Thursday 5 August 2021

The Superfluity of Coalition Politics

Keir Starmer has done something right. Yes, those words have been written down by me. Your eyes do not deceive you. On his visit to Scotland on Wednesday, he took time out from his hard hatted photo opportunities to say there would be no deal with the SNP before or after the next election. There would be no coalition government. Clearly, the Labour leader has taken heed of reports the Tories were planning on talking up an alliance between him and Nicola Sturgeon. Indeed, the Tories are always on the look out for useful divide and rule situations, and the prospect of an independence referendum is one of them.

Clever avoidance politics? Our learned comrade, Mark Perryman doesn't think so. By advocating a vote for Labour everywhere and ruling out alliances with other parties, Labour is on a hiding to nothing. He says, "If Keir is ruling out a coalition in any circumstances he’s ruling himself out of Number Ten short of the kind of surge in the polls there is absolutely no evidence of his leadership attracting." With the right united under the Conservative banner, the "progressive parties" competing for the anti-Tory vote can only ever benefit the Tories.

As it happens, I agree. The primary objective at every general election must be the removal of the Tories, or preventing them from gaining office. After the last 11 years, it should be obvious why. There is no damage they won't cause or amount of people they won't let die to stay in power and preserve the interests they organise and articulate. But there are ways and means of reducing competition between anti-Tory parties to get them out, and one way not to do it is declaring Labour's intention to forge an alliance with the SNP from the rooftops.

We don't have to go far back in time to remind us why Mark's recommendation isn't a good idea. The Tories dined out on the prospect of Ed Miliband and Alex Salmond allying to break up Britain and scrap its nuclear arsenal. What the Tories did was whip up a climate of inchoate fear to mobilise enough voters for an entirely undeserved victory. Rather than dealing with the acute sources of uncertainty and misery, i.e. themselves, their propaganda and allied media machine projected it all onto their opponents. And it worked. It didn't matter Ed said there wasn't going to be a coalition or a deal, as soon as the Tories started running it was too late. This line came back at me time after time on the doors in Stafford, so it cut through. For his sins, and they are legion, Starmer has got the plausible deniabilities in early. I suppose he has learned something about blunting attacks before they happen.

How about an open pact of assistance between the English parties? Does this avoid the problem? I'm afraid it does not. Despite the received wisdom that Boris Johnson is a positive politician, his programme is anything but. He talks about levelling up, but does nothing about it. And this means without any positive achievements to their name in 2023/24, the Tories are going to emphasise the fearmongering again. Their hope lies not in persuading opposition voters of their merits but turning out the already-convinced, and this job is easier if there's an identifiable "them" to kick against. In 2019, it was the establishment looking to steal their referendum votes. In 23/24, it would be the same pitch: they want to undo Brexit/break up Britain. Any formalised alliance looks like a conspiracy to mug the voters, and allows the Tories to cast themselves the plucky underdogs fighting for every day Brits. It's a heady brew and many are all too willing to neck it. Hence the business of alliances in our dysfunctional politics cannot be handled indelicately. They have to be informal, below the radar and annoyingly, formally forsworn by whoever is the Labour leader. This was true for Jeremy Corbyn, and it remains the case for Keir Starmer.

But this as far as this qualified defence of Starmer's ruling out a pact with the SNP goes. He is not for any kind of alliance, even of the quiet paper candidate sort. His politics are entirely top-down and authoritarian. In the unlikely event of winning an outright majority, there won't be any electoral reform, which sets the clock ticking for the next ruinous Tory government. And in the event of Labour becoming the biggest party in the Commons without a majority, one can easily imagine him ploughing on as if Labour did have a majority. Such a government wouldn't last very long. Our best bet at getting the Tories out, unfortunately, lies in the hands of a leadership with a rigid political imagination backed by a dominant faction not that fussed about winning anyway. It's enough to make any talk about coalitions and informal understandings seem superfluous.

Image Credit


SimonB said...

Don’t you think that a pact with other parties promising electoral reform would work? I don’t see any other way of removing the tories.

David Timoney said...

I think you've fallen into the trap of believing that "what comes up on the doorstep" is a considered view rather than shorthand for "I intend to vote Tory anyway". All the polling suggests that most people in England couldn't give a shit about Scotland, independent or not. Just as "Corbyn" on the doorstep in 2019 was a useful distraction from the calamitous policy on Brexit, so the SNP played a similar role in 2015, distracting from the underwhelming Labour offer & the lack of popular enthusiasm.

Alan Story said...


I did not think you were such a strong proponent of Labourism:

It has no future.


Richard Gadsden said...

I think there were signs of there being some sort of pact with the Lib Dems in the recent by-elections. That Labour leaflet with Tony Blair on in the Chesham and Amersham by-election reminded more left-leaning voters that the Lib Dems opposed Iraq, which got some of them to vote Lib Dem.

