Coalition with Labour on, if they don’t “break the bank”

Tonight’s radio programme Nick Clegg: The Liberal who came to power has hit the news-stands for this apparent top line demand of any future coalition with Labour:

There is just no doubt in my mind that if there were a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition, we the Liberal Democrats would absolutely insist that government would not break the bank.

More details can be found in the Mirror, Guardian and BBC, and other sources of news are available.

Let’s contrast the following comments by Nick on the Labour Party

I think they’ve changed. I think there’s nothing like the prospect of reality in an election to get politicians to think again and the Labour Party, which is a party unused to sharing power with others, is realising that it might have to.


I think the Conservative Party has changed quite dramatically since we entered into coalition with them.

They’ve become much more ideological. They’ve returned much more to a lot of their familiar theme tunes…

I think it would be best for everybody if the Conservative Party were to rediscover a talent for actually talking to mainstream voters about mainstream concerns.

While Labour are insisting, understandably, that they are seeking an overall majority, there is a real sense of potential rapprochement here between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, and clearer differentiation between Liberal Democrats and Conservatives.

The New Statesman reported last August how Labour front benchers were being encouraged to seek points of agreement with their Lib Dem counterparts, after Andrew Adonis’ criticism of Labour’s unreadiness for coalition negotiations in 2010.

Clearly this is all movement if not yet momentum. Labour doubtless will deny any plans to threaten the economy or be irresponsible with fiscal policy, which creates a definition challenge for the party’s “stronger economy”/”don’t break the bank” red line. The corresponding demand for a fairer society can be clearly defined in opposition to Conservative positions on tax and welfare.

The programme is on Radio 4 at 8pm tonight.

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017 and Doncaster North in December 2019 and is a councillor in Sheffield.

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  • Clegg in coalition with Labour would be just as bad as Clegg in coalition with the other Tories. the problem is not coalition, the problem is Clegg.

  • The obvious downside to another coalition with the Tories is that we’ve already done everything we agree on, so we’d be straight into dealing on compromises where we don’t agree. At least with Labour there are areas of agreement we could pursue, notably the mansion tax and votes at 16.

    I think Nick is right to insist on fiscal discipline if we went with Labour; I can’t be the only person terrified of what they could do to the national finances and don’t believe they are at all serious about the deficit or the unavoidable cost pressures on Government services.

    Of course It goes without saying there is an obvious downside to the party of the LDs being in Government at all next time.

  • Robbie Conning 17th Feb '14 - 12:36pm

    Rebuffed by Miliband already, it’s never going to happen.

    It will be decades before the LDP get another shot at the title.

    How on Earth could the LDP vote to retract such things as the Spare room subsidy????

  • I don’t follow Clegg’s logic. Nobody really disputes that Miliband has shifted Labour (slightly) leftwards since his election, so why were left wing politics so unpalatable to Clegg in 2010, but so appealing now?

  • peter tyzack 17th Feb '14 - 12:43pm

    No John, the problem is with a corrupt media who feed the negative trolls. Nick has been doing a brilliant job, given the deck of cards he was dealt, and in spite of all the sniping from people who say they support the Liberal Democrat approach.
    Give us a free and fair media at the point of delivery, give us a fair voting system and a parliament without the old-boys debating society and the vested interests, and this country would have a decent government serving its people in a true democracy – we have none of that at present. The Liberal Democrats are the ONLY Party who have that vision, no wonder the vested interest are stacked up against us.

  • Heaven help us, what next, the reality is with so few MPs after the next election it would be laughable to either be invited or join a coalition. We need to move NOW and change leadership, style and strategy.

  • The problem with Nick Clegg appears to be the same one that was revealed after the 2010 general election he believes in austerity and it is likely he never believed in the economic policy we presented in our 2010 manifesto. Saying that the government would not break the bank is stupid. It would have been better if he had said while we don’t want to have a smaller government as a matter of faith we accept that in any future coalition agreement with Labour agreeing the financial envelope in which the two parties’ programmes could be commenced will be a vital part of the negotiations. It does seem he hasn’t learnt any lessons from the failed negotiations with the Labour Party in 2010.

  • peter tyzack 17th Feb '14 - 12:47pm

    we should be setting out our stall for a Liberal Democrat Government, not prefacing every thought with considerations of which party we might be in coalition with.

  • Martin Pierce 17th Feb '14 - 12:51pm

    There is one very good reason for wanting a coalition with Labour next time – they’d demand Clegg’s head on a plate before being willing to do any business with us. He is naive about the Tories – they have not changed since 2010, they have always been like that – which Clegg would know if he had seriously campaigned against them over the years rather than just walking into a list Euro seat and an already-held seat in 2005.

