Sorry Len, Labour shouldn’t rule out a coalition with the Lib Dems

26th February, 2014 9:29 am

The Labour leadership must rule out a coalition with the Lib Dems, said Len McClusky on Newsnight last night. “Labour, I hope, win the next election outright, but if they are the biggest party then my view is Ed should have the courage of his convictions and govern on a minority government,” he said.

I hate to disagree with Len but this is bad politics and bad for the people of Britain.

Don’t get me wrong, I can see the strong temptation. If anything, someone like me – who voted Lib Dem in 2010 – should be among the first to denounce them and shout betrayal. But it’s not that simple.

There is an assumption among lefties and Labourites that the Lib Dems will be wiped out at the next election. This is entirely wrong for two reasons.

In a large proportion of their seats, Lib Dems will face Tory MPs at the next election, with Labour far behind. In such Lib Dem-Tory marginals, many left-leaning voters are likely to continue voting for the Yellows to keep the Blues out just to be safe. Labour knows this.

Secondly, in many places Lib Dems MPs are well entrenched with a strong activist base, so they are likely to survive even if their national share of the vote stays low. In fact, the total number of Lib Dems seats being targeted in lists published by Labour and Conservatives only total 25. Assuming they’re all won, that still leaves Lib Dems with 32 MPs. Even Lord Ashcroft admits they will do better than polling currently suggests.

clegg miliband

So what if the Lib Dems have about 30 MPs left after the 2015 election? Should Labour rule out a coalition anyway? No.

It doesn’t matter if Labour is the largest party after the next election, if we rule out a coalition while the Tories don’t, what will stop them going into a coalition again and forming the government with a larger proportion of MPs?

In other words, does the party with the largest number of MPs get the right to veto other coalitions? Of course not. The Conservatives are power-hungry enough to stay in government at any cost, despite what some commentators at right-wing newspapers think. They won’t rule out a coalition out of straightforward pragmatism.

There is a tiny chance, but what if the Tories do rule out a coalition in 2015? Should Labour follow them? Again, no it shouldn’t.

The logic is simple. If Labour ends up being the largest party at the next election without a majority, it needs the support of other MPs to pass through legislation. It is more preferable having the Lib Dems inside the camp where they will be more persuadable, than outside where they won’t.

Without a majority, Labour will need the support of Lib Dem MPs to repeal the NHS Bill, the Bedroom Tax and a host of other measures. In return they may have to offer some goodies on constitutional reform or taxation but so what? It’s worth it.

If anything, in coalition the Lib Dems have shown to be flexible enough to ditch many of their own tightly held principles. If they continue that tradition with Labour then all the better.

I agree with Len McClusky on one point: Labour should define themselves clearly and differently enough from the other parties. It has to show a bold and radical vision of the future and try to convince them that a Labour government deserves to be elected.

But a hatred of the Lib Dems should not blind us to the imperative of having a Labour government in power to, at the very least, reverse the NHS Bill and Bedroom Tax. If that takes a coalition with the Lib Dems then so be it.

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  • philwoodford

    I agree with the maths on the Lib Dem MPs. The party’s share of the vote could be down considerably in 2015, but many of their parliamentarians will survive. In my local seat of Twickenham, Vince Cable is so entrenched now that even if tactical voters return to Labour, it won’t make a whole heap of difference. I imagine that if circumstances demanded it, Miliband would go into a coalition with the LDs, but demand that Clegg was out of the equation. If the economy continues to improve over the next year, this kind of scenario becomes a distinct possibility, as the Tories will probably do well enough to stop Labour getting an overall majority.

  • carlton temple-powell

    The unprincipled, fickle, opportunistic LibDems should not be rewarded for rubberstamping Tory attacks on the disabled, the poor, the elderly and public sector workers. If Labour does any sort of ‘Deal’ with the LibDems it will be a betrayal of all those who suffered under ConDem government. Labour must be a party of principle and cannot govern in tandem with the unprincipled LibDems.

