Friday, 10 January 2014

Labour and Coalition Talk

Have I just hopped off the TARDIS? Everywhere I look there's talk of Labour going into coalition with the Liberal Democrats. It looks and smells oddly like the lead-up to the last general election. As politicians tend not to look back at their party's second-ever worse electoral defeat with fondness, what then has prompted Ed Balls "conciliatory" comments towards the Yellow Party? Why is talk of renewed Lib-Lab nuptials in the air?

The political economy of our media plays a role. Continuous coverage fosters a dull conformity among politicians. Government and opposition MPs alike drone into the camera and evade questions without a hint of colour or verve of independence, lest they be found off-message and cause their respective bosses headaches. With column inches and broadcast slots to fill, when a politician does say a few warm words, such as the friendly conversation Ed Balls and Nick Clegg had in a mysteriously unstated location, or entertains the mere possibility that the next Parliament could also be hung, the comments get blown up. The discipline party leaders expect of their troops and lieutenants feeds the likelihood of the media running away with a non-story.

Not having met Nick Clegg I can't pronounce on his humanity or otherwise, but being the kind of fella I am I try and get on with everyone. That covers pinheads, narcissists and the terminally shifty. And it might occasionally include LibDems too. Perhaps Ed is like me and is a naturally gregarious chap. But to go on the record and entertain the possibility of hooking up with them in 2015, well, it's a risky move. As he observes you have to deal with politics and the electoral alignments as you find them. Quite. However, what is to be gained from talking about this openly when the election is approximately 500 days away? Sure, if the inner circle perched atop the Parliamentary Labour Party feel compelled to make nice with LibDems, this can be done discreetly. Inviting Nick, Uncle Vince and Tim around for tea and tiffin is, personally, how I'd go about it. Doing so in an interview with the New Statesman? No.

There are two obvious reasons why not to. Firstly, it makes Labour look weak. The poll lead may have softened, but the party is the favourite to win an outright majority next May. It's not a foregone conclusion. Lots of work must be done to ensure every Labour voter possible turns out but on the balance of probabilities, Labour will most likely win. Talking about coalition publicly, even if you preface or postface your comments with "but I'm still fighting for an outright majority" isn't smart politics. It can signify a certain uneasiness among the leadership team, a hint of defeatism. That might not be the case and, in my view, it is not. But you don't give your enemies gifts, especially when the Tories and their press allies will fib and lie about Labour figures, policies and the past record.

Secondly, talking about coalition with the LibDems is like necking bleach. It's a very silly thing to do. Real life doesn't often pay attention to the minutiae of Westminster bubblings, but certain sectors of the electorate are more likely to keep abreast than others. Those LibDem switchers, for example. They are more likely to be middle class, have gone through higher education, and be more actively engaged in a range of "causes" than other voters. They take notice of what's going on, and won't look kindly on pre-election footsie with the party they feel betrayed them. True, there is no viable elsewhere for them to go but the leadership should not be in the business of narking them off. Nor should it strive to alienate its core activists. The big advantage Labour has over the Tories are the number of bodies it can get on the doors and on the phones. They are presently highly motivated to get shot of this decadent government. Campaigners might also be joined by those "voting Labour without illusions" to help the process along. It is absolutely vital for our operation this year and the next that our comrades remain on a war footing. And that will be difficult to maintain if our leaders indulge in shilly-shallying with those part-responsible for the lost half-decade.

So, a piece of unsolicited advice to our leading politicians. When you talk about the LibDems publicly, do so in terms of wanting to beat them. Don't create the impression Labour is chillaxed about "agreeing with Nick". We want to win next year, after all.


Speedy said...

Will an exclusive Milliband Labour government be to the Left or the Right of its Coalition equivalent?

Judging by Chuka's recent comments, to the right.

Or maybe the Left. It's difficult to tell - one minute (or 13 years) they're opening up the UK to the rest of the world, the next they've rediscovered the economic interests of the working class.

Clearly a party of principle. So in a Coalition they'd be in good company.

Phil said...

The question you aren't asking is what it does to the Coalition to have the junior partner talking about jumping ship - and I think it does nothing good. If the Tories come under pressure from their grass roots (or from Murdoch) to ditch the LDs and move Right, or to compete with UKIP, or to ally with UKIP, from Labour's point of view it's all good.

Anonymous said...

ok phil, please decode this for me:

"Mr Balls said: "I had a friendly chat with him a couple of hours ago in the House of Commons. I'm not saying where, but the kind of place people pass in the House of Commons. "

he means the crapper, right? i think in film and literature, they call this "foreshadowing."


Anonymous said...

A coalition makes perfect sense.

Appearing to want to beat the Tories will sound good on the doorsteps of Labour's core voters - it'll help convey the impression Labour's offering an alternative, but after the voting is over deals will be cut.

No matter which party has the most seats, or even wins a majority, we'll end up with a government, in policy terms, remarkably similar to the one we have now.