Let's be clear. There is a deep risk that Boris Johnson will succeed in uniting the hard Brexit vote sufficiently and against fragmented opposition to Brexit in an Autumn general election to win a decent majority.
This would be a 1979 moment in British politics plus, plus, plus: the Conservatives have already had nine years of dismantling social infrastructure. They would take it far further, make English nationalism and authority politics the driving norms whilst severing the UK's relationship with Europe with the heavy possibility of rancour, even violent, between England and other parts of the UK. This is getting pretty darn serious.
In other words, it is worth engaging imagination and leadership to stop this. And it could be mighty hard if not impossible to stop: the timescale for action is days and weeks rather than months and years. It will take bravery and sacrifice from progressive parties and MPs to pull this off. They will have to break free of their current institutional constraints in order to do what is necessary; losing friends and colleagues will become inevitable. But the coming election is not simply about Brexit, it's about the entire governing ethos and political economy of the UK. Do we want to be tilted more towards social justice, public good and equality or private wealth, private interests and division? To answer the former is to be a progressive and that is what at stake. Either model can be economically successful but only the progressive model ensures all benefit.
Let’s deal with Jeremy Corbyn and Labour first of all. Over the past few months Jeremy Corbyn has shown himself completely ill-equipped to lead anything. As Brexit unravelled he’s been caught in the headlights, frozen by his own prejudices and those of his close staff, a naive belief that you can be all things to all people, and locked into the antedeluvian institutional politics of the Labour party stuck in the century before last. The 2017 coalition of anti-austerity plus anti-Brexit - the latter completely ignored by the party in both the aftermath of the election and since - has collapsed. It is extraordinarily difficult to imagine Labour, as led by its leader, participating in let alone leading a progressive alliance. There simply isn’t time or the will within Labour to replace him. So that’s that then? Perhaps not.
In recent months hard Brexiteers have become very excited about a repetition of the 1918 'coupon' election where a letter was sent from the Liberal Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, and Conservative Leader, Andrew Bonar Law, verifying candidates who were Pro-WWI and pro-coalition. What would a progressive version of the same strategy look like?
Whilst mighty complex and politically fraught, there are ways in which it could theoretically work. Setting up a new party, Change UK, has been tested as a strategy and failed spectacularly. But what if no new party was established? A block of Labour MPs, led by Tom Watson, Yvette Copper and/or Keir Starmer (for argument's sake) could lead a block of progressive MPs to support a progressive declaration. Lib Dems, Greens, SNP, and Plaid would be led by their leaders to do the same. Some progressive Conservatives might even sign the declaration. The declaration would commit to voting unambiguously for a fresh referendum, to campaign for remain, some core principles such as increased investment in public services, to correct the UK's regional imbalances and to devolve significant power. All the MPs would remain within their parties and if Labour chose to self-immolate at this point and expel a huge bloc of MPs, then the MPs would fight as Declaration Independents. Whilst expulsion is relatively straightforward (though it would be legally interesting to see the Labour party trying to expel a democratically elected Deputy Leader), selecting new candidates and running a functional campaign afterwards is incredibly fraught. Declaration candidates would commit to only supporting a future PM who had signed.
At some specified moment, based on clear criteria on probability of victory informed by live constituency data, one candidate in each constituency would receive a 'coupon'. The 1918 letters came just over three weeks before the election. These coupons would be sent at the last possible point - say a fortnight before election day - to give a range of candidates a chance to convince voters to back them. The letter would be signed by all the leaders and leading figures from all the declaration parties. Declaration candidates would then be signalled to voters whichever party they were in.
All this seems beyond the realms of current political imagination and leadership. The other realistic alternatives at this stage are to continue as things are with a risk of huge fragmentation amongst the progressive remain vote or waiting for Boris Johnson to implode. Remain support may coalesce again as it did in 2017 - ironically around a formally leave supporting party- but I certainly wouldn't put much down on that bet. And Boris Johnson is certainly capable of getting stuck on a political high wire but that seems to bet on luck rather than judgement. The signs are that his team, led by Dominic Cummings, has a plan and is executing it mercilessly. All of the scenario outlined above is fraught, painful, out of the scope of our current institutional imagination. But, to be honest, do you have any better ideas? Because time is short.