If Labour has a path to power tomorrow, it must only take it if a stable majority is possible

by Atul Hatwal

The worst day in government is better than the best in opposition, or so the aphorism goes.

It’s true.

As Aussie cricketers (who know a thing or two about winning) say, you’ve got to back yourself otherwise what’s the point in playing the game?

But if Labour does find itself in a position to shape the next government, it needs to do so in the right way.

It needs to be clear-eyed about its priorities.

First and foremost, should be stopping the Tories implementing their plans.

If David Cameron remains prime minister and delivers on even one tenth of his barmy promises for spending cuts and unfunded tax cuts he will undo much of the generational improvement to public services achieved by the last Labour government.

Second, should be to form a stable, enduring government.

There is a difference between the two priorities and the first takes precedence over the second.

Nothing would be a greater guarantor of years of opposition than a brief, calamitous interlude in government. A short-lived, fractious Labour administration that falls would ultimately deliver a full-blooded Conservative government with all of the damage that entails.

If Labour has a path to government tomorrow, Ed Miliband needs to test whether he can construct an enduring government. If not, he’ll need to make a difficult choice.

In a scenario where the parliamentary arithmetic means Labour could form a government, the first call Ed Miliband makes should be to the leader of the Lib Dems, even if that’s Nick Clegg. It means setting aside partisan rancour in favour of forging a stable coalition.

If Scottish nationalist votes are required, Labour must have more than just ad hoc discussions on a vote by vote basis.

To achieve stability, Labour will need to take the brickbats of going back on a campaign promise and agree a formal way of working with the SNP, including nationalist ministers in government, sharing collective responsibility for the most controversial decisions.

There would be a few days’ bad headlines, but the parliamentary prize of a secure and enduring majority would be worth the temporary media squall.

In political terms, drawing the Scottish nationalists into formal coalition would also crack their ideologically unstable support base.

The SNP are winning votes from the political left, right and centre based on the premise that they will defend Scotland. If they are in a national government, and no longer a regional opposition, the fault lines which run through their vote will split apart.

The sight of an SNP chief secretary to the Treasury in a Labour coalition, administering the inevitable and necessary spending cuts, would be a delicious irony. What price Nicola Sturgeon facing the shouts of “yellow Tory scum,” from her current hard left fans?

And if the SNP will not formally join Labour in government, and Ed Miliband does not have the non-nationalist votes to deliver his agenda, he needs to make the difficult choice: to let David Cameron form a minority government

If Labour can’t form a stable government, it should not risk a parlous attempt at office which is likely to be derailed by the SNP in the run up to next year’s Holyrood election when they will need to differentiate themselves from Labour.

If Ed Miliband tries and fails to form a stable coalition, the SNP will shoulder the blame  for putting David Cameron back into Number 10, albeit at the head of a minority government.

However, Ed Miliband would also be assured that the votes would be there on the floor of the House of Commons to emasculate the Tories’ agenda.

The blood curdling spending cuts promised by the Tories and ludicrous tax cuts could not pass. To quote Norman Lamont, the Tories would be in office but not in power. Primacy would rest with the legislature, not the executive.

David Cameron is a weak leader sitting atop an irredeemably divided party. Fissures on Europe combined with the rancour of thwarted backbench ambition would explode the moment David Cameron was confirmed as leader of a minority government.

His inability to deliver a European referendum or any of the red meat beloved of his backbenchers, because he had failed not only to get a majority, but even a viable coalition, would rapidly destroy his administration.

The silence of the Tory right during this election campaign has only been bought on the promise of legislation to bring forward a European referendum. Deprived of this, because of the combined parliamentary strength of Labour, the Lib Dems and the nationalists, the explosion of rage and savaging of David Cameron by his own side, would be a sight to behold.

The implosion of a fleeting Cameron government would open the way for another election and a Labour government, this time with the votes to drive through its prospectus.

Naturally, all of these calculations could be avoided if Britain’s voters were to just vote Labour in sufficient numbers.

That’s what Labour activists are straining every sinew to achieve today. Hopefully, they will be successful. I’ve been sceptical (and remain so) but nothing would make me happier right now than being wrong about the result of this election.

Tomorrow, if Labour is within sight of government but falls short of the votes to carry through its agenda, then Ed Mililband will be tempted to grab at the prize of the premiership and take office as a minority administration. He needs to resist this impulse.  Whoever leads a minority government is very likely to fail. That failure needs to be owned by David Cameron and the Tories.

It requires nerves of steel. It would mean losing the short term battle to win the longer term war. Enduring a few more bad days in opposition to secure many better ones as a stable government.

