Democracy relies on trust. In order for people to be able to have their say, they need to know confidently who they are voting for and what their preferred candidate or party stands for.
That is why disinformation in politics is such a dangerous game. Attempts to warp reality in order to serve a distinct group will inevitably disenfranchise whole sections of society and make people feel powerless to bring about change.
Unfortunately, our two-party system breeds exactly this kind of behaviour. If you can’t win support for your own vision, you can always misrepresent your opponents in the hope that if you sling enough mud, voters will pick you as the least reprehensible option. Ultimately, we all end up losing.
We need a new politics, one that values cooperation over conflict and collaboration over isolation. After all, we have more in common than that which divides us. We have known it for decades, and invariably, every new leader promises this sense of togetherness. But every new leader also gets quickly ground down by the system, and reverts to type.
In a two-party system, a cooperative approach to politics is the road less travelled. Any suggestion you might wish to work with others is portrayed by opponents as an admission that you can’t win on your own. And old habits die hard. The older, bigger parties will always feel entitled to govern.
It was with very mixed feelings that I watched the aftermath of the recent local election results. Our system is fragmenting, with more and more people voting for an increased variety of different parties. The world has changed, and the new politics is a politics of plurality. But our two party system will always be in denial. It will stifle attempts to work together.
Success, however, did come in places like Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Stroud where parties came together for the common good. They still recognise, of course, that they are different. They stand on different manifestos. They have different values. But they also realise that their communities have elected not one party, but many.
Their duty was to collaborate for the common good, and without this kind of cooperation, communities up and down the country are going to suffer the worst effects of an unassailable Conservative government, and our democratic rights will be trampled in the process.
It was with a very heavy heart that I watched too as relations broke down in places like London and Lancaster, giving birth to a worrying campaign from the Labour Party to spread misinformation.
Parties won’t always be able to agree of course, and that’s OK. But when we disagree, it makes sense to disagree well. Not revert to the old politics from which we must all move away if we are to have the hope of a better future.
It is worth looking at what happened in both London and Lancaster, because if we are to make the new politics work, we need to learn as we go along.
On the London Assembly, which is actually a scrutiny body rather than an administration, Labour chose not to take any committee chairs after they had been shared around proportionally, as is the custom. This is a shame. Now, all of us have been left worse off, because a proportion of those who were elected have not taken their rightful seats chairing the assembly’s committees.
Likewise, the Green Party’s proposal to continue to work alongside Labour in Lancaster under a Green leader was originally rejected. Councillors from four groups, including independents who had left Labour over its perceived shift to the right, subsequently voted for a Green leader of the council.
It was a great sadness to see these examples being portrayed as anti-Labour alliances. They weren’t. There is a major realignment of politics underway, not just in Britain but across the world – just look to Germany where a Green Chancellor could be elected this year. It involves negotiation and collaboration. We won’t always get our way. And when we don’t, it is not acceptable to misrepresent others.
If there is to be an end to Conservative rule, progressive parties must come together. When they do, they will need to win votes from people who have formerly voted Conservative. This is not “getting into bed with the Tories”. Nor is it a compromise. It’s about showing that you are a credible alternative worth voting for, and will be able to govern well.
Jonathan Bartley is the co-leader of the Green Party