Ed can work with Nick – but only if he wants a mutiny on his hands

January 21, 2013 10:01 am

There was an interesting column from Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer yesterday, suggesting that the relationship between Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg is warming. In many ways that’s unsurprising – it would have been impossible to keep up such high levels of disdain forever – but if this is a precursor to Miliband and Clegg working more closely together, the Labour leader should be very cautious.

Regular LabourList readers will know that I’m not keen on the idea of building towards a Lab/Lib coalition. I think it sends two awful messages to the public – that whoever you vote for you get Nick, and that Labour aren’t confident of winning a majority. Both of these are more likely to increase the chance of a hung parliament. Some are willing to stick to the fallacy that the Lib Dems (currently helping to ram through austerity and secret courts, to name but a few of their “triumphs”) would help make Labour a “better” government. On the contrary – they’d lead to a muddled coalition lashed to the mast of failed austerity.

Yet even those who have advocated a rapprochement between Labour and the yellow peril have always been clear on one point – if a Labour-led coalition came to pass, it could not feature a Lib Dem Party led by Nick Clegg.

Clegg has gone from being the poster boy for a new politics to the living embodiment of a vile and unpleasant old politics, with a ministerial career built on failure and broken promises, as he and his party cling to the government benches for safety.

And although the Labour Party could (just about) swallow a Coalition with the Lib Dems as the price of unseating the Tories, it couldn’t swallow the thought of Nick Clegg remaining as Deputy Prime Minister. And nor could the country. It would risk being the bitter, toxic poison pill that sinks Labour’s chance of winning a majority.

The irony is that one major reason that Rawnsley cites as an example of Miliband’s strengthened relationship with Clegg (working together to kill Cameron’s gerrymandering boundary changes) actually increases the chances of an overall Labour majority.

Yet Labour people should nt worry too much. It is still Miliband’s stated position that he couldn’t work with Nick Clegg. What appears to be happening is a tactical briefing from those closest to Clegg designed to sustain his position as Lib Dem leader by aligning him more closely with Miliband. But when Lib Dem members and MPs see Clegg sat in the house, inches from Cameron, they will know that it is politics, as well as proximity, that draws these men together. Labour should no more consider a coalition with Nick Clegg than it would with David Cameron. They are both responsible for the policies of this government, through either desire or acquiescence, and should be treated accordingly.

The Labour Party couldn’t stomach an alliance with Nick Clegg, or his return as PM under Ed Miliband. If a coalition is necessary, Miliband will need to call Clegg and tell him what the Lib Dem Leader once told Gordon Brown:

“Please understand I have no personal animosity whatsoever… but it is not possible to secure the legitimacy of a coalition…unless you move on in a dignified way.” 

And in the unlikely event that Ed thinks otherwise, he could have a mutiny on his hands. Not just from the party, but from a fed up public too.

  • Monkey_Bach

    It’s not only Clegg but utterly repellent non-entities like Danny Alexander and David Laws who have become persona non grata. Even wiser and more admirable heads, like Vince Cable and Simon Hughes, by acquiescing to so many ideologically driven cowardly cuts to programmes of support to the poor have been tarnished because of their own personal association with the Conservatives. No Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition could include the greatest LibDem villains like Clegg, Laws or Alexander obviously. But what about a pact drawn up between Labour and the Liberal Democrats to allow Labour to form a minority single party government with support from surviving Lib Dems external to the cabinet? The views and duplicity of Liberal Democrat leadership is quite different from the views and aspiration of Liberal Democrat grassroots. Eeek.

    • PaulHalsall

      I can just about stand Sarah Teather and Charles Kennedy, who at least voted against the welfare cuts, and I approve of the work Lynne Featherstone did re equal marriage.

      But Laws, Clegg, Huhne, and Alexander make me wretch. I’d rather work with Tories like Ken Clarke.

      Cable I remain in two minds about.

      • Chilbaldi

        Genuinely, the only two I like are Charlie Kennedy and Ming Campbell.

