Zoe Wiliams, Guardian - The Green party conference opened with a radical act – electing two leaders instead of one and those leaders had a radical suggestion: that political parties of a progressive nature have to start cooperating with one another. Caroline Lucas has long held this view, so it was unsurprising to find her co-star Jonathan Bartley espousing it too (“we are two leaders, with one set of policies,” they told journalists, like Father Ted explaining perspective to Dougal).
I was in Birmingham to chair a panel on the possibility of a progressive alliance – with Lucas and transport spokesman Rupert Reed extending green tendrils, and Wigan MP Lisa Nandy speaking for the Labour party. The idea of a progressive alliance is problematic at every level, from every angle: its name sounds wholemeal and mockable. And yet it occupies that vexed space in political discourse where it’s just well enough known that it can’t be replaced, not well enough known that any normal person has heard of it.
At a practical level, it doesn’t help that both Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith are explicitly opposed to cooperating with any other party, despite Corbyn being so similar to Lucas in outlook that he shouldn’t just consider an alliance with her, he should join her job-share. But as we know, coalitions of any sort are messy, slow and difficult. Alliances that claim to be about the love of humankind, between people who find nothing more energising than the hatred of one another’s small differences, are even messier, slower and more difficult.
I’m not talking exclusively about hatred between Greens and Reds, incidentally, though the guy standing outside the Green party conference saying “another mouth to feed” in a self-righteous monotone every time anyone walked past did remind me how much there is to distinguish between environmentalism and socialism. All progressives prefer to debate their own fine distinctions than the glaring ideological chasm that separates us from the real foes. On dark days, I think this is because purity is part of the mind-set, and the smaller compromises that would create the swell are harder to make than a peace with failure. And on bright days, I think this is because we are simply the more intelligent group, and the work of pointing out what’s wrong with Theresa May – all the meanness of Margaret Thatcher with none of the frankness or ambition – is too obvious to hold our attention. Either way, it bodes ill for meaningful togetherness.
But there is something about this particular conference season, some flickering between tenacity and despair, that makes the alternative of not cooperating – of not building a concrete electoral strategy based on a shared platform – look impossible.