The Lib Dems running a pro-coalition candidate in Batley and Spen and having a campaign that was aimed at soft Tory voters while pushing more left-leaning voters away to Labour.

Both of those made me think that the two parties were deliberately running campaigns that could have been designed by the other party. In other words, the sort of quiet deniable co-operation that you were suggesting.

The Greens were definitely not bought in to this in Chesham and Amersham. I didn't follow Batley and Spen close enough to comment, but their leadership has very limited ability to constrain or direct their local campaigning, so it may require CLPs to go and talk to the local Greens rather than being a top-down thing as it can be with the Lib Dems.

Also, there is absolutely no point in any sort of pre-election deal with the SNP. The Tories will win an insignificant number of seats in Scotland, so there's no reason to do such a deal, and Scottish Labour hates the SNP, so it would create major ructions to try to impose this on them. Far better to just break your word, do a deal after the election, and bring in electoral reform to ensure that the lie doesn't hand power straight back to the Tories.

Anonymous said...

As a pro corbyn scot I can tell you that scottish Labour is way more unionist than socialist, and probably more unionist that even social democratic. Most members still hold in contempt the Scottish central belt working class majority that has overwhelmingly switched to snp and to a lesser extent green;Sarwars pitch is so mediocre I don't see scotlab getting more than 25% of vote anytime soon. The snp can afford to be pretty bland because the competition is woefull. The greens thankfully pull the snp in a better direction due to snp not having a majority.

Blissex said...

«On his visit to Scotland on Wednesday»

The Financial Times reported as to this what some important details:
«Sir Keir Starmer has vowed to “turn the Labour party inside out” as he prepares for an autumn relaunch of his leadership, urging activists to embrace Tony Blair’s political legacy to help the UK’s main opposition party win the next election. He said it was vital to demonstrate that Labour was not a party of protest but was serious about winning power — and that meant being “very proud” of what it achieved under Blair and his successor as prime minister Gordon Brown when it was last in office.

[...] he was determined to rebuild the party’s political culture and repair its battered reputation on the economy. “I’m acutely aware that among my first tasks is rebuilding the relationship between the Labour party and business,” he said

[...] “We have to turn the Labour party inside out and that’s what we’ve been doing for the last 18 months,” he said. “Too many of our members and supporters think winning an internal argument in the Labour party is changing the world — it isn’t. We’ve got to get real.”»

That “get real” means that the defeats in 2010, 2015, 2017, 2019 were not due to millions of votes lost by Tony Blair plus the property crash, but to Brown, Miliband, Corbyn positioning the party to the left and then to the far left, and thus betraying the thatcherism of Tony Blair: “Labour would only win if the party championed aspirational voters who shop at John Lewis and Waitrose”.

BTW that “Too many of our members and supporters think winning an internal argument in the Labour party is changing the world” is appropriately a paraphrase from Tony Blair, 29 October 1987:
“the worst delusion of resolutionary socialism – the notion that resolutions passed at Conference have meaning or effect without real support in the wider community.”

Blissex said...

«As a pro corbyn scot I can tell you that scottish Labour is way more unionist than socialist, and probably more unionist that even social democratic.»

Fortunately for Scottish New Labour there are high-net-worth donors who make sure that trots like you don't end up being pandered to by another trot like Leonard:
“His resignation followed a conference call involving senior party figures and potential donors, who are understood to have said that they would not back Labour while Mr Leonard remained in post.”

:-) or rather :-(

Anonymous said...

Richard Gadsden

The candidate picked for the Greens in B&S had to withdraw after some past social media posts of theirs were "revealed". And it came too near to the close of nominations deadline for a replacement to be found.

John osman said...

David Timoney. Wise words indeed.
I completely agree with you.

Mark Perryman said...

'Learned comrade' thanks Phil, assuming this is meant as a compliment!

Under First the Post I am not setting out electoral agreements/pacts as any kind of point of principle, altho' I do believe that in order to go beyond the party chauvinism endemic to Labourism coalition-building in all its varieties is key.

But what irks me is entirely ruling out co-operatun between opositin parties as some kind of pomtv of principle.

There are Tory/Lib Dem marginals Labour cannot win.

There are Tory/Labour marginals the Lib Dems cannot win.

Apart from Brighton Pavilion there is not a single other seat the Greens can win but plenty of seats where their 3rd or 4th place vote wlll see the Tories, rathervthan Labour or Lib Dems home.

With no sign of a Scottish recovery for Labour the chances of a Labourcoverall majorityy to govern on its own are close rt non existent.

So we either talk thru' co-operation between oppositinpsrtires or we folow Keir's lead and rule it out under any circumstances. I know which option I prefer.