Clive Lewis

LONDON — Clive Lewis says Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn should not immediately step down if the party suffers a crushing defeat at the general election.

Labour MP Lewis told journalists on Monday evening that Corbyn should stay on as leader following a defeat and only consider handing Labour to a successor once the party is in “good order”.

The MP for Norwich South was a headline speaker at the launch of the Progressive Launch campaign last night.

The cross-party campaign encourages progressive-minded Brits to vote tactically at the June 8 election with the aim of limiting Theresa May’s majority or preventing a Conservative government altogether.

Asked whether Corbyn should step down in wake of a Labour defeat, Lewis, who is dubbed a potential future leader of the party, said: “I think that’ll be for Jeremy.

“The things we learned after Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown is when party leaders leave immediately after it can be destabilising. I think there’s an argument for whatever happens Jeremy Corbyn should stay on and make sure he hands over the party in good order.

“What I would say is it would be interesting if people started asking this question of Theresa May and if she loses the election.”

Lewis is among small a handful of Labour MPs who have endorsed the progressive alliance project. In theory, it means Labour, Green and Lib Dem candidates standing aside in seats to boost the chances of a fellow “progressive” defeating the Conservatives.

For example, the Greens have decided not to stand in the London seats of Richmond Park and Twickenham, where the Lib Dems are doing battle with the Conservatives. Many Labour MPs are opposed to any deal with other parties. Labour MP John Woodcock described the notion of a progressive alliance as “bollocks” in an interview with Business Insider this month.

However, Lewis remains a strong advocate for forming alliances with other progressive parties.

“I think it [tactical voting] could have a massive effect on the election,” Lewis told Business Insider shortly before taking to the stage last night.

“I don’t know how much but certainly an effect and probably more than in any other election we’ve seen in the post-war period.”

He added:”I think what we have to understand is when the Labour Party was formed and when it has been at its best it has been a progressive alliance. Beveridge who set up the Beveridge report and which helped create the welfare state with John Maynard Keynes were both liberals who worked with the Labour Party.

“Politics had changed. It’s not the same electorate as it was in 1945. There are no longer four million manual workers and a million coal miners. Many parties speak to many parts of the electorate that the Labour Party does not. What we have at the moment is an electoral system which is shoehorning a multiparty system into a two-party electoral system and that’s wrong and because politics is broken because of that. People want change in this is part of that.”

Corbyn has ruled out working together with other parties but Lewis does not believe this makes his support of tactical voting an act of defiance. “It’s not an act of defiance. It’s about understanding there are millions of people who want to see politics done differently. Jeremy came in on a platform on doing politics differently,” he said.

Another speaker at the launch in central London was Green Party co-leader, Jonathan Bartley.

The Greens are looking to add to their one MP in the Commons but are standing aside in 31 seats as part of the progressive alliance. 

“For the Green Party it’s always been about the game changer of electoral reform,” Bartley told Business Insider.

“In the referendum, everybody in the country felt like their vote really mattered. People previously felt disenfranchised because in safe seats voters ignored while parties focus on marginal seats. If we change the electoral system we can change peoples’ lives. It’s not about self-interest — it’s about a fair system. It’s about the ten million disabled people in this country for example whose vote don’t count because they’re not spread across marginals.”

A criticism regularly levelled at advocates of the progressive alliance is that it relies upon a loose definition of progressive.  The last time the Lib Dems were in government, for example, they were part of a David Cameron-led coalition that implemented austerity policies which the Green Party and Labour passionately opposed.

“I am in the Green Party. I am not a Liberal Democrat — and there is a very good reason why,” Bartley said.

“In those circumstances, why wouldn’t you try and find common ground? It’s actually common sense. It happens in all other walks of life — in charity, in business, you name it. It’s time to put tribalism aside and work together for common aims.”

Asked whether there will ever be a Labour leader who supports the progressive alliance, Bartley said: “What we can be certain of is things are changing very quickly. It used to be about left and right. It’s not anymore — it’s about liberalism and authoritarianism. It’s about Brexit. It’s about identity politics. The people who are on top of that we will be the true leaders of the future.

“The momentum is clear and it’s only a matter of time before we get a Labour leader who recognises that.”

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