Sunday, May 09, 2010

Lib-Lab pact- the rational choice?

"The Liberal Democrats should join a coalition with Labour even though this may seem both unlikely and ill advised at the moment". Ceri Ames explains why.

Firstly, the priority of the LibDems has to be electoral reform, and this is pretty much what Clegg has been saying so far. If the LibDems deal with the Tories, they will have to fight to get any agreement on electoral reform, and have so far only talked about setting up a committee to look at the issue.

Traditionally in British politics, this means kicking the topic into the long grass until the urgency and public interest has died down, and then making the most minimal, least status quo altering, changes possible. Even if they did get some sort of promise, it is again likely to be the option that least adversely affects their prospects.

Furthermore, any deal is likely to be opposed by large numbers of Tory MPs. So Cameron will have to balance his need for LibDem backing against the discontents in his own party, and having failed to win a majority against a hugely unpopular government, will hardly be doing so from a position of strength.

All of which implies that the LibDems are not going to get the proportional voting system they must see as essential to any deal. Moreover, their own bargaining position is not as strong as it may appear. Whilst Cameron may desperately want to form a government, and the Lib Dems offer him his best chance of doing that, the rest of the Tory party may not be quite as desperate.

If the price the LibDems ask is too high, the Tories can always try to go it alone- they would only be just short of a majority with the unionists. And if no one can forms government, or if a coalition falls apart within a few months, a new general election would probably increase the Tories' seats; it would almost certainly do the LibDems no favours, and their best chance for reform would be missed.

However, their bargaining position with Labour is much stronger; Labour have no option but a coalition if they have any chance of staying in power; there is opposition to PR within Labour, but less than within the Tories, and Labour's short term interest lie in supporting PR, unlike the Tories'. And despite the LibDems move to the right over the last few years, a coalition with Labour is likely to be easier to accept for LibDems members grown used to being a centre-left party.

I'm not suggesting that a Lib-Lab pact would be easy. Brown's leadership could be a huge problem, and the media, led as usual by the outrage of the right-wing papers, would question its legitimacy. Certainly Clegg would need to have exhausted (or be seen to have) negotiations with the Tories. But if presented as the best option for national stability or some such, and perhaps emphasising that this would only be a short term arrangement, these problems could be overcome.

The Lib-Lab coalition could then implement such policies as they agree on, negotiate the terms of a referendum on PR, and call a new election in 18 months to 2 years. An election after which, assuming some form of PR is introduced, the LibDems would hold the balance of power again, and could look to a deal with the Tories without the issue of electoral reform blocking the deal.

In other words, this would be in both the LibDems and the Tories (if not their current leadership's) interests. The question that's most difficult to answer is whether it would be in Labour's.

[Contribution by Ceri Ames]


cim said...

I think the problem with a Lab-Lib pact would be the need to pull in votes from the other parties. I'm not sure it would last two years, especially if it needed to pull in votes from elsewhere.

On the other hand, I'm not so pessimistic about the chances at another election - Labour will probably have replaced Brown by then, which should give them a nice polling boost. They might not get a majority back, but it'd make a future Lab-Lib pact more stable.

Jackart said...

No F****** way. Labour can't ditch McDoom quick enough for a Lib-Lab pact led by anyone else.

If Brown's still in charge at the end of next week, there will be blood on the streets.

Lunacy. Cameron's got to be PM. The Liberals will not vote down the Queen's speech or the Budget, and in any case some Orange bookers plus scots Nats and the DUP can also be persuaded to ensure Tories win the crucial votes.

This is leftist wishful thinking, nothing more.

claude said...

I say whatever the LidDems do they should not budge one inch on electoral reform. Sod that pathetic clunky offer of an "all party committee". That's serious old waffling politics.

They need a fixed timetable either for direct legislation or a referendum.

The unfairness of the system is beyond a joke now and for all to see and another chance like this for the LibDems may not come up ever again.

As for a pact with Labour, as suggested by Ceri in his article, while possible, it may not last 18 months. It'll have to rely on votes from 4 different parties and destroy each of them at the following elections.

I do believe though Gordon Brown should do the graceful thing and retire. Seriously. He had his chance. He should just leave the reins to someone else, possibly brand new and possibly with some charisma (therefore not, in the holy name of jesus, Harriet Harman)

Paul said...

Whatever needs they are for some form of PR, the fact remains is we are stuck with the current system. A Lib/Lab pact does not have enough seats to work, instead it would have to be Lib/Lab/SNP/PC/Green/SDLP/Alliance/UUP pact for the numbers to add up a nonsense. Now supposing nonetheless such a coalition was formed. The NI parties and the SNP will only support any government out of a cynical attempt to further screw the government into further over-spending in those areas. In essence that will piss off the English tax payer even more as both of those areas are over-funded at the expense of England and Wales (Barnet formula etc). So such an arrangement could benefit the English Tory vote in the medium term.

However would DC have the balls to say to Clegg, 'you go with Labour and together with the DUP I'll sink your Queen's speech and make it not work'? Financial instability would result and Cameron who is not by nature a fighter may not risk that.

Paul said...

' He had his chance. He should just leave the reins to someone else, possibly brand new and possibly with some charisma (therefore not, in the holy name of jesus, Harriet Harman)'

Whatever mine and your differences may be, PLEASE PLEASE do not tempt fate Claude! That hungry control freak is licking her lips right now!

Ceri said...

Jackart- not wishful thinking, I just don't believe the Tories will give the LibDems PR -I was going to call this 'Why not trust the Tories?'

As I said, this seems to me the best bet for the LibDems, not bad for Tories in the medium term, probably not good for Labour, although obviously they both can forget large majorities from now on.

As for the numbers- does anyone think that the SNP, Plaid and the Greens wouldn't back a Lib/Lab to get PR?

Stan Moss said...

The loonies on the right can bury their heads under the sand as much as they want but Cameron's failure on Thursday was stratospheric.

For most of his 4 and 1/2 years as leader he enjoyed a double-digit lead. He was fighting against the most fucked up Labour Party since the days of Michael Foot. Most newspapers endorsed him, in some case openly ditching Labour to support the Tories (i.e. The Times and The Sun). Also, only once in history did a government win a 4th consecutive election.

Even so the Conservatives did only slightly better than in 2005 and only because the Labour vote went down significantly.

Shed the loony arrogance, I say, and ask yourself why you did NOT get an overall majority.

Jackart said...

Stan Moss: "Ask yourself why you did not get a large Majority"... McDoom's client state now making up 50% of the electorate because for 13 years Brown's been expanding non-jobs in the public sector for party political advantage?

That do as a reason?

claude said...

"McDoom's client state now making up 50% of the electorate because for 13 years Brown's been expanding non-jobs in the public sector for party political advantage?

That do as a reason?

Oh...that old chestnut from the Daily Express and that loonie rightist Leo McKinstry. Always some excuse, eh?

As if the millions New Labour bummed up the arsehole with clinical precision (the Muslim vote with Iraq, all the unions that disaffiliated, students who had their tuition fees tripled, the pubs and the smokers, agency workers and the military) magically vanished into the Express-o-sphere.

Good god, Jackart, good god.

claude said...

I forgot the manufacturing sector (look what happened in the Redcar constituency where Labour got massacred in what had always been a safe seat).

In the 1980s many said that Thatcher had come up with the right-to-buy, "tell Sid" and all that to ensure she'd always have a vast power base to guarantee future election victories.

This was often dismissed as "loonie lefties" stuff...

If that was the case, we're in the presence of "loonie righties" material now.