  • Cllr Martin Hunt 17th Feb '14 - 12:57pm

    But Peter we’re not going to get a Liberal Democrat government are we? However I would find it very difficult to continue enthusiastic support if we tout ourselves about to get into Coalition with Labour having been in one with the Tories – it smacks a bit of a lady of the night standing on a street corner. And personally I would not want us to be hitching our wagon to that lot on the Labour front bench or hitch up with the Tories again. So let’s just do what we do best!

  • peter tyzack 17th Feb '14 - 1:03pm

    we are never going to make it to Govt unless we believe in ourselves sufficiently to offer that possibility to the electorate. As the old John Cleese PPB said, if only we could get the people who say they support us to vote for us…(as most of them actually stay at home and don’t vote for others) People talking about us losing MPs is too defeatist, we have to sell what we are good at and that is being in Govt.. we have proved that, and we have so much more to do.

  • peter tyzack 17th Feb ’14 – 12:43pm

    Peter, you and I agree about the corrupt media . But every leader this party has had since Gladstone has been victim to appalling attacks by the Tory media barons. Some leaders prosper despite media attacks. Nick Clegg however has become so unpopular that he has a negative rating of MINUS 57%.
    But not everything is the fault of the media. The media do not invite people to dine at Chevening or Lancaster House. That was Nick Clegg and nobody else.
    It was not the media who made such a Horlicks of Lords reform – it was Nick Clegg and nobody else.
    It was not the media who messed up over the recent debacle about – “Bringing the party into disrepute”. Nick Clegg had his leading role.
    I understand that 2.6 million people have watched the Nick Clegg YouTube “apology” song over tuition fees. The media did not force them to watch. The media did not force Clegg to make the promise, nor to break the promise.
    We have had six years of Nick Clegg, long enough to know that it is not the media that is to blame.

  • Frank Booth 17th Feb '14 - 1:33pm

    Hmmmm. I’m not quite sure what Clegg is getting at here. I do think his refusal to consider favouritism between the other 2 parties has been a mistake. Effectively Clegg’s position has been to position the Lib Dems as a moderator on whoever is the most powerful party. IMO the long term position of the party should be set out its values and policies and challenge the others to move towards it. Who have the greater Lib Dem tendencies, Labour or the Tories. Clegg made much of his experience in the EU and doing deals with Russia and China. I think he gets his kicks in politics from negotiating with people he disagrees with and getting something out of it, even if it is fairly minor. Thus he can sell the coalition as a success.

  • Eddie Sammon 17th Feb '14 - 1:42pm

    We should be attacking Labour and the Conservatives with merciless ferocity. This is an absolute joke.

  • @JohnTilley
    “Clegg in coalition with Labour would be just as bad as Clegg in coalition with the other Tories. the problem is not coalition, the problem is Clegg.”

    Any thoughts on your replacement leadership candidate yet, John?

    “so why were left wing politics so unpalatable to Clegg in 2010”

    Something about Labour just being kicked out of office in disgrace with 29% of the vote leaving a massive 11.4% of GDP deficit, zero money to spend and not having enough MPs to form a government perhaps? Just a suggestion.

    Much as I support his leadership in general, in spite of all his faults, think Nick Clegg is simply wrong on this. It just makes us look even more silly and desperate than we really are, which is saying something. Rather than simpering and pouting and trying to flirt with the other parties, we need to be developing a really strong policy platform for 2015 and focusing 100% on holding on to our existing seats. Then, and only then, can we even start to mention the possibility of a new coalition.

  • @RC 1.43pm

    So Labour were ‘kicked out of office in disgrace with 29% of the vote’.

    Yet you presumably think that the Lib Dems, if the party’s 2015 result is as bad as predicted, will not be ‘kicked out in disgrace’ ?

  • RC,

    Something about Labour just being kicked out of office in disgrace with 29% of the vote leaving a massive 11.4% of GDP deficit, zero money to spend and not having enough MPs to form a government perhaps? Just a suggestion.

    OK. How’s support for the Lib Dem’s looking these days? Why do you talk of the GDP deficit, not the current account deficit? Why did Cameron say ‘Money is no object’ if there was no money in 2010, and the coalition have increased the current account deficit so surely there would be less than non money now? Etc, etc. We can all do these partisan sniping, but it doesn’t answer the question.

    Why were slightly left wing politics unappealing to Clegg in 2010, but slightly more leftwing politics are appealing to him now?

  • Matt Gallagher 17th Feb '14 - 1:58pm

    I can see 5 years of coalition with Labour as sheer purgatory, with us being blamed for blocking all the lovely goodies they would love to give away, if only those nasty right-wing Lib Dems would let them do a little ‘responsible’ borrowing.