    • treborc1

      Yep far better to stand on principles and if the Government is hung at the next election then labour should state we are not going into a coalition, we will stay in opposition.

      • carlton temple-powell

        Could any of us stomach Danny Alexander dictating terms on how Labour should structure the economy? Even if Clegg was removed as leader there are still plenty more of his ilk among the LibDems. The Orangebook brigade have shown just as much relish over public sector and benefit cuts as the Eton brigade. No deal is possible. Ed should make that clear before the election, forcing the LibDems further into the Tory fold. We all know the Tory right won’t allow another coalition. We need to isolate the LibDems completely.

        • treborc1

          The question is then simple if we have a hung Government are labour willing to go into opposition.

          It’s that simple for god sake if we have a hung government and I’ve a feeling neither labour or the Tories have done enough to get people back into voting booths, and if we have another hung party your saying on principle labour will be willing to allow the Tories and the liberal to have a coalition.

          Or are you saying that Labour will go into coalition with the Tories.

          • carlton temple-powell

            Labour will lack credibility if it goes into the next election open to working with the very LibDems who added weight to the Tory axe. People are homeless, people are dead because of these polices. Don’t believe the propaganda that the LibDems are good guys acting as a ballast to tame the savage Tories. The LibDems have been fully proactive in supporting all that the Tories have done. The cosy relationship between Danny Alexander and George Osborne is there for all to see. Two sides of the same coin in a currency of cuts.

          • Doug Smith

            There’s no chance of Labour going “into the next election open to working with the very LibDems” because Labour will want to win outright.

            But you can be sure once the result is in Labour will be very open to working with the LibDems. I’m certain that discreet overtures have already taken place. Both sides would be foolish not to make provisional arrangements for the possibility/necessity for a coalition.

          • robertcp

            Exactly! McCluskey is an idiot.

          • treborc1

            People are dead because of Blair/Labour’s two bloody useless wars, ATOS killed a lot as well.

            And then telling us that labour will sack ATOS when they knew the group were pulling out has not gone down well at all, band wagons again.

            Homeless labour if you remember had serious issues with people who were homeless due to the mass immigration and non building of social homes.

            I do not think labour record on wasted lives would hold much water.

          • carlton temple-powell

            ATOS was a monumental mistake by both New Labour and the current govt. £500 Million of taxpayers money wasted. However, the current gov’ts strategy of assuming that most disability claims are fraudulent was pure dogma and played politics with the lives of the most vulnerable. As for housing, we need to be building 300,000 a year and end the self defeating policy of allowing social housing to be bought by individuals. The housing crisis began with right-to-buy.

          • robertcp

            It is so cosy that Cameron is supposed to be thinking about ruling out a coalition with the Lib Dems! A Treborc says below, Labour were not exactly a perfectly progressive government so some Labour supporters need to get off their high horses.

          • BillFrancisOConnor

            Well no we would govern as a Minority government.

          • treborc1

            Well so long as the Tories do not have a majority, as you know if the Tories can make a government they will.

          • BillFrancisOConnor

            Of course.

          • denise clendinning

            labour have to win a majority or were knackered

      • denise clendinning

        Then so be it he would be fool to even think about working with this traitor after agreeing to turn our country up side down all in the name of power and wealth

        • robertcp

          Why is Clegg a traitor? Who has be betrayed?

          • denise clendinning

            He has lied to get him self elected by promising students fees would not go up and now our children are left with a dept that most will never be able to pay back He betrayed all those people having to pay bedroom tax plus disabled people have to pay You ask me who has he betrayed. He has betrayed him self for being to weak

          • Doug Smith

            Blair did the same with his pre-’97 promise of a ‘stakeholder economy’ that ‘worked for the many not just the few’ – a phrase now used by Miliband.

