Why a Lib Dem-Green pact is a bad idea

Our two parties have very different policy positions which spring from sharply contrasting ideologies. What is more I think voters have noticed and that will negate the political benefit of any pact.

So the BBC are reporting that Andrew George is calling for pacts between the Lib Dems and the Green Party to stop the Conservatives winning a majority:

Andrew George has been the MP for St Ives in Cornwall since 1997. His majority at the last general election was 1,719. The Greens took 1,308 votes.

Since then, we’ve had the European elections, with the Greens taking 16,000 votes across Cornwall. Given their poll rating touched 6 per cent this week (YouGov/The Sunday Times), it’s not surprising that Andrew George thinks his party should consider a “pact or arrangement”.

This is not the nationwide deal that Jacob Rees-Mogg MP has proposed between the Conservatives and UKIP. Mr George reminded me that local arrangements in Tatton in 1997 and twice in Kidderminster, in 2001 and 2005, resulted in the Lib Dems not running candidates.

He clearly hopes that if Brighton Lib Dems don’t stand against the solitary Green MP Caroline Lucas, the Greens might reciprocate in seats like his.

Now I see very little prospect of this happening. The Green leadership doesn’t seem interested and I doubt that the Lib Dem one would be either. And frankly that’s just as well.

Liberal Democrats are in the business of making the world a more liberal place. The Greens aren’t. In many regards they are actually less liberal than the Tories. The most obvious example of this is international trade. Before the Euro elections in May I observed that:

the era of globalisation has actually been pretty good for the world’s poor. In the decades after WWII, [poorer nations] generally pursued policies of self sufficiency of precisely the kind the Greens would advocate. And the results were disastrous: while the West and Japan stormed ahead, developing countries stagnated with their economies mired in corruption and inefficiency. As this failure became evident these countries slowly began reintegrating into the global economy. When Mao died in 1976, his successor Deng Xiaoping looked to the success of Singapore had had in using exports and investment from overseas to lift itself out of poverty. Following its lead restrictions on international trade were jettisoned to such an extent that companies like Boeing and Coca Cola were allowed to open factories in what remained notionally a communist country.India followed a similar path in 1991 when a balance of payments of crisis forced it to seek a bailout from the IMF. The conditions of this assistance were that India had to open up its economy. The results in both countries were dramatically higher growth rates that pushed down the numbers living in poverty.

In fact, the period since 1991 has seen the proportion of the world’s poor living below the World Bank’s official measure of absolute poverty has almost halved:

This is particularly striking when you consider that global economic growth during this period has actually been pretty anaemic. Throughout this time growth in the developed world has lagged behind the poorer regions of the world. Therefore, the supposition that our era of free trade is benefiting the rich at the expense of the poor flies in the face of the evidence. It has heralded not greater exploitation but the fastest reductions in poverty in human history.

Given these benefits to those in the Global South, I regard the Green Party’s opposition to the Partnership Agreements which reduce trade barriers between the EU and partner countries with horror. The developing world need the barriers to trading with world’s largest economy reduced not increased!

Even on the environment, the issue which George seems to see as tying our parties together, their our some important divergences. As Stephen Tall observes in a recent post:

The party’s environmental policies are, in my view, correctly pragmatic, rooted in science. We are now pro-nuclear as the least worst way to de-carbonise and combat climate change. We are cautious of fracking, but not opposed in principle. We have never been vitriolically opposed to GM foods. In rejecting expansion of airports, the party has maintained a ‘purist’ line, but it is one of the few issues where that’s the case.

I think that’s the right approach, but it is clearly a less rigid approach than the Greens’.

However, all of this is getting ahead of ourselves. Even if there were a genuine policy alignment between the two parties, pacts would only be worth pursuing if the result of one party withdrawing was that the other party’s vote saw a meaningful increase. One could think this was correct given recent polling showing that half of current Green supporters voted Lib Dem in 2010. However, this does not mean that in an absence of a Green candidate voters will support the Lib Dems again in 2015. I strongly suspect that they are largely drawn from that section of our supporters who were tribally anti-Tory and are now thoroughly disenchanted by our decision to go into coalition with them. So if they can’t vote Green, my suspicion is that they would plump for Labour, find another left-wing outfit to cast a protest vote for or stay at home.

The same calculation applies in reverse. The kind of 2010 Lib Dem voters most likely to vote Green – those attracted by socialist rhetoric, populism and distrustful of science and technology – have already probably fled the party. Those planning to back the Lib Dems now we’ve become a more explicitly centrist outfit eschewing populism are probably those least like likely to find the Greens attractive. So a Green strategist might reasonably conclude that the withdrawal of a Lib Dem candidate in Brighton Pavilion that the beneficiaries could actually be Labour or the Tories.

This is a proposal which doesn’t work at either a policy or a political level. I suspect that George knows this and is really setting out a pitch to potential tactical voters in his own constituency. Or at least I hope he does!

 

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