Heidi Allen, the ex-Tory MP for South Cambridgeshire, has launched a new campaign called Unite to Remain. The essence of it is to create a Remain alliance, one in which certain parties step aside in seats to allow Remain parties who have a better chance of winning a clear run.
Allen herself pointed to the fact that Plaid and the Greens have stepped down in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election in a few weeks time.
“Our country is crying out for mature and progressive politics, not a Government elected to pursue old ideology from the Left or Right. We need to work together to increase the number of MPs who can bring this aspiration to life.”
I agree with Heidi on this point. However, Unite to Remain is a bad idea. The reason for this is Politics 101. In fact, I am tempted to call it the most important rule in politics: if something can be made to be simple, make it simple. Some things need to be complex to make any sense at all, but never make things more complex than they absolutely need to be.
A united Remain campaign can work in a one-off by-election, particularly when Boris Johnson is about to become the prime minister and the two parties who are stepping down might well have lost their deposits anyhow, so thin is their usual vote share in the constituency. Yet spread across 650 constituencies – or, at least, 564 when you take out Northern Ireland because of the different politics and Scotland because the SNP won’t play ball – it becomes mindbogglingly complex. Let’s look at just one seat as an example: Ceredigion. Currently held by Plaid after winning it off the Lib Dems by a mere 104 votes at the 2017 general election, it was a Lib Dem seat between 2005 and 2017. Before that, it was in Plaid’s hands from 1992 until 2005 (even surviving a 2000 by-election). In other words, here is a proper Lib Dem-Plaid Cymru marginal. What does the Remain alliance do here? The Lib Dems can argue that now that they are polling in the twenties, they are best placed to take it; Plaid can counter that they currently have it so they should be allowed to keep it. Who is right here? Neither, of course. They should just run against each other and see who wins.
Even if you could get over fights in seats contested by parties that are both Remain oriented, what happens if this Alliance manages to get a majority in parliament between them all? How does the government work in even the most basic terms? Surely even the smallest party can claim that they deserve a cabinet position, since they could well have won the seats they stood down in for the sake of the group. What about independents like Allen herself? How would they first into such a government?
This is overly complicated for me and I spent most of my waking life obsessing about this crap; it is way, way, way too complicated for the general voting public. Thankfully, there is something much simpler on hand than Unite to Remain: it’s called joining the Lib Dems.
Independents, Independent Groups for Change, please, just join the Lib Dems. You’re either going to do so or lose your seat – why not strengthen the Lib Dem surge with your joining and then work from there. Just keep it simple.