            And inequality increased under New Labour, healthcare became increasingly privatised and the financial sector subjected to further deregulation.

            The guilt is shared by the LibLabCon and its desire to put corporate profit before the needs of the people.

          • denise clendinning

            But did people die and commit suicide and have to go to the food banks nope not on his watch. Alright he made mistakes but not like this lot are making every day . They cant get nothing right AND THE SUFFERING GO,S ON AND ON

          • Hugh

            Did people die and commit suicide on Blair’s watch? That’s your question. Really?

          • Doug Smith

            “But did people die”

            If it’s body count that you’re interested in perhaps you should take your question to Veterans for Peace UK and Iraq Body Count.

            If you want an alternative to austerity you won’t get it from Miliband’s Labour/Progress Party.

          • robertcp

            Thanks for the response. The reason for my question is that I do not have a high opinion of Lib Dems and centre parties generally, so I do not feel betrayed by their coalition with the Tories. This low opinion was confirmed by their stupid and naïve pledge not to increase tuition fees. Parties that think that they might be in government are more careful about what they promise!

    • David Powell

      Great slogans, – but such spluttering exclamations would look daft if the combination of electorate and electoral system resulted in a requirement for coalition, – however unlikely that may be; – and if we then did then eat our words we would look fickle and opportunistic, – and worse, -like liars.

  • Colin McCulloch

    Any deal with the Lib Dems must have in it the removal of Clegg as leader of their party, just as they insisted on to Labour back in 2010.

    • treborc1

      Of course when you put in demands and the Liberal’s decide no thanks and go back to the Tories leaving labour another five years in opposition.

  • Jingoistic

    No no no no. Fools to even give a thought of a coalition, too many will not vote if this is on the cards.

  • jimmy

    no truck with these carpet baggers !!! simple

  • IAS2011

    Sunny, aren’t we talking about a failure – or simply a lack of will and determination – to be BOLD in the face of all that a politician finds tough… or challenging to do?
    Surely, we are witnessing another spell of political leaders who are simply too WEAK to have a debate with the British people. This failure to engage – as servants – of the ‘people’ will always read in the minds of ‘ordinary’ people that ‘they’ are different to ‘us’. It will also further deepen that message that Fairness and Justice is not for ALL.

    Isn’t it about time that the ‘people’ start to feel that democratic values actually exist in practice – rather than simply being told that it does. Isn’t it about time that the Labour party Leadership takes that Lead and combines it with Boldness and reaches out to the ‘people’ in order to give them a ‘voice’? Now, that’s different! That’s bold! That’s a

    Surely, with such a bold stance in attitude, why will Labour need the Liberal Democrats… or anyone else?

    Given that many who were failed as a direct result of political and bank failings that led to the recession – now jobs seekers or totally reliant on the State due to ailments – are having to be Bold with their challenges. So, why can’t political party leaders begin by taking ethical and bold leadership to win back the ‘Hearts and Minds’ of these people and the British people overall……

    …. after all, I don’t think either Miliband, Cameron or Clegg was affected by the recession. So, what is their reason for being weak amid the desperate need for them to be strong.

  • I agree. Ruling out coalitions or deals makes no sense at all – unless either you don’t mind risking being in opposition, in your secret heart; or else you’re so cynical as to rule one out, then do one anyway if you need to.

    If there’s a hung parliament again next time, much would depend on exactly who has how many seats. But the Queen would not simply appoint the leader of the biggest party PM. If there were a chance of a majority government being formed, she’d rightly wait to see if it could be. Cameron as sitting PM would have every right to explore this, as Heath did in 1974. In fact his “moral” right to do so would be strengthened if Miliband had ruled out deals.

    Even if Cameron himself has ruled out a *coalition*, that makes no real difference. First, he could simply break his word. But second and more importantly, ruling out coalition isn’t the same as ruling out every sort of pact or deal. There could well be a Tory-LibDem “supply and confidence” arrangement, or something similar.

