What I wrote at Lib Dem Voice

March 15, 2007

A Labour and Tory coalition? That sounds grand

There are very good reasons why Lib Dems should not talk about hung Parliaments - as Ming Campbell recently discovered, it produces a lot of unhelpful distraction-chatter. However, I’m happy to make one exception to the rule (in time-honoured tradition): the prospect of a ‘grand coalition’ between Labour and the Tories in the event of no one party having a majority after the next election.

In the past, I’ve tended to be a little dismissive of the notion, regarding it as a too-clever-by-half response which deflects, but does not answer, the question Lib Dems hate: which party would we support? I felt it would lack any real credibility with the public, and so merely bring us a lot of grief as the media fixates on whether we’re ‘left-‘ or ‘right-wing’. (Even though the media would never think of asking Labour or the Tories whether they’re liberal.)

And I’m not the only one wondering whether Britain’s Tories and Labour might ‘do a Germany’, and band together on the mushy centre ground they each seem so keen to occupy - The Times’s Tory-supporting Daniel Finkelstein is also contemplating it:
… on three occasions now, Mr Blair has relied on a differently composed majority to sustain his Government - one that unites the centre against the fringes. Could a minority Government work in a similar way? A cleverly produced Queens Speech could challenge a centrist leader of the Opposition to support the Government or risk being seen as obstructive and opportunist. The Opposition leader might fear the consequences of bringing down the Government on a measure they actually support. The middle against both ends? It could happen.
Credit where it’s due - Chris Huhne was among the first to raise this prospect last year during his bid for the Lib Dem leadership:
We must fight as an independent party. If there is no overall majority after an election, we must look for the best way to advance our cause while maintaining our identity and independence. This may even mean going into opposition while the Conservatives and Labour form a German-style grand coalition.
There are two advantages to this approach from a Lib Dem perspective.

First, it emphasises the degree to which Labour and the Tories are seeking to triangulate their appeal - with Labour trampling all over civil liberties to reach out to voters attracted to authoritarian policies; while the Tories embrace Polly Toynbee and Bob Geldof in an attempt to woo left-liberal voters. It also demonstrates the extent to which the two main parties have collaborated on Iraq, education, and now Trident.


But secondly, it also distinguishes the Lib Dems as the ‘radical centre’ in opposition to the establishment which is the ruling Labour/Tory duopoly. When I voted for Ming Campbell as leader, I did so knowing he was the candidate most easily caricatured as a member of the political aristocracy. As a party which has often struggled to be taken seriously (and that was certainly the case a year ago), this seemed a positive virtue. It still does. But it’s not enough.

We need now to show the public that Britain under the Lib Dems would be a different, brighter, more optimistic and humane place. The choice facing the electorate is more of the same under the leadership of any combination of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or David Cameron; or a change for the better with the Lib Dems. That’s not such a hard sell.

7 comments:

Glass House said...

Sorry Steven, but this is absolutely pie on the sky.

Both the Labour and Tory parties know that such a coalition would destroy them both. The activists would never stand for it.

Stephen Tall said...

To clarify - I'm asking if a 'grand coalition' is plausible rather than likely.

If the media is going to bang on about hung Parliaments, and what the Lib Dems might do in this or that circumstance, it seems to me perfectly reasonable to point out that a Tory/Lab coalition would be more likely to find common policy ground these days than either a Lab/LD or Tory/LD coalition.

Tom Papworth said...

It's an endearing image, and one I've toyed with. The authoritarian interventionists banding together in a "purple" coalition to exclude the liberals.

Unfortunately, Glass House is right. It would make the Lib Dems the real opposition (as opposed to merely the "real alternative") and would drive every disaffected voter into our arms. We could only win from such a scenario (unless we did what Asquith did in flouncing out of the 1917 coalition, of course). The others know this and they'd rather have another decade at the opposition despatch box than ever risk standing further down the aisle, watching the whole house walk out as they stand to speak at budget debates.

Linda said...

Absolutely agree with Stephen that Tory and Labour do have more in common, as demonstrated last night.....as I have always said what is important is what distinguishes us from the other two Tory parties. The Grand Coalition may not be that feasible........but as for the idea.....what fun!

AnyoneButBlair said...

Stephen, nice thought but absolutely zero chance.
I would rather go into coalition with Satan than NuLab. My Tory party membership card would be retuned by 1st post with a letter to Cameron asking why we Tories are propping up a discredited and corrupt government.
I thought that was something you lib dems were planning to do

Anonymous said...

No chance of this ever happening,in any case the Lab Dems confirmed at Harrogate two weeks ago that their strategy is to prop up Labour next time round.

Neil Craig said...

Rather than a formal coalition we might see the smaller party undertaking not to vote down the Queen's speech & confidence motions. This is pretty much what both Tories & Greens have talked about in Scotland to prop up Labour.

If this is not an option then if the Libs don't fold, as Ming's 5 points suggests they intend to, then they will either get PR or a new election fought overwhelmingly on PR. There being mo other options.