      • http://twitter.com/savetheehrc Save the EHRC

        Lynne Featherstone is persona non grata because she oversaw the destruction of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and is responsible for repealing large parts of the Equality Act which replaced the old Race Relations Act, Sex Discrimination Act, Equal Pay Act and the Disability Discrimination Act. She also supported the undermining of the Public Sector Equality Duty, as does Jo Swinson, which was originally introduced to deal with the institutional discrimination identified by the inquiry into Stephen Lawrence inquiry. This is why Doreen Lawrence has taken the to airwaves over the last few months.

  • Chilbaldi

    Why are we even talking about this? Why do we waste our breath? All energy should be devoted to try to win a Labour majority in 2015.

    There are an alarming number of so called Labour sympathisers who seem to actively wish for a coalition. Yes Neal Lawson I’m looking at you (amongst others).

    I also add – the only reason the Guardian are bringing up this sort of rubbish is to boost the Lib Dems, make them seem more left leaning, and to try to make their readers think the Libs aren’t so bad after all.

    • Dave Postles

      ‘I also add – the only reason the Guardian are bringing up this sort of
      rubbish is to boost the Lib Dems, make them seem more left leaning, and
      to try to make their readers think the Libs aren’t so bad after all.’

      This sounds like a conspiracy theory too far. I’m not particularly a fan of Rawnsley, but I presume that he writes in a personal and informed capacity in his Sunday column for The Observer. The suspicion must be that channels are, indeed, open. It is obnoxious, but probably has substance. The LibDems should be shunned, but Labour constantly vacillates. Sadly, the only succour for people is through the unions and extra-Parliamentary action.

    • aracataca

      Spot on Chilbaldi. But also aren’t the Guardianistas attempting to exonerate themselves from their support for the Fibs at the last election?

      • Chilbaldi

        True, but the Guardian has always been a Liberal paper at heart.

  • http://twitter.com/citizen_colin Colin McCulloch

    Yes to Coalition with the Lib Dems if there’s a hung Parliament – but only if Charles Kennedy returns as their leader.

  • ClearBell

    Heart sink again. Talking to oranges…..oh no. And I am not keen on Mr Cable who seems to be helping a roll back of employment rights. And if I am not mistaken this is what of the anti-EU shouting from some business leaders is aimed at securing – they know their business will suffer in we cut ourselves – it’s employee protection that they are determined to secure really and Vince will help them.

    • http://twitter.com/savetheehrc Save the EHRC

      I agree with you re Mr Cable. Chief Economist at Shell when militia were hired to clear people in the Niger Delta. Also responsible for the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which is the vehicle being used to repeal the Equality Act and powers of the Equality an Human Rights Commission. And don’t forgot the fees introduced for taking a case to employment tribunal and changes to qualifying period for taking an unfair dismissal case. All done under the Red Tape Challenge nonsense, blaming employment and equality protections for the stagnant economy and not their pathetic austerity package. Mr Cable is also anti trade unions if they stand up for their members, as was evident at a meeting I attended.

    • Dave Postles

      You are exactly right about Cable – all lace curtains and no knickers, as we used to comment about West Bridgford.

  • AlanGiles

    Of course, Labour might HAVE to form a coalition with the Lib Dems if they don’t have a working majority after the next election. It is also quite possible Nick Clegg will be forced out of the leadership of his party, if they continue to fair badly in the polls. One thing life teaches you is never say never.

    Labour need to do more than just witter “one nation” to make the public, not least ex labour supporters trust them again.

    • robertcp

      I agree Alan.

  • NT86

    Aside from boundary changes, a strategic move might be to adopt a pre-2010 (perhaps pre-2005) voting pattern. Labour voters down south could very, very, very reluctantly (and this could understandably be asking a lot out of them) vote Lib Dem in seats where Labour stand zero chance of making ground just to keep the Tories from winning seats. Those in Cornwall and Somerset, for example.

    Of course the main battle is for those many marginal seats up and down the country which went to the Tories in 2010 and a few Lib Dems. Those are places which could benefit Labour in two ways: 1. A plummeting Lib Dem vote equals a rising Labour vote and 2. UKIP nabbing votes from the Conservatives, thus acting as an SDP-style splitter.

    I can understand the disdain for the Lib Dems completely, but in 2015 it’s about voting according to what your seat looks like. The Liberals might seem like Tories, but what’s even uglier is the electoral map looking more blue than now. Having a small rump of Lib Dem MP’s remaining after the 2015 election is worth it, compared to the idea of more Tories in Parliament. The LD’s will be wiped out virtually everywhere else.