  • Eddie Sammon 17th Feb '14 - 2:42pm

    OK, perhaps attacking with “merciless ferocity” is taking it too far, I love humans too much to do that, but I think we need to stop looking like we are on the soft left.

  • Bill Chapman 17th Feb '14 - 2:50pm

    I do not see the LabourParty tying itself to a course.

  • Malcolm Todd 17th Feb '14 - 2:52pm

    “I think we need to stop looking like we are on the soft left.”

    Oh, don’t worry, Eddie. I think that fox was shot some time ago.

  • Eddie Sammon 17th Feb '14 - 3:07pm


  • Does Clegg think the electorate are totally stupid ?

    5 years of ‘blame Labour, it was all their fault’ yet now it looks like their precious bed partners will be humiliated in 2015, Clegg thinks he’ll just hop into bed with Labour & shout at the Cons from the dispatch box instead ??

    What a joke he is making of your party – no conviction, no beliefs, no integrity.

  • I really don’t know what reality Mr Clegg is living in or Joe for that matter…
    I think this is what will happen… there is no reason for Labour to do anything else…reap what you sow

    Labour will not nor should they offer any olive branch to the LDs before any GE election, Labour should let the LDs fight the election on what they have done since coming to government, and stamp out any promise or indication of talking about support one way or another from the LDp, no confusion for Labour supporters, vote Labour and let the LDs wither and die.


  • Richard Harris 17th Feb '14 - 6:06pm

    Did Clegg just say he would “absolutely insist” on something after the GE? Words fail me!

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 17th Feb '14 - 6:11pm

    Clegg is wasting his time because at the next election there won’t be enough Lib Dem MPs to get into a phone box. And haven’t you heard? At Wythenshawe Labour increased its majority by 11.2% despite a heavily reduced turnout and the Lib Dems’ share of the vote plummetted by 17.4%. There’s not going to a hung parliament. No way. Surely even the the most Panglossian amongst you can see that?

    What egregious gall the Liberal Democrats have. For the past three years Clegg et al have vindictively, wrongly and unjustly accused Labour of being responsible for the global economic meltdown that was created by the casino bankers gambling with the public’s money in countries that were all inadequately regulated. The Liberal Democrats have also been the Tories’ accomplices in the vicious persecution of those on benefits and have stalwartly supported the introduction of the hated bedroom tax. We in the Labour Party will never forget that. If in the almost impossible event that we were to go into coalition with the party that selects its coalition partners on the basis of superior numbers and not principles, I would tear up my Labour Party membership card. That’s a real pledge and I am not alone. As I keep telling you, your only hope is to get out of your coalition and find some principles again.

  • In my opinion the LibDems don’t want to be a junior partner in a Labour coalition, we want to be the controlling party of a left-leaning, liberal government with a positive slant towards the EU. I think it is too early for our party leader to be admitting defeat. IMHO Nick should stop talking about coalitions and start fighting the next election to win. The time for leaders to talk about coalitions is after we know the results.

  • @Martin:

    ” no conviction, no beliefs, no integrity.”

    Aha, but totally consistent! 🙁

  • Mason Cartwright 17th Feb '14 - 8:19pm

    @ Mack (Not a Lib Dem)

    I agree with every word you have said but your words are wasted here; a conclusion that I have come to also.

    My view of the Lib Dems has actually changed enormously since coming to LDV: it has finalised my decision to join the other 5 million who will never give them the benefit of the doubt again.

    The one thing they did very well on the lead up to 2010 however was concealing the fact that the entire party had been captured by it’s right wing; something that they have not been able to keep hidden once in office.

    They are now essentially a right wing party with their main problem being that the right wing neither wants them nor has space for them next to the Tories and UKIP. To make matters worse vast numbers of centrist voters and those of the left/centre left have abandoned them entirely. Hence the 9% polling in the opinion polls.

    All they are now is a dwindling group lost at sea who will believe they are on a course to victory even if they hit 2% in the opinions polls.

    In a way we should thank them because their own self destruction leaves a great opportunity for the country to move towards the centre or (hopefully) the centre left come 2015 if things go well.

    They can’t see it however

  • Given that on another thread Mason Cartwright has written “And yes I was disappointed that Labour did not apply a similar common sense measure but continually comparing yourself to another failed party is hardly going to help the Lib Dems recover”, I do wonder where he is off to, if not “another failed party”.

    To be fair, this is a thread about the less than likely possibility of a coalition of Lib Dems with Labour so there could be some consistency in finding this a disagreeable possibility, though I would not want to second guess to where he i turning.