    Depending on the arithmetic, Miliband’s best approach could be to wait in the background, see if the Tories and LibDems could stitch something up – and then when they failed, claim the right to lead a minority government. That’s what Wilson did in 1974. But we have to accept that this was a calculated gamble, and would be if Miliband did it in 2015. It might go wrong.

    So it might be better for Labour to seize the chance of a deal itself, claiming the right as the biggest party to negotiate first with the LibDems. As I say, much depends on the maths.

    Much better to let Ed decide what to do in 2015 depending on the circumstances than to box him in now with all sorts of unhelpful pledges and promises.

  • Doug Smith

    In a blind policy tasting experiment no one would be able to tell the difference between Labour/Progress and the LibDems.

    If Labour/Progress don’t win a majority there is no reason not to have a coalition.

    • treborc1

      I do not know maybe labour can state this, because they are thinking of a like minded Coalition with the Tories.

  • BillFrancisOConnor

    Of course Danny Alexander along with his chum George Osborne has just approved bonuses of £550m to investment bankers at RBS. What a fantastic use of public money! I, for one, am absolutely over the moon that my taxes are being used for such noble causes. I mean why use the money to repeal the Bedroom Tax when you can give it away to these wonderful people for completely failing to improve RBS’ balance sheet? In fact RBS continues to lose huge sums of public money year after year.

    It’s becoming clear that we need to restructure the whole economy to avoid monstrosities such as this- and I’m completely sick and tired of billions being given away to the likes of G4S or SERCO or bankers at RBS while most people struggle just to get by. I’m also sick of paying ever higher energy bills to people who repeatedly threaten to turn the country’s lights off. Therefore, I really don’t believe that we can even begin to start changing the economy while in coalition with the likes of Fibs such as Danny Alexander, David Laws or for that matter Clegg himself. It’ll be hard enough to do even on our own but we must surely try.

    • Doug Smith

      “It’s becoming clear that we need to restructure the whole economy”

      Totally agree with you Bill. But I’m sure the LibDems will do as they’re told if allocated sufficient ministerial limousines.

      The only problem is Labour willingness “to restructure the whole economy”. And whether or not, even if they wanted to, they would be allowed to do that under the new US/EU TTIP agreement now being rushed through.

      (Google: “This transatlantic trade deal is a full-frontal assault on democracy” guardian monbiot )

    • treborc1

      You cannot change much while your in opposition either.

      • BillFrancisOConnor

        To iterate:
        To attach ourselves to the Fib Dems prior to the election would be like tethering ourselves to a corpse.

        • David Powell

          I don’t think anyone wants to tether labour to a coalition, I just don’t think we should waste energy in posturing, like Casmeron has

  • Charlie_Mansell

    Labour making it too easy for the Lib Dems Watch number 1: The following quote will now appear in Lib Dem target letters to Labour voters in 45+ Lib Dem seats and 10+ Lib Dem targets: “In a large proportion of their seats, Lib Dems will face Tory MPs at the next election, with Labour far behind. In such Lib Dem-Tory marginals, many left-leaning voters are likely to continue voting for the Yellows to keep the Blues out just to be safe. Labour knows this.” – Sunny Hundal” Before he gets too carried away with this commentary will Sunny and other similar commentators be making a donation to Labour campaigns in those 45+ seats to make up for any lost votes to the Lib Dems otherwise, he might as a well simply going back to voting Lib Dem wherever he lives as his commentary is going to be exploited by Labour’s opponents

    • George Potter

      Speaking as a Lib Dem, there is no way I’d put something that long winded on our leaflets. Besides which, I very much doubt that the average voter a) knows who Sunny Hundal is and b) is likely to be substantially convinced by his opinion.