    Ed could find common ground with Nick on a few matters, but he needs to carve out some real policies, something which Labour still needs to do. Decentralised democracy in favour of real, grassroots localism for starters, because New Labour was very top-down.

    Any stronger relationship with the Lib Dems, however, will look toxic as long as Clegg is leader. Vince Cable, Charles Kennedy or Tim Farron might be more agreeable.

    • aracataca

      Not that tactical voting crap again. Spare us please.
      Tactical voting hasn’t, doesn’t and never will make any sense. Look what happened in 2010.

      • NT86

        It wasn’t tactical voting in 2010. The general mood was to get Labour out of office at the last election. I was referring to the strategy used in 1997, 2001 and to an extent 2005.

        In 2010, the Lib Dem surge basically handed the Tories many seats, which would have otherwise been with Labour. What I’m referring to are those places in the south east and south west where Labour are a distant third. I can handle a few Lib Dems in Parliament as long as Tory numbers go down and it ensures a Labour majority. Everywhere else, particularly both Midlands regions (LDs only have two seats in W Midlands, none in E Midlands), those who voted LD in 2010 will probably revert back to Labour anyway.

        • aracataca

          This is what was said by Billy Bragg and co before the 2010 election and hey presto the Fib Dems showed what a flaky bunch they really are. You’re also just plain wrong- there was lots and lots of tactical voting in 2010 (my wife almost fell for it)-check out the Guardian comments page for proof of this. Tactical voting was then, and is now, a load of old nonsense. Besides which there are many people like myself who would rather stick needles in their eyes than vote Fib Dem.

          • NT86

            How was it tactical voting to divide the Labour vote in places like Corby, Hastings and Rye, Stourbridge, Amber Valley, Lincoln, etc? These were all seats where the Tory majority in 2010 turned out to be lower than the Lib Dem vote. Graun readers and the like misread the signs based on Clegg’s performance in the debates as well as wider dissatisfaction with Labour, which had slumped in the polls by that time.

            A tactical voter would have put on a nose peg and still opted for Labour in all those marginals at that point.

            I can’t stand the Lib Dems, their deceit and failure to reel in the excesses of the Conservatives. But the reality is that they’ve secured a lifetime in opposition now.

          • robertcp

            Tactical voting stopped the Tories getting a majority and a left of centre coalition was just about possible. Many Labour MPs said that they did not want a coalition.

    • Jeremy_Preece

      Yes, I think that we are saying the same thing, although I certainly would need to be drugged before I voted LibDem ever again!

  • Jeremy_Preece

    The main point which I would make is that the Liberal Democrats, and their leader in particular, are very damaged goods. Their party spent years building up a reputation for sticking to principle and gained a lot of Labour support over their position over Iraq for starters.

    Form many years, those of us who found ourselves living in Southern areas of the country, where there sometimes were not even local election Labour candidates, got used to the idea that you had to first of all get rid of the Tories and that a LibDem MP would be much better than a Tory MP, and that strategically, depending on where you live, that may be your only chance of breaking the chocking monopoly of power in some areas. I do not expect people in other parts of the country to understand that, but if you have lived under these conditions then pragmatism takes over.

    After the 2010 election, the sheer betrayal and double-dealing of the LibDems and their role in this coalition, their role in bringing in all kinds of toxic policy and their contempt for all of the voters who voted for them because of the pledges that they have made, makes the LibDem Party a truley vile blot on the face of whatever passes for British democracy.

    They are set, if the opinion polls of the last two years can be believed, to loose at least half of their seats and become irrelevant. Even their position as third party looks to have slipped away from them.

    There is a huge pubilc anger, particulalry directed at Clegg. It was enough to make me, a person who had never been involved in organised politics for the first 50 years of their life, join the Labour Party and to stand in my own ward so that Labour would have some reprsentation. While in 2011 I had no chance at all, I rejoiced in pushing the LibDems into third place. They had once held the ward and usually came in a strong second.

