Saturday, 4 December 2010

"We've got a lot in common with many LibDems" says AJ, mooting future Lab-Lib Coalition

Shadow Chancellor Alan Johnson calls for Labour to "nurture links" with both Greens and Liberal Democrats, saying that "we've got a lot in common with many LibDems", and that both he and Ed Miliband are "absolutely open to forging a centre-left coalition in future", speaking to Mary Riddell in the latest of her regular Fabian Review interviews.

The Daily Telegraph runs an extract of the interview in the newspaper today, which has generated responses on a quiet Saturday around the blogs, though I don't think Johnson is going so much further than previous comments on university funding. The Spectator's James Forsyth suggests Johnson's candour undermines Ed Miliband's approach in reaching out across the party. In the interview, the Shadow Chancellor suggests both the media and the party should get used to a more collegiate style of political leadership:more open debate, as part of Labour's policy review:

Was he slapped down by Mr Miliband? “No. That is the mark of the man. There is no edict from the centre that says you now have to disbelieve everything you believed in… Ed is the leader, and I will support him. But we’ve not really got into our policy process yet.”

The full interview, to be published in the forthcoming Fabian Review is available online (PDF file).

The Telegraph did not, for reasons of space, trouble its readers with Johnson's thoughts on the referendum on the Alternative Vote, or the future of a pluralist centre-left. Johnson is a long-standing supporter of Proportional Representation. He is backing the Alternative Vote and wants the referendum to be won, but is far from full-throated in his support. (His views here are perhaps closer to those of some pro-PR Liberal Democrats than most Labour MPs).

On the referendum on AV, he is a supporter of AV Plus, a proportional system, and thus out of line with the policies of all major parties, his own included. Asked if a Yes vote can be won, he says: 'I think it's weird that you have a referendum and don't tell the [British people] they're grown up enough to have a proportional alternative as well. [Nick] Clegg has been remarkably weak on this". When I ask a second time if the referendum will be lost, he seems pessimistic. "I hope not ... [But] I think a referendum on May 5 doesn't sound all that sensible now". Will he be devastated should the No vote win? "I won't be heartbroken", he says. "If it [the Bill] goes through I'll support AV, but my heart won't be in it the same way as if it was the proper thing.

Win or lose, he foresees a future in which "you cannot guarantee a big majority government". With that in mind, he does not subscribe to what seems to be a deepening hostility between Labour and the LibDems. "I am absolutely open, and so is Ed, to forging a centre-left Coalition in the future. We'd like to win elections outright but we've got a lot in common with many LibDems and others on the left, like the Greens, and we should nurture those links".

Johnson's comments on the AV referendum date reflect the fact that the Labour party frontbench - including Ed Miliband - will continue to pursue the idea that it would improve the chances of victory to not go for a May 5th vote while the legislation remains before the House.

Once that argument is settled, one way or the other, I expect most Labour electoral reformers will be rather more positive about a Yes campaign than the Shadow Chancellor.


Vicus Scurra said...

The wise Alan Johnson claims that Labour have much in common with the Lib Dems. They certainly do. They both abandon all of their principles and policies and become indistinguishable from the Tories in order to get elected.

The Defendant said...

Indeed. At the risk of looking like I'm self-promoting, I wrote this cos I think anyone with a purely anti-lib-dem stance hasn't yet noticed what's happening in politics: