Sunday, December 09, 2007

On Coalition

The whole notion of coalition has stirred up some sediment (or should that be sentiment?!) about the issue. At the moment the voting from my visitors in terms of coalition with the Tories goes 11% absolutely, 26% never and by far the majority, 61% in certain circumstances. I am going to put up another poll to see if this turns out similarly re Labour. I am interested in what the circumstances may be in which we should consider a coalition? I am even more interested in what the red lines would be for people.

Whilst I feel sick at the notion of a coalition with the Tories, I am not against coalition in principle. Whatever I think of the Labour party there is no doubt that the coalition in Scotland meant that Lib Dem policies were implemented and that the people of Scotland are better off because of it. And yes, as has been pointed out, we do have successful coalitions with the Tories for example in Camden, where they are the "junior" partners - a different kind of relationship? We are not propping them up are we? And of course, if we had PR in this country coalition would be inevitable, but that is not what we are talking about at the moment.

So, let's say we do end up with a hung parliament next time round, what are we prepared to sacrifice? What is the price we will extract? Both leadership candidates have rightly made much of their anti-establishment radical credentials - how will that be squared with a reactionary conservative administration? Or do we have confidence that Cameron really is going to preside over a liberal Conservative Party?

I suppose I am influenced by the fact that I am old enough to remember the last Tory administration, the damage they did to the life chances of so many children and young people, the constant cuts to public services, the love-in with big business, the harsh judgemental approach to anyone who didn't share their values. I could go on. Perhaps I have misjudged Cameron and he really does have the strength of character to change his party, but from what I have seen so far I doubt it. But, as ever, I am willing to be proved wrong!


Anonymous said...

Well, wouldn't you agree to a coalition, if they agree to implement the Lib Dem program as it stands?

Then it is just a question how much of the program can be exchanged as a price for a power sharing.

But doesn't the same apply to a coalition with Labour? I hope that no Lib Dem would refuse a coalition with Tories in any circumstances, more than accept a coalition with Labour in any circumstances.

There would of course be certain preconditions, like PR, and if the other party agrees to those, Lib Dems could negotiate about other details. After the negotiations we would see, if the offered deal is good enough.

Tristan said...

Its difficult.
Given the current labour administration, I think it would be a bad idea to go into coalition with them - we'd be seen as propping up an unpopular administration.
LibLabism under Callaghan did us a lot of damage, and I think that right now the same would occur.

If Labour were the biggest party we should let them try and form a minority government.

As for the Tories. I would not want to drop PR, or aspects of our Law & Order policies. The EU might also be a sticking point, but it needn't be (if we stick to skeptical support for the EU).
They are certainly closer to us on civil liberties than Labour, which is one of the major issues of our time...

Linda Jack said...

Dear Anonymous

I wanted to pick up your comments which is why I have included an anonymous post - I guess my problem is rather as Tristan, it is a question of what can be stomached. As someone who already feels I have to make compromises in terms of Lib Dem policy positions for the greater good of the wider liberal agenda, to then superimpose a Tory policy agenda as well, I am not sure how that would work? Of course, if the Tories were prepared to accept our programme and dump the obnoxious parts of their own I may feel differently, but how realistic is that? Heavens, I find myself agreeing with Tristan again!!!

Jock Coats said...

I am old enough to remember the current Labour administration:

the damage they did to the life chances of so many children and young people

Child poverty up, social mobility down.

the constant cuts to public services

whilst pumping money into various services they've managed to lower our health and education outcomes. Great.

the love-in with big business

Qinetiq/Carlyle, Hinduja/Dome, F1/tobacco advertising, academies/big business, foundation hospitals with big business partners, privatising lots of the government estate to big business, the ever growing presence of outsourcing firms - handing swathes of our state functions over to EDS, IBM, Accenture and so on...

the harsh judgemental approach to anyone who didn't share their values.

How much harsher can it get than trying to silence protest, all the thought crimes that have been introduced, control orders, leaving failed asylum families destitute

I could go on.

Ditto - I think we can conclude that New Labour are no better than Old Tory. In a discussion about coalition, one might conclude that you're more likely to be able to bring "Old Labour" back by propping up their government, if that's what you want, but I for one don't. I want proper liberalism. Like I say, and I think both leadership candidates have agreed at various times, the most obvious partnership is between Mr Frown and Mr Balloon as Mr Elephant calls them, followed by a minority government whom we might agree to support on an issue by issue basis on the understanding that they introduced electoral reform.

But most of all, you can't lay out your stall before the situation arises. If the Tories are ten votes short of a majority, do you think it would be ethical, given that we support electoral reform, to spit in the faces of the electorate by propping up a Labour government for example?

Linda Jack said...

Absolutely agree with you Jock - therein lies the dilemma and the problem I have when folk say we are all the same. NO WE ARE NOT!

So, what to do?


Jock Coats said...

I should have thought that was obvious! And again both candidates have been saying it...

We fight to win. We fight on a distinctive and liberal platform. We need people to vote for us for positive reasons, not because they're trying to second guess who we might prop up. Then is we don't win, we wait for one or other to come begging and see what they want to offer. But we absolutely don't go into any election suggesting that we're more likely to support one or other of the others in any given situation. Every seat in a hung parliament will make a difference ptoentially to who we talk most with afterwards.

It's difficult - because everyone wants to know because they think it's some mark of whether we are shifting rightwards or leftwards. And their final word on the subject whenever anyone asks is that actually it will be up to us, the party membership, to decide on a coalition (I hope - it was in Scotland and Wales wasn't it?) so they cannot commit the party in advance to anything.

Linda Jack said...

Not sure, was it up to the membership? How would that work? But I think it is better to be very clear not only what we want in terms of policy but also very clear what our red lines are - do we know what they are? I certainly know what mine would be!


Jock Coats said...

Well it was up to the membership in the sense that they had to hold extraordinary national party conferences to ratify the deals in both Scotland and Wales.

And, although I like the idea of having something as "easy" as a set of "red lines" I'm not entirely sure that's possible. There are all sorts of "red lines" - bits of our manifesto that we won't back down on, bits of others' manifestos we won't agree on (and at what stage do we get the opportunity to "vet" someone else' manifesto in time to go into a campaign saying what we wouldn't support). And it would be possible, such as perhaps was the case with tuition fees in Scotland and personal care in Wales, where we could see ourselves in a coalition with a pre-agreed list of things that the leading partner might still want to try but which we make it clear in advance that we will not support - and how do we not support - do we vote against or do we abstain. That kind of thing.

If we are clearly different (and I'm not sure we are enough yet anyway) from the other two, people will respect, I hope, that the other two are more natural partners than either of them would be with us. In that situation, we would potentially have more power in coalition negotiations with either of them as we could protray them as more desperate having failed to do a deal with their more natural bedfellows in the other party.

Anyway - the other week we were on 23% and Labour on 28% wasn't it? Life is still full of possibilities!

Linda Jack said...

Yes, I think the grand coalition makes a good deal more sense. Malcolm Rifkind was on the radio yesterday morning saying that ideologically there was little to choose between the Tories and Labour, which of course we already knew.

So - I like the idea of other possibilities.........hmmmm......

Jock Coats said...

We should talk it up on every possible occasion. It may be "Overton Window" territory at the moment - so ridiculous to people that they pay it little credence - but the more we say it the more it will sink in as a possibility and that could only do us good electorally IMHO.

Linda Jack said...

Yes, I like it. Perhaps a subject for debate at Spring Conference?