Something amazing is stirring in Brighton. Progressives across the city are demanding and forcing their politicians to drop their usual tribalism and act for the greater good: namely, trying to stop the Tories forming the next government.
In the last 24 hours, Brighton Liberal Democrat members voted to stand down their candidate in Brighton Pavilion in support of Green MP Caroline Lucas. And Green Party members have voted to stand down their parliamentary candidate (me!) in Brighton Kemptown to help defeat the sitting Tory MP. All this in a city where relations in recent years between political parties of the left and centre have been toxic.
I have a special interest in electoral alliances. I was the Green candidate in Brighton Kemptown in 2015, when the Tory candidate Simon Kirby defeated the left Labour candidate Nancy Platts by less than 700 votes. Afterwards, the Greens were wrongly accused (including in Red Pepper) of being responsible for the Kemptown result.
Most local political pundits recognise that Labour’s bizarre decision to give greater priority to unseating Caroline Lucas in Pavilion than to trying to win the marginal Kemptown and Hove seats, together with its national pro-austerity policy, caused the Kemptown result. But mud sticks.
Shortly after the 2015 election, Compass called a meeting locally where Caroline Lucas MP launched the campaign for a progressive alliance. Within days, a People’s Republic of Brighton & Hove Facebook page was launched – initially as a joke, but now with more than 10,000 Facebook likes, referring to the island of red and green amidst the sea of blue in Sussex and the coast.
More recently, Sussex Progressives was formed from pro-Remain campaigners and has been campaigning relentlessly over the last year to warn people in Brighton & Hove, Lewes and Eastbourne (which also have Tory MPs with small majorities) about the need to ‘vote smart’ at future elections.
Since Theresa May announced the general election, the will has been building in the city for the left to co-operate: with large meetings, rallies and petitions. The ground-breaking announcements yesterday are the result.
People in Brighton & Hove are terrified at the threat of another Tory government – a hard Brexit bonfire of workers’ rights and environmental protections, creating two-tier health and education systems, to add to their two-tier economy and society. This is no ordinary election. The Tory threat to turn back the clock is greater than at any time in my long political life.
In those circumstances, every single Tory MP is a threat. The more there are, the greater their majority, the easier it will be for them to achieve their reactionary aims. So it makes sense in marginal seats with Tory MPs to think the unthinkable and take political responsibility for trying to change the outcome of the election.
The Green Party has led the way – standing down in the Richmond by-election for the Lib Dems, and now standing down in a few selected seats for Labour in this election.
Sadly, Labour nationally has been worse than useless – insisting on standing candidates in every single seat, opposing proportional representation, and suicidally refusing to even discuss electoral alliances with other progressive parties. Luckily local Labour members in many areas have more sense. In Brighton & Hove, Momentum welcomed the Greens’ decision on Kemptown and pledged that their members would all campaign there (so, by implication, not in Caroline Lucas’ seat of Brighton Pavilion).
Critics argue that it’s wrong to prevent people voting for what they believe in. But that’s the whole point – our outdated first-past-the-post voting system means that in many places if you vote for what you believe in, you end up with the opposite of what you believe in! Remember this system in the US let Donald Trump become president with 3 million fewer votes than Clinton. That’s why we desperately need a fair, proportional voting system.
Brighton elected the first Green MP. It is the most gay-friendly city in the UK. It has a proud tradition of radicalism. And now it is the first place where two different parties of the left and centre have stood down candidates to try to stop the Tories. It’s time for other places to do the same.
You have 44 days left to change the course of this election – make sure you seize the opportunity.
Davy Jones stood for the Green Party in Brighton Kemptown in the 2015 general election, and was also the Greens’ prospective parliamentary candidate for 2017.