State of flux….
The pace of events is almost breathless as the race to make a deal to form a government gathers pace. Gordon Brown became the first party leader to become a casualty of the new politics and it was hard not to feel sympathy for Brown as he made a statesmanlike sacrifice. Nonetheless it was the right decision to go; as Brown rightly pointed out the electorate has passed a judgement on him and whatever else may be contained in the muddled message from the electorate there was a clear rejection of Brown as Prime Minister.
Where we go from here is anybody’s guess; certainly, in the narrow terms of the Labour leadership I have been and remain impressed by the stated policies of Ed Miliband and have been distinctly underwhelmed by the maneuvering of his brother, David Miliband. Certainly, I believe that whatever role he takes Ed Miliband has important ideas to contribute while his brother has little to contribute and would be a disaster in my eyes as leader. This leadership contest should be a dialogue about ideas and the successful candidate will have to demonstrate not just the acumen but also the ideas to take Labour forward.
In a broader context it is not the only or even the most important requirement of a new leader that they ‘get along’ with the Liberal Democrats. It is a negation of democracy that another party should hold determining power over the conduct of its internal affairs of another party. However, that does leave us with the question of what we now do with regard to the formation of a potential coalition. It does not surprise me that Labour backbench MP’s have started to publically dissent and question this for the simple reason they have not been consulted; something that in my eyes is wrong. However, it is quite clear that agreement between Labour and the Liberal Democrats is in the better interests of the country and therefore those MP’s who are complaining mainly on the grounds of its effect on Labour are being narrow-minded. It was quite proper that during an election campaign the interests of Labour were paramount and that this necessitated a sweeping attack on the Liberal Democrats however, things have changed.
Voting reform will make a so-called ‘coalition of the losers’ a frequent occurence so if the electorate will punish us for that but at the same time endorse electoral reform to a more proportional system then it rightly should be called narrow-minded in the extreme. Having said all that there have to be substantial notes of caution struck. Labour should not allow itself to be used as a lever in Nick Clegg’s negotiations with the Conservatives which I rather suspect is something that is happening.
Nor should Labour compromise its indepedent identity or capacity to develop an independent agenda. Also, policies like the Liberal Democrat tax cut should not be accepted at face value and need to be fundamentally reworked and attacks on benefits like the winter fuel allowance are totally unacceptable as is the Liberal Democrat zeal for deficit reduction funded through 100% public spending cuts. On civil liberties and constitutional reform as well as to a lesser extent crime and defence Labour has a little to learn from the Liberal Democrats (less so in international affairs post-Iraq as Nick Clegg supports the same faltering liberal interventionism Labour’s leadership does) however, on primarily economic matters it’s Labour’s past culture as well as probable and hopeful future structural radicalism that is the surer route to fairness than anything on offer for Clegg’s crew.
Of course, this may well all be academic because my fundemental belife remains that, in fact, Nick Clegg will lead the Liberal Democrats into coalition with the Conservatives; it has yet to be proved that the talks offered to Labour are anything other than a rather cynical ploy to get extra committments from the Conservatives which now they have been offered (threadbare though they are) will show the colour of Clegg’s intent.