  • I’m not going to attack Nick Clegg. What I would say is that whilst some labour members are scathing about the Lib Dems, Ed Miliband supported electoral reform and seems fairly amenable to the pre-coalition leadership. Then again I don’t like personality politics. Personally, I think he seems an Ok sort. A lot depends on the next election. A slim Labour majority might will still reqire all sorts of cooperation.
    I can’t see a Tory win, coz the stats don’t add up . But I don’t see a Labour landslide either. I also think we need to stop the anti Labour and SNP stuff, It is simply driving some voters to UKIP without any discernible improvement to the Lib Dem standing. I’m a centre left bod, social liberal so I see natural alliances. Call me delusional. I think the Lib Dems can recover if they remember who was voting for them and why.

  • Coalition under FPTP will shaft us either way. If we team up with Labour in 2010, we will get squealing from the left a out being too right wing, and ridicule from the right for being socialist.

    We should hold out for STV as the price of any coalition. If they don’t like that, see how they get on as a minority government.

  • It is the electorate who will decide whether or not the 2015 election creates the building blocks for a coalition. I always liked the Paddy Ashdown formula to put to the electorate – here are our policies (to which can now be added here is our record in government) the more Lib Dem MPs you elect the more of those policies you will get.

    It is right for Nick Clegg to make it clear that we will work with the situation the electorate throws up just as we did in 2010 – please relieve us from assertions that a coalition then with Labour was feasible. However as in 2010 it must be said that the party which emerges as the biggest single party at the election should be first choice to consider as leader of a coalition but not necessarily the final choice if some other combination is feasible and gives a better fit on policy.I think it is true to say that if the economy is in reasonable shape by then there is not quite as great a duty for the Lib Dems to enter a coalition at all. In 2010 the economic situation demanded it. Next time we can drive a harder bargain. Of course none of this applies if one party gains an overall majority next year.

  • Denis

    ?I think it is true to say that if the economy is in reasonable shape by then there is not quite as great a duty for the Lib Dems to enter a coalition at all. In 2010 the economic situation demanded it.

    But the coalition have INCREASED the UK’s debt!

  • @Eddie Salmon – the LibDems look like they’re on the “soft left”? I’d hate to see your definition of “hard right”!

    More seriously though, your honesty is refreshing.

    As a former left leaning supporter of the LibDems, I find the idea that you might ask me to vote for you again frankly amazing.

    The LDs have spent this parliament in a right wing government and all the mood music from the party has been to the effect of “centre lefties no longer welcome”. I think the LDs will find their message has been well and truly received and taken to heart by most (if not all) centre lefties.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Feb '14 - 3:44pm

    JUF, lol, I like the centre-left, and semantics shouldn’t matter so much, I just think the public needs to be reassured that we respect some “right wing” concepts such as responsibility, merit and reward. I’m not arguing for racism and homophobia.

    I would rather we be very clear where we stand, rather than pretend to be on the left in Guardian articles and on the right in Telegraph ones. This is the honesty part that yes, I don’t think the party always gets right!


  • @Eddie Salmon:

    Maybe the thing to do would be to play up the left wing credentials in the Telegraph and the right wing ones in the Guardian. That might lead to better expectation management 😉

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Feb '14 - 4:13pm

    Lol, well considering they steal each other’s stories, that’s probably what we are doing!

  • This isn’t really about coalition with Labour. It’s about trying to gain the support of labour-leaning tactical voters so that Clegg has enough MP’s left in 2015 to have a shot at doing another deal with the Tories.

  • It is premature to be publicly discussing a coalition with Labour. It is disrespectful of our current coalition partner, and makes us look like political prostitutes.

    How can we be so confident that a certain anti-EU party will not leap frog us in 2015? We may not be the ones who forms a coalition. Farage has said that he will work with whichever of the two main parties offers us a referendum on EU membership. We could have easily lanced that boil if we had only had the courage to let the electorate have a vote. I do not really understand how we can have gone from our campaign in 2008 for a ‘Real referendum’ to refusing one in 2010 onwards. There is some subtlety which I do not quite see, and the general public certainly do not see. They just see us as promising one thing and then going back on our word when it comes to delivery.

    One of the prominent pro-EU arguments that we publish is that 3 million jobs will be lost if we leave the EU. Have we really thought this through? The professor who wrote that report is saying that this claim is a misinterpretation of his work. UKIP are on to it and will no doubt cause us even more embarrassment at the polls because of it.

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 10:42am

    @ Martin

    Peace brother peace.

    You might do well to read my other post if you are finding the dots difficult to join:

    “When the King came to the people and offered a choice between being “hung, drawn & quartered” or beheaded they unanimously chose beheading and thanked him for his kindness.

    In first past the post you don’t vote for the best you vote for the least worst.

    The Lib Dems have ensured that Labour will benefit in 2015 even though they are unworthy.”

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 1:37pm

    @ Martin

    Logic isn’t that hard when you think about it, it’s just that most don’t.

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