Labour needs to wake up to the threat of Nick and Dave’s very civil partnership

by Kevin Meagher

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” remarked Bert Lance, the former Carter-era official. His homespun phrase, much emulated since he coined it in 1977, is intended to ward off the siren demand for change for change’s sake.

That very same advice now rings in the ears of Liberal Democrat ministers as they ponder what state their party will be in at the next general election. Don’t change what doesn’t need to be changed.

Frankly, as most Lib Dems must realise, it would be easier to sell the Sun in Liverpool than hold many of their marginal seats. How can their ministers hope to stay in the style to which they are undoubtedly now accustomed riding a dying horse into the 2015 election?

Let’s fast forward three years. David Cameron will surely – and reasonably – hope to win a big working majority at the next election; this is his obvious Plan A. But continuing with the coalition will be his close-run Plan B. His worst of all worlds would be to win with a small Tory majority. The last thing he wants is to be reliant on his party’s backbenches or, even worse, his rank and file, as John Major was following his general election victory twenty years ago.

For the Lib Dems – trailing in single digits in most polls – their very salvation lies in preserving the status quo. Their worst of all worlds is to see a return to binary politics with Labour and the Tories carving up British politics once again. That appears a distinct possibility with the Lib Dems now seriously looking over their shoulder as UKIP threatens to usurp them for the third party slot.

They should seek payback for holding their collective noses and backing Cameron over issues like tuition fees, austerity and NHS reform in the shape of a semi-formal electoral pact. Their candidates go into the next election with their nominal Tory opponents defending a joint record, so why not a joint ticket as well?

This doesn’t mean joint coalition candidates. There is no need to diminish each party’s sovereignty when a looser, tactical arrangement can be arrived at. All that is needed is an agreement whereby the Tories stand down candidates in a certain number of agreed Lib Dem-held seats in the south where they are in second place and the Lib Dems reciprocate by allowing second placed Tories a run at Labour seats in the north. That way the Tories suffer no net loss but the Lib Dems avoid annihilation.

But will both parties’ grassroots see it that way? The Lib Dems are truly through the looking glass these days. Self-respect left that Gateshead conference hall along with the delegates. There is nothing many of them cannot now swallow and Nick Clegg is in a stronger position that it often appears.

Appealing to a sense of national unity and emphasising the precariousness of the economy will deliver some Tories behind this idea too. Those who grumble about the coalition not being Tory enough do so noisily, but to no obvious effect, and, interestingly, a poll on ConservativeHome a while back found 55 per cent of Tory members actually supported a non-aggression pact with the Lib Dems.

And this is not a new idea either. Nor is it a fringe one. The cerebral Cameroon outrider Nick Boles suggested an electoral arrangement with the Lib Dems as long as 18 months ago.

For ambitious Lib Dems, carrying on with the coalition is their best shot at retaining a ministerial career. Scratch that, their only shot. For Cameron, Lib Dem ballast gives his government a better equilibrium, ensuring he doesn’t have to kowtow to his right flank. Everyone’s a winner.

Such low cunning comes with a big message too. Both sides can sell a national electoral pact as a continuation of “acting in the national interest”. By explicitly campaigning to preserve the coalition (especially with five more years of austerity to come) a new and unknown dynamic would be thrown into the election campaign.

It could become powerfully reinforcing to have two parties agreeing on big swathes of policy, effectively ganging up on Labour by jointly arguing the party is unrealistic and unfit for power. As it currently stands, that would exploit a lot of Labour’s vulnerabilities around competence and economic management.

Sooner or later the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats must recognise there is little point in manufacturing differences, especially as they get on better than either side initially expected. Certainly at the top of government there seem to be fewer schisms than during the Blair-Brown years.

For Labour a continuation of the coalition is ruinous. Having ignored reality and failed to prepare for a hung parliament following the 2005 general election, the party has shown little appetite for coalition politics since 2010’s defeat. Yet this may be all that is on offer in future, with Labour locked-out of power for another term if the party continues to stick its head in the sand.

One thing is sure: there is little time to waste. Love is in the air and the coalition’s very civil partnership has only one logical outcome: an upgrade to full blown electoral matrimony.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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8 Responses to “Labour needs to wake up to the threat of Nick and Dave’s very civil partnership”

  1. Clr Ralph Baldwin says:

    “Having ignored reality and failed to prepare for a hung parliament following the 2005 general election, the party has shown little appetite for coalition politics since 2010’s defeat”

    indeed but it is still mostly ignoring reality, if it had any grasp of reality it would understand the impression people have been given by the Labour Leadership. Liam Bryne’s comment on making a joke about there no longer being any money left will burn Labour in the future.

    It shows more than a lack of economic competence, it displays a reckless and insane child-like attitude towards the UK’s finances as the real cost is levelled upon the people.