But it is ultimately the best way to be sure that the Tories will not have the opportunity to implement their plans, either in the short or medium term and that Labour can ultimately take office with a fighting chance of success.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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13 Responses to “If Labour has a path to power tomorrow, it must only take it if a stable majority is possible”

  1. swatantra says:

    Fair game. That means a deal with the Lib Dems then, and leave the SNP to stew in the corner. Happy Days are here again.
    But something will have to be done with Scotland. And since there’ll be no Scots Labour MPS left, or Lib Dems, the SoS for Scotland will have to be fond amongst the English contingent, anyone with a Scottish name, like McDonnell for instance, will do.
    (Hague was Welsh Secretary and so was Redwood, not having set foot in Wales before)

  2. Tafia says:

    Labour and the Lib Dems combined will not be a majority.

    SNP, Plaid, SDLP, Greens will not support continued austerity – not even a gentler version and will actively vote against it.

    UKIP & DUP will only support a government that supports an in/out EU referendum.

    UUP, Alliance will not prop ou a Labour government for a variety of reasons.

    Sinn Fein don’t take part full stop.

    Whoever wins is going to have a very low share of the vote on what looks like being a low turnout.

  3. Mr Akira Origami says:

    “There would be a few days’ bad headlines.”.

    On the other hand there could be a surreal 21st century type of Wat Tyler rebellion throughout the country.


    To satisfy the SNP, there could be created a postion of Minister for Secessionism, which could be then given to one of their MP’s.

  4. Mr Akira Origami says:

    “The rise of the separatist Scottish National Party in UK politics” – an external view from Dr. Azeem Ibrahim:


  5. Madasafish says:

    Nothing would be a greater guarantor of years of opposition than a brief, calamitous interlude in government. A short-lived, fractious Labour administration that falls would ultimately deliver a full-blooded Conservative government with all of the damage that entails.”

    You mean like Ted Heath in 1970-74? A short lived fractious government which fell, leading to another 5 years of Labour Government under Wilson/Callaghan. And then 18 years of the Tories..

    Some disconnect there with the article’s message?.

  6. Mike says:

    The premise of the article is correct. If Labour go into Government propped up by the SNP and only then still getting around 325 MP’s it will be a hard 5 years. The SNP would be quiet adept at stabbing Labour in the back to differentiate themselves.
    Also in that time, especially if Farage doesn`t get elected, UKIP will fall away giving the Conservatives a boost. The Lib Dems may gain 1-2% of their old support back, thereby reducing Labour support in 2020. One of the big stories is how the Conservatives are polling 1-2% off their 2010 result when UKIP have gone up 9%. Not all UKIP supporters are Conservatives but it was thought that at least half were. The election (or otherwise) of Clegg and Farage will make a big difference.

  7. Mr Akira Origami says:

    ” I’ve been sceptical (and remain so)”:

    You predicted the SNP would take 6-10 Labour seats.

    Let’s hope that prediction is correct!

  8. Robert the cripple says:

    No need labour have lost the Tories will have a majority no deal with the SNP or the Liberals labour has had a shocker.

    Maybe from now on labour will speak to the country as a whole not just those dam well lucky enough to be in work.

  9. Madasafish says:

    It would appear the GE result is a complete vindication for the founders of this website. Congratulations in sticking to your beliefs

    England does not want left wing socialism . Tony Blair proved that. Ed Miliband and the left ignored the success of three election wins and re-emphasised the lesson.

    I was wrong to be optimistic on Labour having most seats. But clearly the Opinion Polls have made major errors so better and cleverer people than I have been even more wrong. But I was still wrong.. But I console myself that a Miliband Government would have been a disaster.

    And Balls has gone. Seems like his constituents have the same opinion as I – very clever: needs more common sense.

  10. Tafia says:

    England does not want left wing socialism

    And Wales & Scotland will not vote for a more right wing Labour,

  11. Mr Akira Origami says:

    Wales will not vote for a more right wing Labour – True.

    England does not want left wing socialism – True.


    Scotland will not get a voice in the House of Commons and wont get one till it rejects the SNP nationalist separation party.

    Wales will increasingly vote for the Conservatives.

    Wales has been let down, badly, by the Welsh Assembly Governement.

    Wales want’s a thriving economy not a Welsh Labour Party that would go into coalition with Plaid Cymru the nationalist separist party, to stay in power.

    For a stable Welsh Government, Welsh Labour must now look towards the Conservatives to form a stable government as a platform for a stable economy for the future.

  12. John P Reid says:

    Taria, you know Wales better than me, but the greens or plaid ididnr exactly walk it there

  13. Mr Akira Origami says:

    UKIP are now an up and coming force in Wales set to take some Welsh Assembly seats – Now 3rd biggest party in Wales.

    Libdem vote has collapsed.

    Plaid Cymru vote holding on in North Wales but no chance of making any inroads in the rest of Wales.

    Green party vote has increased mainly because of the personality of the leader, Pippa Bartolotti.



    In contrast – Leanne Wood.



    Election results:
    Labour 37% (previously 36%)
    Conservatives 27% (26%)
    UKIP 14% (2%)
    Plaid Cymru 12% (11%)
    Liberal Democrats 6% (20%)


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