Well he has hasn’t he? I mean this ruse to force a vote on the a mansion tax is piece of political genius surely? The Lib Dems will look like fools traipsing through the lobby with the government whilst Labour dangles something that the party in general and Vince in particular has wanted to bring in for years.
There’s no denying it’s an eye-catching move clearly designed to embarrass the Lib Dems. But of course the party’s MPs will (largely – a few backbenchers may peel off of course) vote with the government on any opposition motion of this nature. They have signed up to support an entire government programme that includes things that one party or the other would not ideally want and excludes other policies that one or the other party would dearly like. They cannot simply pick and choose which fiscal measures to support. The government would have lasted about 5 minutes with this sort of approach.
This move from Miliband fits into a repeated pattern of Labour appearing to not understand how coalitions work. Well actually they definitely do know how they work so they are choosing to ignore this fact to try and score a few political points. Of course in the short term this will be awkward for the Lib Dems as they adhere to collective responsibility. But in the longer term Miliband has signalled that he doesn’t think junior partners in a coalition have to vote with the government. Indeed he is basically saying it is a betrayal for them to do so on an issue that the party clearly would like to implement a policy on if they were given the chance.
So let’s imagine we are a few further years down the line. The 2015 general election was (as seems quite possible) inconclusive with Labour as the largest party and they are in coalition with the Lib Dems. Let’s further imagine that the opposition of the day pulls a similar stunt on a policy they agree with the Lib Dems about but that has not been agreed to form part of the government programme and that Labour oppose. There are bound to be policies that fall into this category.
How could Prime Minister Ed Miliband credibly argue that the Lib Dems had to vote with the government? As Leader of the Opposition he’s already made it clear than in principle he sees nothing wrong with a junior partner in a coalition voting against the government, nay he is actively encouraging it. He would not have a leg to stand on and would look like an utter hypocrite if he tried to do anything about it.
I personally don’t have a problem with loosening collective cabinet responsibility and have previously written about how I think our current system is too restrictive. But I bet Prime Minister Ed Miliband would have a problem with it. Indeed he adhered so closely to it himself when in government that he voted for the abolition of the 10p rate and argued for the policy even though he now admits he thought that policy was wrong. He’s a collective responsibilityist through and through!
This all just goes to show just what a silly and from his perspective politically dangerous stunt this is. To score a few points using a parliamentary motion that most members of the public won’t even care about he is risking his own future authority as head of a potential coalition government.
I hope the tiny political “win” he gets when the Lib Dems unsurprisingly vote with their own government is worth it.
* Mark Thompson blogs here