Labour4Democracy – building the case for pluralism

by Paul Blomfield

Sheffield exemplifies how UK politics is changing.  We were the first major English city to elect a Labour council, in 1926. And we stayed in power for 72 years as working class voters instinctively gave us their support. But it began to change in the 1990s, with differentiation between local and national voting.

People who continued to return Labour MPs, began to vote for Liberal Democrats in council elections until, in 1999, they took power.  Later the Greens too began to make inroads and now hold two council seats in a former Labour heartland.  But many of their supporters gave me their vote in 2010 – indeed some displayed both Labour and Green posters, indicating the different way they were voting in national and local elections.

This changing political terrain is reflected across the country.  From the 1970s party attachment and membership has declined, and class identity has changed fundamentally.

Data from the British Election Study (BES) shows that the proportion of electors identifying very strongly with a party fell from 16% to 10% in the few years between 1997 and 2005.  And those identifying as either Labour or Conservative dropped further – from 76% to 63%.  A recent YouGov poll, from June 2012, found that 34% of people voting Labour in 2010 described themselves as not very strong supporters, while the same applied to 60% of those who voted Lib Dem and 34% of Tory voters.

At the same time, issues that don’t fit the traditional left/right spectrum, like Europe and immigration, are playing a more central role in our politics.

But this de-alignment and increased support for smaller parties sits alongside a clear consensus, reflected across supporters of different parties, for the sort of radical change which will be at the heart of Labour’s future programme.  So the changing terrain may threaten the way we’ve done politics over the last 60 years, but it provides real opportunities for a Labour Party looking for radical change.

In response to this challenge, a number of us from across the party have set up “Labour4Democracy”, to promote a more pluralist approach to the way we do politics.

But progressive pluralism is not itself new.  The left’s greatest advances, from women’s suffrage to the NHS, the welfare state to devolution, have only been achieved through a willingness to work with others.

Pluralism today draws on that same tradition. It does not mean that we should fight any less hard for every Labour vote.  Nor does it mean moving politics to the centre ground.  We want to maximise the influence of voters with progressive values, by working with those in the Liberal Democrats, Greens or other parties, who share our desire to achieve real change.

And there’s considerable evidence for the opportunities presented by a more pluralist approach. In launching “Labour4Democracy” we are publishing the results of a major new analysis of recent polling on issues at the heart of Labour concerns  – responsible capitalism, society and welfare, employment rights, the role of the state and the environment.

In all these areas, it reveals shared values between Labour and Liberal Democrat voters, which we know extends to supporters of the Greens and others. Labour4Democracy aims to build on these shared values by opening debate across parties with those who share our goals and making the case for a pluralist approach in delivering and embedding real change in our society.

Paul Blomfield is Labour MP for Sheffield Central and Chair of Labour4Democracy. He can be contacted at

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3 Responses to “Labour4Democracy – building the case for pluralism”

  1. Robert says:

    I totally agree. It has been a problem for the last 30 years that many progressives are not in the Labour Party. To be honest, there have been many good reasons for not being in the Labour Party for much of that time.

  2. uglyfatbloke says:

    Difficult to appeal to a broad cross-party base when there is so much baggage.
    Failure to address democratic reform keeps out all the other progressive parties, the ludicrous war puts people off trusting Labour in the future. A lack of commitment to protection for the person against the state does n’t help, nor does the persecution of sick people who need cannabis. Trying to avoid all the blame for the current economic situation has led to blaming everyone else and not taking responsibility for anything…that sounds pretty hollow really, when Ed Balls is shadow chancellor. And then there’s the self-inflicted wounds…who thought that having Darling head the ‘No’ campaign was a smart thing to to? A wealthy public =school type is hardly likely to galvanise support in Scotland – Scottish people voted Labour despite Blair, not because of him.
    Robert raises a good point I’m afraid.

  3. Will says:

    I am disappointed that Paul feels the need to go down this route. If we want to “achieve real change” then we should concentrate on reminding voters that there is already a broad left coalition and it’s the Labour Party. We may like the idea that the other parties want to work with us on the issues, and they are basically like Labour really, but they are not. The Sheffield Labour Party should be tackling the issue of people splitting their votes and prioritise the winning back of those Green seats before that party spreads further, because the Greens will not be so pluralistic back – just take a look at their new leader’s press releases condemning Labour, the party which 80% of their press releases are dedicated to attacking. As Harriet Harman rightly said in her article on the Lib Dems, we have got a First Past the Post voting system, and you either vote for Labour or against it – parties who stand against us by definition do not want to help us and want us to lose.

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