    The only reprieve facing Labour is that the Tories have not reminded people of the attitude of senior very ambitious and characters in the Labour Party towards the public and the task of being an MP and being a Government. they may as well have been lunatics running a playground with their petty incestuous spats and reckless abandon placing more than just democracy at risk and our Constitution and our National Security.

    I do not think even today they have any grasp of what they have done.

    I will be reminding the Tories to use a number of telling and revealing scenes from the past few years to remind the public in 2015 of the liability Labour has truly become on far too many levels, thought he banks and the Economy will be enough as it happened “on Labours’ watch”.

    Forget Left and Right, Labour struggles with healthy democracy and healthy discipline (as opposed to insane introverted anal unintelligible and illogical control).

  2. swatantra says:

    A good and perspective article. The fact is that the Coalitin is working, quite well thankyou. The Lib Dems may well be the junior partners and getting most of the flack, but then thats life. They’ve had had that most important of commodities: experience of Govt. Its a good trade off, and come the Eletion, here will be an arrangement with the Tories to ensure enough of Lib Dems are returned to continue another Tory led Coalition.The Tories have found their natural partners; Lib Dems have always been a Party of the Right of Centre.
    Which leaves Labour in a dillema, all at sea. Labour should froget about Lib Dems as future partners in coalitions. Instead seek alliances with the minor national Parties who have a vaguely leftish stance, and maybe some Independents and Greens.

  3. paul barker says:

    If you are serious about trying to guess the future on e golden rule is that long-term beats short-term nearly every time. The decline of the 2-party duopoly in Britain is a trend going back to 1951, if we are going to say that trend has gone into massive reverse in the last 2 years we need some solid evidence.
    What we have is one lot of local/scottish elections & opinion polls taken out of context, not comparing like with like.
    We also have other evidence routinely ignored on labour sites, leadership polls & the steady trickle of local byelections. The latter show the libdems getting more votes than labour over the last 3 months.
    Lets see whos right in 7 weeks time.

  4. BenM says:

    We don’t really know how coalition will affect the dynamics of the election campaign in 2015.

    But on polling the Tories haven’t got a hope of winning a large working majority in that election. They remain too distrusted outside the South to make large inroads.

    But things aren’t much better for Labour either, but they will poll several % points better than in 2010. That is just about certain.

    So we’d all better be prepared for more coalition. That does mean dropping the tribalism from Labour’s point of view.

  5. Anon E Mouse says:


    You are as mad as a March hare sometimes!

    Labour has no majority anywhere, not in Wales or Scotland and has no chance in England.

    As soon as the boundary changes are sorted it will level the playing field to the detriment of Labour.

    As an ex Labour voter I can assure you that I speak for the real Labour supporters when I agree with the benefits cuts, NHS changes and the other things the coalition are bringing in.

    70% of normal Labour voters like me support the austerity and will never vote for any party that does not admit what we know to be true regarding the deficit and has rich hypocrites like Harriet Harman, Ed Milliband and Ken Livingston in the party.

    The sooner Labour ditches these weirdo’s in the party and gets real the better. I hope the coalition continues because it’s doing a good job and the polls reflect this. The sooner the shrill BBC just stops the bias the better because no one is listening.

    Regarding tribalism I remember you on Left Foot Forward supporting Gordon Brown FFS – how tribal is that?

  6. swatantra says:

    The Coalition are in fact following the same policies that Labour would have followed. This Coalition is a continuation of Labour by other means.
    The mantra of cutting too far and too fast is beginning to wear a bit thin because George has increased Govt borrowing. Its difficult to see where the difference is.
    Apart from stimulating growth … cutting taxes, which Labour also advocate. I doubt very much if we could have reigned in the Bankers and the Tax Dodgers.
    We’ve tried in the past and they’ve always escaped. Labour can only make a difference in social policy not in economic policy.
    Politics is nothing if not tribal. No doubt the public will tire of The Coalition at some point and Labour will return. We should actually be working on new Social Policies for that time.

  7. Mike Homfray says:

    Very unlikely. The LibDems are likely to lose a lot of seats, and they may well split, with the Orange Book types becoming liberal Tories, others joining Labour, or perhaps an attempt to form a radical Liberal-Left party

  8. BenM says:

    Ah, Anon E Mouse trying to pass himself off as a “former Labour voter” again.

    No one buys that deception. It’s exposed by the “Biased BBC” shriek at the end of your post. Only reactionary Tories indulge in that kind of self interested BBC bashing.

    By the way Mouse, take a look at 15th March Yougov / Sun supplementary questions.

    More people think Labour reflects the kind of society they want than Tories for the first time in a while.

    Not the be all and end all of course – and I don’t think 2015 means a return to Labour majority at all – but baby steps in the right direction.

    Voters are getting tired of this coalition’s toddler like inability to take responsibility for its economic foul ups.

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