A Coalition for Labour?
Neal Lawson caught my eye this morning, writing on Liberal Conspiracy, he argued that Labour’s route back to power was through forming a Coalition of its own making. He is however, fundamentally mistaken from start to finish. He starts by validating essentially the Liberal Democrats choice of Coalition partners, the Conservatives. Labour, he argues, were looking “tired” and “ready for the opposition benches”; apportioning blame to Labour is, frankly, ridiculous and more crucially it airbrushes out the fact that the ‘Orange Book’ wing of the Lib Dems sought and indeed got their natural Coalition partner. Nick Clegg did not want to share power with Labour, he always wanted to share power with the Conservatives and so he did. This is also what the markets and the un-elected bureaucracy at Whitehall wanted. So, Lawson is being churlish to say the least in his narrative.
He then moves onto criticise the Labour attack on the Lib Dems as hypocritical, given that in government they instituted many of the measures we are now decrying in opposition. This point is not without truth. Indeed, Labour did start or continue the ball rolling on things like welfare-to-work and the privatisation of the NHS. However, this in and of itself does not make attacking the Lib Dems hypocritical. Part of the point of going into opposition is that parties evaluate their time in government and change their minds. This is natural. I am sure Mr Lawson, as have we all, has had cause to change his mind and so I do not see why Labour should not be allowed the same freedom that he would treasure as an individual. What validates or makes a charge of hypocrisy stick is if that mind is changed for no obvious and explainable reason other than self-gain and indeed, here we have work to do on fleshing out our new narrative etc.
He then goes onto talk about ‘Labour’s historic mission’ and again he is correct to point out that socialism and social democracy have a link to liberalism in their political DNA and parenting. Some overlap exists between the social liberalism he talks about and Labour left-wing values and policies. Both do share a common view of the state as a potentially benign force and one that can tackle inequality. However, that is more a reason for them to join us rather than for us to form a Coalition government with even the social liberals leading the Liberal Democrats; here politics comes into play. The Lib Dem brand is toxic and every day it spends in this government its toxicity increases. It is especially toxic with those social-democratically inclined voters who have left the Lib Dems en masse to ‘return home’ therefore forming a Coalition with them seems well, frankly, a bit daft. It’s a bit like saying the route to health and vitality is a wee dram of arsenic every day.
Finally, Lawson talks about environmental concerns and opening up to the Greens too and indeed, were they to be a more significant force, this would be an idea which finds more favour with me. However, there would still be heavy caveats to apply because I never think surrendering political independence is wise and indeed, I would point out to Mr Lawson, that the whole idea of coalition politics itself is heavily toxic with the electorate. It is becoming a by-word for broken promises and yet another factor disillusioning people with politics. Lawson’s article isn’t sensible or principled politics, more it is self-justification for Compass wandering away from the Labour path, it did so precisely at the time when it could have had a commanding position in framing the internal debate within Labour and played a decisive role in its Party-life. This, more than anything else, should undermine the credibility of Lawson’s tactical-political judgement, too concerned with chasing the next big, bright idea to notice what is going on in front of his face. Labour should ignore his advice and come to terms with the fact that although the world is fragmented, it is currently only able to fulfill its historic mission standing strong, tall, and proud but ultimately alone.