground – years ago. If Labour is going to continue to obsess about ‘betrayal’ and ‘selling out’, it needs to start looking in a mirror.
Labour lost its soul in office. One of the sticking points in the Lib-Lab talks on which Labour was unwilling to concede concerned locking up the children of illegal immigrants. This pretty much says it all. There are a great many things that worry me about the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition but I am confident that we will end up a freer, more humane society as a result. And that is about as damning an indictment of Labour as it is possible to make.
Nonetheless, in terms of a future for the progressive left, we have grounds to be optimistic. There are four things we need to do to ensure that this coalition does not become a triumph for the right.
First, we must maintain lines of communication and co-operation. At Westminster, select committees will be a useful place to build alliances. With most of the more right-wing Lib Dems now holding office, the Lib Dems who hold the balance of power in these committees will tend to be of the left.
Second, it is vital that the new Labour leader is someone the Liberal Democrats can do business with. Returning to pendulum politics is neither desirable nor likely in the longer term. The UK has now embraced multi-party politics and can expect to follow countries like Canada and India, whose first-past-the-post voting systems no longer prevent balanced parliaments. If there is a balanced parliament again in May 2015 and the Lib Dems face the same obstinacy from Labour that they experienced this time, the Tories’ position will only be stronger.
For the Liberal Democrats, their new ministers need to use their time and resources in office wisely. They may not have won every policy battle in the coalition agreement, but they can now commission civil servants under their control to fully research policy options.
One example worthy of urgent attention is a full study of the practicalities of land value taxation. A policy aspiration that goes all the way back to Lloyd George’s People’s Budget a century ago, there has been no serious attempt to implement it since the first world war.
Finally, the Lib Dems need to widen and deepen internal debate about policy and strategy. Party members need to be able to define themselves as Liberal Democrats while not signing up to everything the party says. The party needs a ‘partnership in power’ arrangement, building on the existing democratic decision-making processes.
In Scotland and Wales, the experience of coalition government led the Lib Dems to become more concerned about the practicalities of administration than strategic direction. We must not repeat that mistake. The risk is that Lib Dem ministers – and the media – will view any disagreement with government policy as an attack. Nick Clegg and his team need to be far-sighted enough to appreciate the virtue of dissent.
There is only so much constructive criticism the parties’ internal processes will be able to handle, however, and for that reason the Social Liberal Forum needs to up its game as both an advocate of authentic social liberalism and as a genuine forum.
This is an exciting, scary time to be involved in politics. Now is not the time to wrap yourself in cosy slogans and old comforts. The Liberal Democrats in office are guaranteed to not get everything right, but as soon as the left begins to recognise that they can do a great deal of good, we will start to make progress.
James Graham is on the Lib Dem federal executive and an executive member of the Social Liberal Forum (www.socialliberal.net). Come to Red Pepper’s fringe meeting at Compass conference, ‘Class, Power and Ownership: Liberalism and its Limits’. Saturday 12 June, 1.30pm
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry