The remarkable cheek of Nick Clegg

23rd July, 2012 9:03 am

Nick Clegg’s statement that the Lib Dems could form a coalition with Labour after the next General Election was both premature and presumptuous.

He obviously sees the Lib Dems taking on the role played by their rightwing liberal sister party, the FDP (Free Democrats), in Germany, as a semi-permanent feature in coalition governments, swapping partners with impunity. The FDP has been in government for more time than any other German party, as junior coalition partner both to the centre-right CDU/CSU (1949–56, 1961–66, 1982–98, and since 2009), and the centre-left SPD (1969–82). This was despite the fact that until 2009 it never scored over 13% of the national vote. Notoriously, FDP leader Hans-Dietrich Genscher served as Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister for the entire period from 1974 to 1992 with only a two-week break. Whoever the German people voted for, they still got the same liberal politician as number two in the government. In 1982 the FDP
even changed the government from an SPD-led one to a CDU-led one without the bother of a general election.

One difference with the German scenario is of course that Genscher was, unlike Clegg, both competent and popular.

Clegg’s belief that he could casually swap coalition partners is dressed up with language about “doing their duty” as though the Lib Dems are performing some great act of self-sacrifice by selling out their manifesto pledges for a chance to plant themselves in the back of ministerial limos.

But we have a very strong tradition in the UK that general elections are an opportunity to deliver a clear verdict on the incumbent government. To keep it, or to throw it out. Not to allow one component of it to stay in office by swapping partners, while the other goes into opposition.

The statistical chances of a hung parliament in the UK are low, given the first-past-the-post system the public reaffirmed it wanted in the 2011 referendum. We have only had genuine hung parliaments since universal suffrage on four occasions: 1923, 1929, February 1974 and 2010. On each of these occasions it was because the third party was
comparatively strong and both major parties comparatively weak. Only 2010 resulted in a coalition rather than a minority government.

The unpopularity Clegg and the Lib Dems have justly suffered for propping up the Tories, going along with rather than restraining their austerity programme, and ditching key pledges as on tuition fees means that barring some remarkable recovery, the third party will be very weak (it is currently only just avoiding being pipped into fourth place by UKIP). This means the possibility of a hung parliament will be dramatically reduced – the fewer Lib Dem seats there are, the less chance they will hold the balance of power.

If the Tories and Lib Dems stage a recovery in the polls between now and 2015, the Tories might win outright or a continued Con/Lib Dem coalition might be possible. In the latter case Clegg will have a mandate to stay in government. Voters will have said they want the incumbents.

But if there is a hung parliament in which the Tories and Lib Dems combined cannot form a majority, and particularly if Labour also becomes the largest single party, the electorate will have rejected both the Tory and Lib Dem components of the current government.

In such circumstances, the public outrage would be immense if Clegg and other Lib Dem ministers tried to hang on in office by swapping their backing to Labour. That anger would not just damage the Lib Dems, it would damage us too. It really would reinforce the idea that politicians are all the same and that voting changes nothing.

In particular, such a scenario would probably involve the Lib Dems staying in power after and despite losing vote share and seats – exactly comparable to one of the reasons they gave for choosing the work with the Tories rather than us in 2010.

I want us to work flat out for an overall majority so that the unhappy and tawdry experience of coalition we are having now is a one-off.

If Labour falls short of a majority our preferred strategy should be to have nothing to do with the Lib Dems as they are tainted by participation in, indeed creating, this government. Coalition with them makes only marginally more sense, given the policies they have been signed up to, than the unthinkable-in-peacetime idea of a Grand Coalition between Labour and the Tories.

We should instead form a minority government as we did in 1923, 1929 and February 1974. We might also be able to form a government with some combination of the SNP, Plaid Cymru or Northern Ireland parties, before having to contemplate resuscitating the defeated Lib Dems. The option of a “confidence and supply” deal to sustain a minority government would be preferable to allowing Lib Dems to keep ministerial jobs when the electorate had rejected them.

No one made Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems go into coalition with anyone. No one made them go into coalition with the Tories in particular. No one made them sign up to a coalition agreement that stood their pre-election Keynesianism on its head and replaced it with support for savage austerity. No one made them sign off damaging policies like the Health and Social Care Bill repeatedly – when you hold the balance of power you have a veto over your coalition partner as you hold 100% of the government’s majority. No one made them stay in the coalition this long and not pull the plug on it.

Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems have made their political choices. The idea that they can casually sidle up to Labour and be forgiven is ludicrous and insulting. The very least prerequisites for working with them would need to be the departure of Clegg as leader (which the voters of Sheffield Hallam may do for us) and a comprehensive rejection by the Lib Dems of the free market Orange Book faction’s policies and leaders.

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  • “a comprehensive rejection by the Lib Dems of the free market Orange Book faction’s policies and leaders.”

    The scallops and celeriac purée contingent won’t be happy about this – the Orange Bookers and Lord Sainsbury’s Progress would form marriage made in heaven.

    • treborc1

      Labour would be right behind Clegg and he need to have protection, simple fact if the battle is between Labour and the Tories to gain power and the answer is kissing cleggs rear then Clegg will have sore backside

    • Hugh

       “The scallops and celeriac purée contingent won’t be happy about this”

      So most of Labour’s front bench then? Or do you reckon Oxford educated Miliband and his lawyer wife are more McDonalds types?

      • “So most of Labour’s front bench then?”

        Nail on the head*, mate.

        Macdonald types? Ed and Justine are people of sound judgement so I’d put my money on Leon**.



    • Marvelous.

      Even in an article on the Lib Dems, you can’t miss out on your customary dig at Progress eh Dave? 

      • treborc

        well they are open to it are they not.

        • Evidence then please.

          • treborc

            Evidence please?  what that  Progress is a right wing party within a party, think we have done that.

          • Sigh.

            Christ you’re tiresome Treborc but, for one last time; Dave said the Orange Book liberals and Progress are open to an alliance – which you then confirmed.

            All I am asking for is your evidence, please. 

          • If I may interject… my name has been mentioned, after all: My ‘match made in heaven’ surmisation was originated by the perceived preparedness of Lord Sainsbury’s people to accept the narrative of a Tory led government.

            The Lib Dems, of course, have already accepted the narrative by becoming the junior part of the government. Tristan Hunt seemed to argue that Labour should do something similar when, in the Purple Book, he wrote: “Our starting point must be the acceptance of this uncomfortable political reality that the public has accepted the [coalition] government’s explanation of the financial crisis.” This is a carefully nuanced and conditional acceptance. Yet resistance to austerity is softened by such an approach. And it must be said that Ed, appeared to launch a comprehesive rebuttal with his “It would allow Conservative pessimism to shrink our ambition.” comment.

            To me it seems that our two years of opposition could have been more fruitful had there not been a hankering for the illusory credibility that comes from acceptance of the failed and Tory austerity ‘solution’, a ‘solution’, by the way, for which there is no supporting evidence.*

            On a brighter note, it’s great to see that Ed and new chum President Hollande are to co-host an anti-austerity conference later this year – that looks a lot more like the sort of leadership we need!


          • ThePurpleBooker

            You are clearly not very smart, Dave. You seem to think that Ed Miliband wants to take the party to your direction! Ed Miliband wrote in The Purple Book and agreed with what it said. He agreed with Tristram Hunt because what he was saying was that people trust the Tories with the economy. Clearly, you have not read the book or if you have, you cannot read. You are an idiot if you seriously believe Ed Miliband is a Left-Winger who is on your side. You think that fiscal credibility is by not accepting our position with the public. Ed does not. Ed doesn’t agree with you. He is proudly on the Labour right.

      • A dig? Sorry, old chum, I thought it a teasingly gentle comment – just take it as evidence of my interest in the internal dynamics of parliamentary politics.

  • Trudge74

    I could imagine a change of leadership might create a situation in which labour went into coalition but not sure many of those lib dem mps would survive anyway. Much would depend upon what policies might be agreed between the two parties, as they say never say never. To avoid this nightmare scenario we need to do all we can to ensure labour delivers a majority gvt.

  • Alan Giles

    Don’t pretend to be too outraged, Mr Akehurst. I don’t see either of the two main parties getting a working majority in 2015 the way things are going: the public are none to impressed with Cameron’s age of austerity, and there seems little to suggest that Labour’s slightly slower age of austerity will impress much more.

    I suspect either Labour or Conservative will need what remains of the LibDems in May 2015

    • Robert_Crosby

      Totally agree.  I would have thought that such an arrangement would be the culmination of all of Luke’s dreams??

  • Daniel Speight

    Then again after the last election didn’t the Liberals insist on Brown going before talking with Labour? It seems that if it were ever needed an insistence on Clegg and some of the other orange bookers not being in the Liberal leadership would be a suitable demand before any negotiation took place. No need to worry about trading in policies against Liberal principles owing to them not having any.

    • treborc

      Well lets be honest come 2015 and we have a hung government, the Liberals will be the ones with the upper hand. Miliband and Cameron will know which ever loses is out gone retired, the one who wins will have to swallow hard to accept the Liberals and the likes of Danny Alexander, But  labour will.

      • Robert_Crosby

        There’s always the possibility (I won’t say “probability” because I wouldn’t trust the Liberal Democrats as far as I could throw them) that some within their ranks might, if they think a coalition with Labour is in their grasp, dump the likes of Clegg, Alexander and Laws anyway.  The other one I would like to see consigned to oblivion is Mark Littlewood – a horrible man with some truly disgusting views.

        Being honest, the only “prominent” LDs left who I think have any integrity are Ashdown and Steel.

        • treborc

          We could always dump the Liberals and go into coalition as equals with the Tories.

          Then of course who would be the top dog depends on which has the leading hand.

          Miliband takes over from Clegg and then we have a laugh Osborne if he is still around or Ball’s or would they all agree with Darling, and Blair as the [email protected]:disqus

          But of course it all depends on what the Tories have offered Clegg cable and my mate the red Alexander.

          • Robert_Crosby

            The only example I’ve seen of a Labour-Tory coalition was in Derby a few years ago.  Absolutely unbelievable and something we should never countenance.

          • treborc

            Time will tell of course and whether in fact a coalition is needed.

          • Twmsioncatti

            Hi Treborc, I’ve been reading your posts. Are you sure that your are a Labour party supporter? Maybe you’re really Nationalist Plaid but if not there’s no point whinging, you need to get involved and change policy if you dont like it. Suggesting Labour has does a deal with the Tories says it all….

          • Treborc always gives us tough-love, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

          • treborc

             Being one of Labour scroungers work shy, you may well be right voting for Plaid is always open to me, but to me , speaking Welsh is a choice not a demand from a political party, Plaid is still seen as the party of the Welsh speaker, it also has to change, but your right it’s left wing.

            Nice of you to come all the way here to moan at me without telling us your view on the subject.

            I spent 41 years in labour and left in 2010 when Brown stated his scrounger work shy and jobs for the British moronic view.

            I will wait  before deciding whether I vote labour Tory or Plaid, but Plaid is more about the Assembly then actually running England, but I do vote Labour at the Assembly.

            I will wait to see how far Miliband goes to the right.

            But thanks for taking your time out of your obvious busy socialist life

          • Janiete

            No Treborc is not a Labourite in any shape or form. He posted regularly on Alastair Campbell’s blog for a while and was easily recognisable as a Tory troll.

            I think he only posts on here to wind people up!

          • treborc

            Seems to be working with you anyway

          • Janiete

            Just wanted to correct the record for those who may be misled.

          • treborc

            Well yes your right about me arguing with you and that war monger Campbell, then again I was not going to propose to him.

          • Janiete

            That wasn’t what we argued about. You’re a Tory, stop pretending!

          • treborc

             And your new labour.

          • Janiete

            Not quite! Have been member 33 yrs. Well before New Lab!

          • ThePurpleBooker

            Now you know what I have been dealing with. Him and Alan Giles. The idiotic nutters from Militant. They think I am a Liberal Democrat when I have been a party activist since I was a teenager.

          • Janiete

            I’d like to see mechanism on here to identify Labour members. Then we could have a more meaningful exchange of views. 

            For some reason supporters of other parties join in and distort debate. I don’t get it, last thing I’d ever do is debate on Tory blog! What’s the point?

          • Alan Giles

             you need to get involved and change policy if you dont like it.”

            With all due respect, do you really believe that is possible?. Policy is stitched up behind closed doors, and if you dare even question it – even on LL – in my own case about the antics of Purnell and latterly Byrne – you get foul mouthed abuse from the likes of Mr Dore and the poster with three screen names, and the neurotic rantings of “Purple Booker” a.k.a. “Labour Right Toughie”.

            And dare question details of an article written by Marchant, he has a hissy fit.

            Other writers, like Ms Asato, just ignore anything put to them. No debate, not even a defence of their own hypocrisy.

            I would, if I may say so, disabuse yourself of any  idea that we mere mortals can change policy.

  • I don’t think we should rule out a coalition with the Lib Dems but given their likely diminished number of seats I think Labour would clearly have to call the shots, and I would rule out absolutly Nick Clegg as leader of their party and indeed any member of their party as deputy PM.

    • treborc

      Of course this would be all ruled out if the parties are so close that the Liberal are the one who dictates  who rules, I can see Miliband saying OK but only if Clegg goes.

      And the Tories saying we do not care we like Clegg, but all this is hypothetical, we  do not even know if Clegg, Alexander have been offered something by the Tories, and if they take it then sadly it means nothing. House of Lords, jobs within the Tories, or MEP or ministers bit like Frankie the hit man Fields.

  • Stephen Johnson

    This article would be more persuasive and constructive if the issues were separated from the personal attacks and negative stuff, thus allowing us to see the merit of any positive suggestions. The trouble with our political system is that it encourages mudslinging. The result is that everything and everybody gets muddy. 
    This part of the reason why people have a low opinion of politics, politicians, and political parties. It’s time to try a different approach.

    • treborc

       What over throw the political system, when in politics have mud and slinging not been the norm, oh yes Tories and Blair.

  • Simondent01827

    Labour should ensure that we listen enough to the electorate and really fine tune our policies ready for a tight race in 2015. We have to ensure that we get rid of both the libdems and tories and deliver a result that will make the lives of the electorate better. I believe we can do this and deliver a labour goverment not another bad coalition.

  • Pingback: I agree with Luke… | Councillor Bob Piper()

  • I love this article, Luke. Speaking entirely selfishly as usual, I am concerned that Nick Clegg making noises that we could end up in a coalition with him will put off people from voting Labour. Clegg is an incredibly complicated person, but he does hate Labour that much, that I do know. It was fascinating reading the evidence for your argument too. @georgeeaton has a nice article on the manoeuvres too. Keep up the good work, Labour List, too!

  • Dan

    Only problem with this article is that it suggests Clegg will still be calling the shots for the Lib Dems in 2015, I believe it is almost certain that he won’t. We have an oppotunity in 2015 to take on some of the more ‘Social Democratic’ LD’s like Cable, Kennedy and Lord Oakeshott whose economics has pointed to our strategy as the key to growth. These main players grow frustrated with the ‘Orange-bookers’ who are so clearly in bed with and at ease with the Tories, it would enhance our party greatly to get some talented individuals with a fresh idea that could cement us into the centre-ground without the need for ‘Blarite Thatcherism.’ Let’s hope that the Lib Dems do not drag us down in 2015 but we should offer a welcoming arm to the Social Democrats who must remain strong and faithful allies   

  • Mike Murray

    Absolutely agree with your post Luke. The Lib Dem stooges are unprincipled political parasites whose only object is to find a host that will carry them into power. We should definitely not reward them with the remotest possibility that we would contemplate entering into the kind of Molotov/Ribbentrop pact that they have struck with the Tories. Frankly, if our leadership contemplated entering a coalition with the stooges after what they have allowed the Tories to get away with I’d consider tearing up my membership card. And I’ve been Labour all my life.

