Sussex Progressives

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5 lessons to learn from the progressive alliance campaign in Sussex

Sussex Progressives held a meeting for our supporters on 11 June. Together, we reflected on the lessons learnt from the 2017 general election and what we should do going forward. Here are five key points from that meeting.

Tactical voting has held back a Tory landslide.

Much post-election political analysis has been emphasising a return of two-party politics in the UK. The resurgence of the Labour vote, minor gains for smaller parties, and UKIP’s collapse, has for many signalled that the fight for seats across the country is once again a simple choice between the Tories and Labour. This couldn’t be more wrong. Tactical voting had a huge part to play in this election, delivering progressive majorities in a number of seats. It has been progressive collaboration, both formally and informally, that has prevented the predicted Tory majority. In the context of a possible future election, progressive MPs from all parties must not take for granted the votes gained through tactical voting. The electorate is extremely fluid at the moment. Ignoring the interests and concerns of those who have lent their support to a party that wasn’t their first choice could mean risking the gains that have been made. A key task for Sussex Progressives locally and Progressive Alliance nationally is to capture the narrative on this election and highlight the key contribution tactical voting and progressive cooperation has made.

Smaller parties have taken a hit.

The high amounts of tactical voting combined with not standing candidates in certain seats means that smaller parties have taken a hit. From less ‘short money’ to reduced press coverage, those parties that have put the most into a progressive alliance have materially suffered from doing so, at least in the short term. In the interests of maintaining support for progressive cooperation and building on it in the future, we must use this opportunity to further advance the cause of electoral reform by repeating the message that we could already have a progressive government under PR, and building on the links and trust we have built up with sympathetic members of the Labour party. We must also recognise the sacrifices of the smaller parties and do what we can to support them – particularly the Green Party.  

The context in which we fight another election has changed considerably.

This election campaign was fought in a context where everyone was expecting a huge Tory landslide. The fact that this was prevented was a fantastic result. The next election, however, will be fought in a completely different context and our future strategy has to reflect that. Previously we were seeking to defend the progressive seats we held in Sussex, and take those where progressive parties collectively held a majority.

We can now be more ambitious. We’re on the front foot and we can look further afield than we did previously, reaching out to places like Hastings and East Worthing where we have a real chance of winning. To do so, however, our messaging must change. In a context where we were attempting to hold back a Conservative whitewash, an anti-Tory message made sense. The progressive base to which this appeals is, however, probably fully mobilised. At the next election we will be seeking to take seats directly from the Conservatives. We will therefore need to build a message centred on what progressive values and politics can deliver for communities long dominated, but let down by, the Conservatives. We can’t assume everywhere is the same. Messages will have to be tailored to individual communities. Explicitly anti-Tory messages will not be effective in soft Tory areas. Messaging therefore needs to be clarified.

We must also expect the Conservatives not to make the same mistakes they did during this campaign. A more attractive manifesto from the Tories and better social media will mean that it may be harder next time around.

Progressive cooperation has achieved a lot, but more coordination among groups is needed.

Given the short time with which to mobilise following the announcement of a snap election, groups promoting a progressive alliance and tactical voting achieved a huge amount in terms of establishing mobilising structures. Sussex Progressives were just one of many groups mobilised in this campaign for progressive cooperation. Groups like Progressive Alliance, Campaign Together, 38 Degrees, Open Britain, More United and probably many more played a huge role in the wins achieved across the country. The sheer number of groups organising around the issue, not to mention established political party campaigns, inevitably meant there was some duplication of efforts. In the event of another election, there needs to be much more coordination between these groups to make sure our work complements rather than replicates one another. Knocking on the same door five times by five different groups in a traditionally progressive area will not win us the progressive government this country desperately needs!

Organisation, communication and activity

Sussex progressives is working on clarifying its internal structure and for future campaigns will need to clarify communication channels. In order to make the best use of supporter expertise, a skills audit is an important next step, as well as a facilitated workshop on goals, values and aims. For future campaigns training should also be offered on skills such as social media, canvassing and so on. We should aim to hold an event at the Labour party conference in Brighton in the Autumn.

Overall the group has a huge amount of potential to make change, and by further strengthening structures and communication channels, we can continue to have significant impact on progressive politics in Sussex.

Robbie Hirst