The smaller parties stole the show in the opposition debate last night on the BBC. One of the biggest talking points occurred at the end of the debate when the leaders of the three smaller progressive party leaders embracing in the now viral group hug.
The symbolism is powerful. Three party leaders differentiating themselves against the adversarial politics that the public have got tired of. Three party leaders who are not seen as part of the establishment. Three party leaders that are women.
Was it staged? Almost certainly, but the important point is this the warning shots of a potential new problem facing Labour if they are without an overall majority come May 8th?
The smaller parties, especially the nationalists know that a two-party system for government will rarely give them the opportunity to project national influence and is an often used argument by the two main parties to encourage tactical voting to keep the other main party out.
This was disrupted at the last election with the Liberal Democrats championing that they emboldened a new kind of politics. While their move to join the Conservatives dramatically backfired for them, the sentiment in the public for alternative champions has not dissipated.
The SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens are taking forth this mantle in this election, knowing that shifting Britains modus operandi towards true European-style multi party democracy may be down this path – strengthening their long term influence in Westminster. And for this to work they need to work together.
As for last nights symbolism being a shot across the bow to Labour – will these three parties themselves enter into a collective negotiation pact for confidence and supply in an Miliband ministry? The SNP working with the other make electoral sense, the Greens and Plaid Cymru a little more complex as both field candidates in Wales, but there has been expressions of working together tactically for their common interests.
The SNP may well end up the true kingmaker under a hung parliament, but it is in their long term interests to aid the relevancy of Greens and Plaid Cymru too. Both of these parties are progressive and their growth will aid in the traversal towards European-style democracy, with acceptable coalitions politics, reducing the a threat on tactical votes where there are viable nationalist seats and cementing control North of the border.
If a new progressive front, even if just in symbolism is built to collectively negotiate with Labour in the case of no overall majority, Labour must handle such solidarity with extreme care – it may only be an inch given here, but there are also public perception risks if such extended hand is not taken, and we end up with another election within the year.