Saturday, 15 May 2010

Denham's balanced history of the Lib-Lab failure

The opening question to a Fabian 'Next Left' Question Time panel with John Denham and Chuka Ummuna for Labour, Ben Brandzel from the US, and Evan Harris and Jonathan Isaby of ConservativeHome representing the Coalition, was this:

Should we encourage disaffected LibDems to defect or to cause dissent in their own ranks?

Evan Harris defended the Coalition as not his preference but the right choice to make, John Denham MP suggested a sensible approach would see both sides of the story of the failure to do a Lab-Lib coalition:

There is an understandable reason why some Liberal Democrats have a need to blame the whole thing on Labour, and there is no agreed history of the negotiations, and there is a very different account from the Liberal Democrats and Labour.

I was very keen on a deal. But a balanced view of the negotiations would say two things:

Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrat MPs did not want to do a deal with Labour, because of the problem of political legitimacy.

And though the Labour government negotiators were in good faith, it became clear that the Labour party was psychologically and politically in no shape to make a deal work.

For both of those reasons, a historic moment was lost.

But Denham warned that Labour needed to focus on its own task more than the LibDems:

"It is far more likely than most Labour members are assuming that the coalition will be more popular than we think - and more popular than us unless we change. We should not spend so much time worrying about the coalition, or the Liberal Democrats disaffected members that we do not realise that we have much work to do to earn the right to govern again".


Duncan said...

Hooray! So perhaps now Labour officials such as Lord Adonis can stop lying and saying it was an active choice/preference on the part of the Liberal Democrats (and goading the sensibilities of those feeling 'betrayaed' with such lies) and get on with the business of reforming Labour party so that most of us can get the Lib-Lab coalition, after the next election, that most of us want.

I can't help feeling that if Labour had made progress on electoral reform over its 13 years of government. Given the Fabian society has a good record on electoral reform, perhaps you might take action/put pressure on the likes of Tom Harris who undermined Lib-Lab negotiations by saying he'd never accept anything other than FPTP.

Here is Simon Hughes account: "Over the weekend Labour indicated they would also be willing to talk to us about forming an alternative progressive coalition. I believed strongly that we should do this and our party agreed on Monday that we should also open talks with Labour. These began on Monday evening and immediately after the cabinet meeting when Gordon Brown announced that he would stand down later this year as Labour leader and Prime Minister. The first meeting with Labour was not encouraging. Labour negotiators were unwilling to move on any of the issues where we had different views on major areas of policy. For example, they wouldn’t accept that a third runway at Heathrow should not go ahead; they were unwilling to abandon identity cards; they insisted on keeping nuclear power, and perhaps most importantly, they were unwilling to consider any further progress towards a fair voting system in the House of Commons. Indeed they made clear that they couldn’t guarantee that all Labour MPs would even vote for a referendum on the Alternative Vote." "Although the combination of the votes of the other parties (Democratic Unionists, SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Social Democratic and the single Alliance Party, Green and Independent MPs) would provide a total which gave a majority if they all voted with all Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs, more and more Labour MPs were going public in the media saying that they would not vote for a referendum on the new voting system and calling on Labour to go into opposition. By Tuesday afternoon it was clear that Labour negotiators were unable or unwilling or both to reach a secure coalition deal on behalf of Labour with my party."

rb said...

It's worth noting that compass is inviting members from 'cuban solidarity' and 'venezuelan solidarity' organizations. Both these organizations stand up for corrupt dictators and god damn communism.

Neal Lawson is downright dangerous and irresponsible for allowing these groups political space in a predominantly labour party affiliated group. So is compassite ideology communitarian or reconstructed Stalinism? And if compass thinks it can bring together liberal democrats and communists, then they've lost their minds.

Ambitious Mamas said...

I think there is a difference between 'causing dissent within...' and a healthy debate on differing views of the coalition. The former suggests a rather malicious and deliberate act to intentionally disrupt the party. If this so then members of any party with that intent should defect, surely, because their voice should then be heard from the outside and not within.

Sunder Katwala said...


Up to a point. I find all of Denham's arguments convincing. He is right that there are conflicting accounts; that Labour should pay more attention to sorting itself out; and that

The argument is both that
1. Clegg preferred a Tory deal once we had the result, though spoke to both sides to flesh out the choices.
2. Labour negotiators wanted a deal but were unlikely to deliver stable support for it.

On 1, I have no doubt 75%+ or more of LibDems prefer a Labour coalition if all other things were equal. Given the Parliamentary arithmetic, and that it is Labour who had gone in with a majority, there are good reasons to think that from Friday May 7th Clegg's preference was to seek to lead his party into a Cameron-led alliance; aware that some in his party would want both options fully explored.

His own Guardian interview suggests the "legitimacy" criteria was paramount: he knew immediately (indeed really from the campaign) that he could secure Brown's departure. This strengthened his position; there is little evidence it could have changed his mind. (The legitimacy problem could have been better, not worse, with a Labour contest beginning to elect the unknown next PM of the coalition).

Certainly, eveything that happened is fully consistent with Clegg wanting to lead a centre-left party into the deal he got if he could persaude them it had enough in it.

Moreover, given that Ashdown's interventions were made working hand-in-glove with the leadership, it is more plausible he was going *public* on the possibility during talks to give credence to it being serious (for party opinion, and Tory pressure) rather than that he would be risking a rift between current and former leaders. (By that point, Clegg's position was pretty unambiguous as to where he personally wanted to take the party).

The LibDem accounts (for understandable reasons of party cohesion) are over-spun; some are false. For example, some MPs (including your Hughes quote) have publicly spoken and written about Labour insisting on keeping ID cards and the Heathrow runway: they have either been spun or are spinning; that is simply untrue: LD negotiators are not going to maintain that account of it once past the critical party management phase.

Newmania said...

The most interesting point was the willingness of New Labour to offer AV without a referendum as a last throw.
Scary stuff

Zio Bastone said...

‘[S]ome MPs […] have publicly spoken and written about Labour insisting on keeping ID cards and the Heathrow runway: they have either been spun or are spinning; that is simply untrue.’

Have you evidence that this is ‘simply untrue’ or is your assertion, as I suspect, merely flim-flam?