Now that Ed Miliband has apparently embraced the Liberal Democrat agenda (voting reform, civil liberties, fairer taxation, condemnation of the Iraq war, cleaning up ‘the city’, the need for ‘fiscal credibility’ etc.,) he raises an intriguing question. Could Labour form a coalition government before the term of the present one expires?
The maths is intriguing. Labour currently hold 258 seats. Since Sinn Fein refuse to take up their five seats in Parliament the ‘magic number’ for a majority is an attainable 323. Were Labour to win three by-elections by taking seats from the Scottish Nationalists or Plaid Cymru, and were prepared to form a coalition with their ‘sister’ party, the Northern Ireland Social Democratic and Labour Party, Northern Ireland’s Liberal MP (from the Alliance Party), and the Green Party MP, a coalition with the Liberal Democrats would allow them to form a government with 323 seats against a ‘possible’ Conservative led coalition of 322 (assuming the Tories can come to an accomodation with the Nationalist parties and the Ulster Unionists).
I am not saying that such a coalition is desirable or even achievable. The sincerity of Labour’s new leader is not enough to overcome the emnity and distrust that many of his party’s members harbour towards other parties, particularly the Liberal Democrats, The Labour party needs to retreat from its tribalist instincts, particularly at grassroots level in the north, and accept that only they can make the necessary approaches if they are interested in forming a progressive alliance based on mutual respect and a shared agenda.
One point worthy of note for the Liberal Democrats. With Labour less than a handful of seats away from forming a coalition with other like-minded progressives, Liberal Democrat leverage on the Tories may be stronger than we realise. With some deft management we could get more from the current coalition than we perhaps realise.