  • Mike B

    The Lib Dems aim is to position themselves as the Free Democrats did for many years in Germany. They got tiny votes but stayed in government by playing off the two main parties against each other. We are not in the business of maintaining barely honest opportunists with safe careers. All our efforts must go into winning an outright majority. All the rest is a pointless distraction. Leave such speculation to ‘neutral’ journalists and Lib Dem fantasists. Labour supporters have more important things to do.

    • David Powell

      The FDP in Germany played the role the did because they achieved a vote of more than 5% of the electorate, and therefore gained representation in the Bundestag broadly proportion to the vote of the electorate. Whatever Nick Clegg did that his more progressive voters abhor, and on account of which many may well turn to labour next time, the liberals were under, rather than over represented, in parliament, in terms of proportion of the votes cast. When the electorate in Germany decided they didn’t like what the FDP was now standing for, their vote evaporated, they did not achieve the threshold for representation in the Bundestag and were out of both Government and Bundestag. If the electorate choose to elect lib dems (especially in southern seats that might otherwise got to Torries of the lunatic right), I’m not going to blame the electorate, or winge about the consequences, – but you are right, labour supporters have got better things to do than bicker about post election situations, – lets hope we can win the Scottish referendum and focus on gaining a majority after the general election.

    • robertcp

      Labour supporters do have more important things to worry about, which is why ruling out a coalition whatever happens would be very foolish.

  • Monkey_Bach

    It’s very difficult to see how the Liberal Democrats could enter into a coalition with the Labour Party after instantly performing a volte-face, repudiating and voting with Labour to abolish many laws and policies that they formerly championed, praised to the hilt, and enthusiastically voted for while in coalition with the Conservatives, e.g., the invidious Bedroom Tax, preposterous Universal Credit project, and 1% uprating (otherwise known as a real terms cut) of working age social security payments.

    How could such a tacit admission of guilt and wrongdoing and instantaneous about face be a realistic possibility as the parties try to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of the next general election?


  • pfisucks

    How long before Mandelson suggests Labour should form a coalition with the Tories!!

  • ColinAdkins

    Shouldn’t there be a new tv programme commissioned: “trade union leaders say the most stupid things”.
    The interview is a statement of pessimism. I am going for a majority Labour Government. If the electorate determines otherwise and the issue of Coalition arises we should follow the wisdom of Teddy Kennedy as he approached Chappaquidick and cross that bridge when we get to it.

  • Mike B

    Yes David under the German system the FDP managed to hold the balance of power a number of times. Here in the UK the LDs would like to do the same. I live in a constituency where Labour is fighting hard to dislodge a sitting Lib Dem and we have been canvassing hard for 2 years. The number of voters who are disgusted at the voting record of the MP is huge. This is a left leaning area and most of the former LD voters thought they were supporting some kind of Labour type candidate (presumably as was Sunny Hundal). Now it is clear that she is a mixture of opportunism and Tory light. This is not what was expected. I think our last Labour government left a lot to be desired but what we have now is far worse. I am pleased with the direction of Labour under Ed but I am also aware that talk of coalition will damage Labour and throw a lifeline to the Libs. Let us agree to forget talk of coalition and continue the job of getting a Labour administration.

    • robertcp

      I am sure that fools like McCluskey talking about coalition will make no difference in your seat. Quite rightly, the Lib Dem will be voted out but I would still vote Lib Dem in seats where Labour has no chance of winning.

  • Anthony Pallister

    I find the very idea of a coalition with the lib dems repellent. The lib dems are nothing but wet tories!!

  • denise clendinning

    No no people will turn away in their drove,s me included

  • Bill cunningham

    If Labour even enter into coalition talks with them I will rip up my party card after40 plus years. A betrayal to our values to far.

  • Ray McHale

    So why are people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 being given space on here to promote the Lib Dems? If I have to listen to that sh*t Danny Alexander claim that Labour crashed the economy one more time …. . And you think the people who have ranted on that Labour would be spendthrift, are bad for the economy and couldn’t run a proverbial party in a brewery – should be our partners in power.


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