Labour figures call for candidates to step aside for Greens in two seats

Anushka Asthana and Jessica Elgot
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader. A group is pressing the party leadership on the issue of progressive alliance. Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters

Labour’s former policy chief has called on Jeremy Corbyn to stand down candidates in two key constituencies in order to help the Greens defeat the Conservatives and boost their hopes elsewhere.

Jon Cruddas has teamed up with MPs, including the former shadow cabinet member Clive Lewis, peers and campaigners such as Neal Lawson and Billy Bragg to issue the demand through a letter in the Guardian that warns of a looming “Tory landslide”.

Lawson, who chairs the pressure group Compass, said Labour could unlock 20 seats where the Green vote was key by simply stepping aside in two: Brighton Pavilion and the Isle of Wight.

The group, which also includes Helena Kennedy, the MP Tulip Siddiq, Paul Mason and Owen Jones, say they believe Labour is the best vehicle for a more “equal, democratic and sustainable society”.

But they warn: “With the progressive vote split the danger of a Tory landslide and all it means for our country now looms darkly on 8 June.”

Cruddas, the Dagenham MP who led Labour’s policy review in 2015, agreed but admitted that the move could trigger a backlash within the party.

“It is pretty controversial within Labour – you see pushback against what Tony Blair said,” he admitted, referring to the former leader’s suggestion that voters should seek to elect politicians who would oppose hard Brexit.

He argued that this latest demand was not about the question of Europe or Brexit but how parties could work together to bolster the number of non-Conservative MPs.

“It is the classic progressive dilemma of who to support to maximise the Tory opposition,” added Cruddas. “Now obviously we support Labour but it is acknowledging what the Greens are trying to do something which is thoughtful.”

He said there had always been hostility to the idea of a progressive alliance within the labour movement, because people believed the Labour party should stand in every seat and that it was the right vehicle for their politics.

Cruddas said he believed Labour could win majorities again but added: “Politics is splintering. It is not as simple as the postwar model with a swing between two alternatives. Politicians need to be more agile in the way they analyse the political forces in play.” He argued that it was about finding the best way to defeat the Conservatives “seat by seat”.

However, a Labour spokeswoman said the party was “fighting to win this election and would field candidate in every seat, with the exception of the Speaker’s on grounds of parliamentary protocol”.

Lewis – who is defending a majority of 7,654 over the Conservatives in Norwich South, where the Greens took 14% of the vote in 2015 – is another signatory.

This move comes after he teamed up with his Labour colleague Rachael Maskell MP to argue that Labour should be prepared to offer a referendum on the final Brexit deal.

The pair, both former shadow cabinet members representing constituencies that voted remain, said a vote on the agreement reached by Theresa May was not equivalent to a rerun of the referendum.

“Giving the British people a chance to ‘seal the deal’ with a vote on the final terms of the Brexit negotiations is not asking the same question twice. How can it be?” they wrote. “We stand on the precipice of a new and vastly changed political and economic reality. If they really believe their own rhetoric, even Tory Brexiters should welcome a chance to put their Brexit before the people and get their support.”

Meanwhile a study by the Policy Network, a centrist thinktank headed by Peter Mandelson, has claimed that a Conservative landslide would leave the Labour party concentrated almost exclusively in cities, with a quarter of its MPs based in London. It also claims Corbyn’s supporters would be more likely to retain their seats than those who have opposed the Labour leader.

The group pressing the Labour leadership on the issue of progressive alliance in Brighton Pavilion and the Isle of Wight are hoping that support for the Greens in those two key seats could open up a range of opportunities for Labour to reduce any losses.

Sian Berry, a London assembly member and the Green candidate in Holborn and St Pancras, pointed out that her party had already taken steps not to challenge in Labour in areas such as Ealing in west London.

“This should be a cooperative endeavour – they should definitely be standing down in the Isle of Wight and Brighton Pavilion,” she said.

She said her neighbouring constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn was one of the most marginal in the country, with a Labour majority of just 1,138 over the Tories. The Greens won 2,387 votes in the constituency, which is held by Siddiq, one of the signatories to the letter.

“We have selected a candidate but we have resolved to talk to Tulip Siddiq to see if we can work with her and we have decided to put our final decision to a vote of members,” said Berry, pointing out that the party had until 11 May to officially withdraw its candidacy.

She said that support from Siddiq for a Green campaign to get the council’s pension fund out of fossil fuels, the promise of continued dialogue and a public statement on electoral reform could all help persuade the Greens to step aside and support Labour.

A Conservative spokesman said: “This is proof that Jeremy Corbyn’s MPs are already building a coalition of chaos to prop him up in Downing Street. The result would be nonsensical policies that would crash the economy, weaken the union and put Brexit at risk – in contrast to the strong and stable leadership of Theresa May and the Conservatives.”

It came after Corbyn addressed the National Association of Headteachers suggesting that Labour could commit to plugging a £3bn hole in school budgets. Asked after his speech about whether his party was “brave enough” to fully reverse the cuts, the Labour leader said: “I believe we are brave enough to do it because I see education as a complete priority and that is what I want to achieve, because it unlocks the potential of children.”

He said the vast majority of schools were facing a funding crisis. “I’m determined to lead a government that will give the priority it deserves to education, not the blame culture of headteachers and teachers in underfunded schools. I’m determined to change it.”

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