The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Four Degrees Of Lib Demmery: Coalition

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 21, 2010 @ 14:00

Some coalitions are just... weird.

Slightly more likely than my previous two scenarios is the idea that the Lib Dems might choose to enter into a formal coalition with another party, Labour or Conservative. After all, the Lib Dems have done it in Scotland with Labour, and nearly did it with the SNP too. The same was also nearly true in Wales in 2007, when a “rainbow alliance” nearly came together between the Tories and Plaid.

But for it to happen in Westminster would be such an incredible culture shock to the village. No one could believe that such mortal enemies could ever jump into bed together.

These times, however, are very much a changing. I can easily conceive of Nick Clegg joining a Conservative coalition. A Labour coalition seems less likely, primarily because Labour will have just been rejected at the ballot box, but bear in mind that as the one that would make it all happen, Nick Clegg could exact a very high price.

Let’s imagine that scenario. Nick Clegg demands Labour elect a new leader in a genuine contest. He could even ask that Labour elect their new leader in a national series of primaries, just like the selection of a president in the USA. In return, the Lib Dems would enter into a formal agreement, and have a stable coalition for the entire length of the Parliament, implementing vast chunks of the Lib Dem manifesto.

I cannot imagine a scenario where the Lib Dems agree to go into coalition with Labour while Gordon Brown is the leader. Gordon Brown represents everything that is wrong with Britain today. He is the change the Lib Dems are supposed to be rejecting. To join his government would be suicide. It won’t happen. But can I see them joining a Labour coalition with a different PM, one elected from a fair contest that engaged the nation, and looked different to the previous government? Yes, most definitely.

But would Clegg join a Tory coalition? Again, very much so, especially if it’s what would be required in order to shift Gordon Brown out of office (i.e. if Labour retained the largest amount of seats). His price would be high; it would have to be. After all, Lib Dem coalition agreements must be backed by the membership at large. Clegg would have to get plenty of seats at Cabinet, at least one of the major offices of state, and half the manifesto, including voting and other constitutional reforms.

That would, surely, be enough to get the members backing the deal.

To summarise:

  • Labour largest party by some distance, but still many seats short of a majority: Lib Dem coalition possible if Gordon Brown goes, plus major concessions to Lib Dem policy.
  • Labour and Tories essentially with the same number of seats: Brown will woo the Lib Dems, but Clegg will be aware of electorate’s rejection of Labour and refuse it. Tory coalition possible; potentially unstable. Major concessions.
  • Conservatives largest party, still quite a few seats short of a majority: Lib Dem coalition possible if major concessions achieved. Potentially stable for a whole parliament.

All potentially very fruitful for the Lib Dems in the short-term. In the long-term, they would be damaged by their close association with an establishment party, destroying all tactical vote potential for a generation. But then again, with electoral reform, tactical voting would become a thing of the past.

Formal coalition, however, is still a long shot. It taints the brand. The Lib Dems in Scotland have suffered major damage from being seen as Labour’s yes men. Our political culture is not accustomed to it, and so we’d struggle to digest it. We would get used to it in time if the electoral system changed, and would stop being so childish about parties joining forces, but in the meantime, the media would have a field day, and the reputational damage could be severe. Politicians are risk-averse, and this one would be too much for any of them to take.

In reality, we’re left with one scenario. At this stage, it’s probably the most likely electorally. And potentially the most palatable for the nation, the media and the parties themselves. Face-saving all round.

And yet still pretty revolutionary.

One last gaze into the crystal ball might reveal all…

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2 Responses to “Four Degrees Of Lib Demmery: Coalition”

  1. […] Four Degrees Of Lib Demmery: Coalition […]

  2. […] As Mike Smithson has pointed out, none of this is much of a surprise. It had been rumoured and speculated for a long time that should the election result be inconclusive, amidst a perception of Labour taking a good beating, Brown, as sitting PM, would have to take the flak for it. And yes, even this humble author wrote about it too. […]

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