(Not quite) 101 reasons not to talk to the Liberal Democrats….
Peter Hain has revived the perennial question of whether Labour should enter a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. Apparently, due to the ‘promiscuity’ of voters, we now have to accept that coalition politics could well be here to stay. Far be it from me to question Mr Hain’s reading of the political rubric but the fact that the junior partner in the current Coalition is currently registering polling numbers lower than the leaving age for primary school (along with the fact that the senior partner isnt doing fantastically well either) might tend to suggest coalition politics isnt as popular as Mr Hain thinks it is.I think coalition and consensus politics is one of those things that people tend to support in theory (because it sounds nice and sensible) but when it comes down to the practice voters are actually less than keen on the whole idea. Frankly, the timing of Mr Hain’s comments is a bit daft given the fact we are currently in the business of opposing bitterly a government propped-up by the Liberal Democrats – the self-same people he wants us to jump straight in bed with. It risks doing damage to Labour itself because the Lib Dem brand is so toxic that it contaminates everything it touches. Coming up to the election, whenever it maybe, the last message we need to gift to the Conservatives is ‘Vote for Ed Miliband – get Nick Clegg’.
Still Brian Barder isn’t to be deterred. He seems to favour this approach:
The most natural and congenial informal partner for the LibDems is the Labour party. There should be the beginning of informal talks now, tomorrow, or next week at the latest, between the Labour and LibDem leaders and front-bench shadow ministers with their LibDem opposite numbers about the broad shape of the policies that a minority Labour government will pursue and to which the LibDems would give general support. This set of informally agreed policies will eventually be reproduced, not necessarily in identical terms, in the manifestos of both the LibDems and the Labour Party before the next election, so that the electorate will know what they are voting for (or against). The Greens and the left-of-centre nationalist parties of Scotland (including the SNP), Wales and Northern Ireland should also be consulted about the general contents of the agreed policy proposals of Labour and the LibDems and invited to promise their general support for them — whether or not there is a hung parliament.
Come on, Ed! Why not?
What I dont understand is how Brian can write so eloquently about how many times voters have rejected coalition politics in practice and then suggest Labour should go ahead and do it anyway. The reasons not to do it are not just purely strategic, they are political too. Britain needs a radical Labour government that is committed to, amoung other things, major economic restructuring. I can only see the Liberal Democrats being a break on progressing the kind of agenda we need. Indeed, that is why the leadership seem are desperate to have them on board. They want to use and abuse them as a human shield to protect them from an irate Labour membership and also wider public. It’s a terrible life being a Lib Dem really, your political cannon fodder that is sent over the top while those higher up the political food chain sit at least a solid 20 miles behind the front line.
I can hear the cat-calls of ‘sectarian’ and ‘tribalist’ now. However, I am all in favour of working across Party-lines where it is strategically necessary and politically possible. It may well be the case that the next election produces another hung-parliament. In that case, that will be a discussion to have then in the concrete context of the political realities of the time, however, that time obviously is not now where our primary mission must be to defeat our ‘suitors’ at the polls. Also, none of this means however we should forget who we are and that we are all in separate parties for good, sound reasons. Nor should we ignore the clearly expressed wishes of the electorate who, despite what they may say to opinion pollsters about how much they would love the parties to just get along, clearly ,loath and despise coalition politics with a vehement passion. I would imagine this is down to them being under the impression that ultimately it leads to deceitful backroom deals with broken promises littering the room like confetti at a wedding party. One cannot possibly imagine where they got that impression from. So, should we be talking to the Lib Dems? Maybe a better question is…how many ways can I say no?