    In the run up to the next election there can be no question of working with the LibDems. Labour wants to be seen as the next government in waiting, and not to make overtures to the LibDems. To do so sends out a message that we don’t think that we could win alone and as Mark correctly says, the electorate does not want to decide who they want elected to run a coalition with LibDems. I am not saying that if there was a nightmare scenario after the next election that some deal would not have to be brokered. But before the election we should not even consider it.

    Any coalition has to be based on an overlap of policy and principle between the parties who form it. There never was an overlap between Tory and LibDem, which is what made this coalition so toxic. That the minor partnet could jettison their principles for a few grubby years pretending to be in government and by a betrayal of those who voted them there. Had the numbers been different we might have been able to have some coaltion deal between Labour and LibDem, but that was before the destruction of their credibility afer the 2010 GE. Now they are like a disease, and should be avoided as such (in terms of electoral pacts and other deals).

    Of course those who are elected must work to further the interests of their party and the electorate who voted for them. Sometime we have to work with other parties on specific issues. So for example, if there were a terrorist attack on the UK, then it would be the duty of both Cameron and Ed M to sit down and talk about the response, and Cameron would of course have to brief Milliband, that is the way that it works.

    Also within opposition, it is quite normal for informal meetings between different opposition parties about how to sink a particulalry bad bill. But that never means that the opposition parties are uniting to form one party, it means that in the pragmatic nature of politics is best served by working together on a specific issue only. Within that context, I would find it quite normal and encouraging for Clegg and Milliband to talk about scuppering the Tory plans to monkey about with the electorial boundaries. But that would be the full extent of it.

    • aracataca

      What an awful lot of sense J P.

  • Chilbaldi

    I can’t help thinking that it’s a bit of a case of: say it enough times and it may happen. The are a newspaper after all, and therefore a publication which attempts to influence the public to some degree. It fits in perfectly with the Guardian’s sad, failed agenda of the last decade or so.

    I have no doubt that Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg speak to each other – but it’s probably just that, rather than a cunning plan to form a Guardian columnist bed wetting inducing coalition of the liberal left extravaganza.

    • Dave Postles

      So Polly T, John Harris (today, for example, on universalism of the welfare state) et al. are proponents of a ‘Guardian‘ line? They write in personal capacities without undue editorial interference – and no doubt the same applies to Rawnsley. There seems to be something nasty in the woodpile.

  • aracataca

    And how’s that going to happen?

  • http://twitter.com/youngian67 Ian Young

    “the relationship between Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg is warming. In many ways that’s unsurprising – it would have been impossible to keep up such high levels of disdain forever”
    Very good.

    In Clegg’s mum’s homeland Holland there is a left of centre liberal party; D66 which forms alliances with Labour. The VVD is a liberal party focusing on laissez faire economics (party of Cameron’s pal Mark Rutte) and forms right wing coalitions (including the obnoxious Geert Wilders).

    Dutch Liberals therefore know where they stand when they cast their vote.

    I’ve no doubt Charles Kennedy and Vince Cable would be in D66, but whatabout Clegg, Laws and the other Orange Bookers?

    The only tiny consolation of an unlikely Labour coalition involving Clegg is watching Tory back bench nutters going into a state of apoplexy if he was made foreign secretary.

    • robertcp

      The Lib Dems will split into left and right groups if we carry on having hung Parliaments. If that happens, I would favour a pact with left-wing liberals, Greens and Nationalists.

  • http://twitter.com/youngian67 Ian Young

    He could be a Labour foreign secretary in the mould of George Brown!

    • aracataca

      Is he still opening bottles of whisky in the morning?

  • http://www.facebook.com/johnnyfstoke John Farrar

    I would not welcome such an alliance but if its what is required to get rid of the tories from power then i can listen , the suffering they are causing is worse than Thatcher and they must be stopped at the next election ,

  • robertcp

    Is the idea of Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister any worse than having Tony Blair as Prime Minister? Labour might have to come to an agreement with the Lib Dems if there is a hung Parliament and Labour should not tell other parties who their leader should be, although I suspect that Clegg and Laws would not want to be in a coalition with Labour.

    • http://twitter.com/youngian67 Ian Young

      No its not and I bet Tony Blair would have liked Rodhri Morgan’s popularity ratings after ten years, most of which was in a coalition with the Lib Dems

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