Thursday 29 January 2009

The case for a Lab-Lib coalition

I make the argument in a commentary in this week's New Statesman, illustrated by an all-smiling triumvirate of Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and Vince Cable.

Despite a growing sense of Conservative triumphalism, It may well be very difficult for either major party to win a clear majority at the next General Election. The Conservatives will clearly outperform how they did in 2005 under Michael Howard. But they remain very much untested as a government in waiting; and require a very large and possibly double-digt lead on election day to win any majority at all. Labour's electoral coalition was badly fractured in its weak 2005 result, and the economic crisis makes incumbency more difficult, even if the government can make a strong case that it has the better response.

A hung Parliament must be a real possibility. But I set out why I don't think that would lead to either a Tory-LibDem or Labour-LibDem coalition, but rather a David Cameron minority Tory administration.

However, my argument is that there may still be one chance to address the 'progressive dilemma' of the 20th century so brilliantly articulated by David Marquand back in the early 1990s. It depends on forming a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition now, to govern for a year ahead of a General Election. It sounds unlikely: but I set out the terms of a deal which I think would be worth doing on both sides.

Labour supporters will believe the party can still bounce back and win. I agree. Labour are the underdogs but nothing is certain in politics.

Were such a coalition possible, I also think it would be a better government. It could reinvigorate the centre-left, test the Tories properly, provide a broader basis for a politics of fairness to respond to the recession, and make possible the deeper reform of British politics through a new constitutional settlement which has always eluded centre-left governments over the last century.

Many may say that Labour would not offer such a deal, or that the LibDems would not accept it if they did.

But what if they could?


Anonymous said...

With Brown as Prime Minister? Or half the present ministers staying in the cabinet? Don't think that'll fly for Clegg somehow.

Calix said...

But what if the could?

No they can't.

I agree it would make sense from so many points of view and would re-invigorate centre-left politics. Crucially, it might also restore public faith in politics by showing that politicians can compromise for the public interest.

But, in the real world of westminster politics it won't happen because nobody dares lose face, however strong the arguments might be.

It's just as likely as America voting for a mixed race President...

Stuart White said...

My question is: What would be in it for the Lib Dems? From their point of view, it would surely look like they are being recruited to bouy up Labour's sinking ship. Why should they want to do that, when they can happily let the Labour boat sink and win seats off Labour at the next general election (to compensate for some of those they might well lose to the reviving Tories)?

I can see only one thing Labour could offer that would make such a coalition possible: a promise of PR for the general election after next. As a supporter of PR, I'd be delighted. But would the Labour party accept this as the price of a coalition?

Sunder Katwala said...


Thanks. Yr encouragement has of course been one of the drivers for this! The main piece in the New Statesman - linked at the top - does deal with the electoral reform issue (it is AV, with an elected Lords, and perhaps PR for local government point). There is very limited substantive opposition in Labour to AV, and none in the Cabinet that I am aware of (with Jack Straw being openly happy with AV when he has been the main anti-pr voice)

The main barrier to such a deal being offered might well be whether the LDs could take it.

DocRichard said...

It is vital to keep the Tories out of absolute power because of their Herbert Hooverist recession policies, but as things stand they are the clear favourites to be the "First Past the Post".

So. Is it now time to put a Proportional Representation Bill before Parliament?