Sunday, 13 January 2013

A Lib-Lab Coalition would require some sturdy nose pegs

This week, David Clark, editor of the fine centre-left blog, Shifting Grounds, and other signatories from the world of leftism, called on Labour to begin Lib/Lab negotiations. Or at the very least start to draw up a timetable, paving the way for a “progressive coalition” in 2015. I use the word progressive hesitantly.
There have been a number of opinion pieces written on this subject in recent months. The political realists appreciate the current mood. Another coalition, whilst not desirable, could well be on its way, so forging a plan, even reluctantly, is a necessary step. Others recoil from the very thought of one, and will hear nothing of compromise and deals being made with the Liberals.

I find myself being pulled in both directions. The sensible, tribal-averse part of me knows that Labour should be prepared for every eventuality. They may not have a choice. After the last election, it felt like the political landscape had somehow permanently altered. Hung parliaments may well be a constant fixture in the future. Between 1945-1970, Labour and the Tories won approximately 90% of the vote. In 2010, this had plummeted to 65%. The support of UKIP and “Others” continues to eat away at the big three. Proponents of pragmatism say, in short, better to be faced with Lib-Lab than Con-Dem Part II.
Nonetheless, the vengeful part of me wants nothing to do with the 57 men and women who have sat back and allowed the Tories to rule with impunity. Who have forgotten what being in coalition actually means. Clue: this isn’t it. Yes, there are some good things that have been enacted, partly down to Liberal pressure, but not everything falls under the banner of deficit reduction. See: NHS and welfare reform.

A consensus seems to be emerging, amongst us sceptical types anyway, that Labour’s double-digit lead in the polls is a soft one. The public still isn’t convinced Labour can be trusted to handle our finances. After a year of fluctuating polls, when it comes to being trusted to run the economy, Labour’s support has barely budged. Ed Miliband still trails his party in terms of popularity, whereas David Cameron remains his party’s greatest asset. An upturn in the economy, and he can almost certainly expect to benefit.
The political mainstream must shoulder the bulk of the blame for hung parliaments or threats thereof. Under Ed Miliband, Labour has started, at last, to sound and feel different from the Tories. The trouble is, many of his party’s differences are too nuanced for the public to understand. And Labour’s stance on welfare isn’t backed by public opinion. Instead, fringe groups (the nuttier the better) fill the ideological vacuum.

It does seem strange to talk about future coalitions when current projections forecast a handsome Labour majority. But, politics has never felt more unpredictable. Second-guessing the electorate is fraught with problems. Labour continues to profit from disaffected and angry Lib Dems, and yet their support can’t be taken for granted. Will all those who claim to have been betrayed by Nick Clegg et al. really turn out and put a cross next to a Labour candidate at election day, or will they chose not to bother voting at all? Instinct tells me the latter is more likely, especially as many of these Lib Dem voters were disillusioned Labour ones in the first place.
Relying on UKIP to aid Labour by unseating Tory candidates is also a massive gamble. Again, this assumes ex-Tories will abandon their party when they need them most. It’s one thing someone saying they’ll vote UKIP, whilst still safely two and a half years from a general election. It’s quite another actually doing so. It would surely be an electoral miracle if UKIP polled anything close to their current showing, which sees them at an all-time high of 16%. Too many what ifs and maybes.

So I may not like it, and many like me may not like it, but not even entertaining the idea of a Lib-Lab partnership would be reckless in the extreme.
This comment piece was first published by Speaker's Chair on Sunday 13th January 2013

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