  • I’m inclined to agree with Like’s conclusion, but have issue with a couple of his points.

    He says:

    ‘But we have a very strong tradition in the UK that general elections are an opportunity to deliver a clear verdict on the incumbent government. To keep it, or to throw it out.’ 

    This idea is frequently stated, but it’s not clear it makes much sense. Voting (especially under FPTP) is a positive act; we vote for a candidate rather than against the others. If FPTP is a legitimate electoral system, then we have to accept the cabinet and policies that can command a majority in the resulting House of Commons. There is no democratic logic that says that past political history should affect this outcome.

    Which leads to the next point. Luke says:

    ‘…given the first-past-the-post system the public reaffirmed it wanted in the 2011 referendum.’

    Given that the only alternative offered was the marginally better AV system, about which an unprecedented amount of disinformation was propagated – interpreting this referendum as a positive verdict on FPTP seems dubious.

    • Vicky Seddon

       What Akehurst does not take account of is that over the last 25 years, voters have been moving away from voting for one or other of the two main political parties, and more and more vote for the smaller parties – including the Greens, UKIP, national parties. I think it becomes more and more likely that no party will have overall control. So we need to see a shift in how we do politics and in particular how we do coalitions.  Our voting system doesn’t at all help to resolve this issue.

      As for Clegg, the fact is that his approach to coalition has been clumsy and unprincipled.

      What will happen to him here in Sheffield next time round is unclear. Sheffield Hallam was traditionally a Tory stronghold, until Labour voters decided in the 80s to vote Liberal to get the Tory incumbent out. This was fine when the person elected was the honest and reliable Richard Allen. Now, I am not at all convinced that those Labour supporters would be prepared to vote Lib Dem. Does that mean the seat would go back to the Tories? ! ?

      Glad I am no longer in that constituency and having to decide how to vote!  

  • Todger

    I’d love to see Harriet Harman and Danny “Red Squirrel” Alexander in the same cabinet together. How the fur would fly!

  • ThePurpleBooker

    We should not be talking about this. We should be aiming for a majority government and that is more likely at the moment than a hung parliament. In the event of a hung parliament, Labour should go for a minority government and call an election before the mid-term which we could win. It could work if we have a supply-and-confidence with the Liberal Democrats but it must be under a Lib Dem leader who is on the left of their party, for eg. Vince Cable or maybe Tim Farron. I doubt it will come to this.

  • Except that the five year parliament act gives even a rump of LD MPs a very strong position in a hung parliament – and this is one very good reason for their cleaving to the coalition.

    At the very least a Labour minority govt would have to cut a confidence and supply deal with somebody to pass a budget and would have big problems repeating Harold Wilson’s tactics in 1974 as our PM has been effectively stripped of the right to call an early election.

    It is also highly possible that it will be the Lib Dem coalition ministers and cheerleaders who will lose their seats whereas the likes of Charles Kennedy mght keep theirs.

    And if the voters ensure that the LD rump has no Clegg and no senior coalition figures left in it then we are talking effectively about a different party.

    So while my loathing for Cameron’s Quislings knows no bounds I don’t think you can totally discount our ever doing a deal with them again.

  • Simon Platow

    Just read this…….

  • It seems that if it were ever needed an insistence on Clegg and some of
    the other orange bookers not being in the Liberal leadership would be a
    suitable demand before any negotiation took place. No need to worry
    about trading in policies against Liberal principles owing to them not
    having any.



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