FT: “For nearly four years, Britain has been served reasonably well by multi-party government”

On Tuesday, it was reported that David Cameron wanted to rule out the possibility of a second Lib-Con coalition in the event of another hung parliament. This tit was matched by an equivalent tat from the left, when Unite leader Len Mclusky urged Labour to do the same.

Today’s Financial Times leader attempts to inject a dose of reality into this anti-coalition arms race:

All this chest-beating has stirred Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem deputy prime minister, whose party can only govern with others, to denounce “tribal voices”. And he is right to do so. This should not need reiteration but, for nearly four years, Britain has been served reasonably well by multi-party government. A coalition that was formed to address a fiscal crisis has made gains on that front, and, whatever its sporadic quarrels, defied expectations of a rapid break-up. It is not clear that a minority government would have had the legitimacy to enforce spending cuts and tax rises on the scale seen. If partisans believe Britain is being held back by the absence of a purer kind of government, they should explain how.

Many Tory backbenchers would of course now happily settle for minority government – but haven’t quite thought through the This House reality:

It is not even as if minority government is certain to be a feasible option. Senior Lib Dems privately deride the assumption that they would prop up such an administration by voting for its finance bills and supporting it against any no-confidence motions. They might have felt obliged to provide this “confidence and supply” after the last election, when a fallen government might have been too much for jittery financial markets to bear, but the economic context is unlikely to be so fraught in 2015. They will have the freedom to assert their party’s interests ruthlessly, putting paid to Tory and Labour fantasies of governing alone without earning a majority.

The paper’s final advice is simple, obvious – and right:

Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband should heed the most basic rule of politics: keep your options open.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Jack Holroyde 27th Feb '14 - 9:28am

    Personally id love to see us stand back and go ‘you dug yourself into this hole’ after 2015.
    Peter Bone would be furious that we’d been in coalition and furious that we’d not bowed down to the Tory master race.
    I guess I just like seeing ‘benefits Bone’ developing a hernia.

  • I’m sure that people surviving on a minimum wage, can’t wait to use their spare cash to buy their way past a pay wall, so that they can find out how cock-a-hoop the FT and other rich people are with this coalition government?
    Why wouldn’t the FT be smiling after 4 years of foodbanks and zero hours contracts for the poor, and bonuses and profit from the privatisation of state services given on a plate to the rich? Lib Dems can wear that badge with pride.

  • If you leave aside Stephen Tall’s prejudice about trade unions and follow his link to read what is actually reported you find within it this —

    ” Speaking to a student audience at the University of Cambridge on Wednesday, the leader of Unite the union, Len McCluskey, said that under Ed Miliband Labour was beginning to offer a genuine alternative to the failed neo-liberal model “taking on the energy giants, asking the rich to pay a bit more tax, building homes, tackling inequality”. But he said he had to “suppress a shudder” at the thought of a Lib-Lab pact at the next election.

    He said: “For those of us who believe in a real alternative and a fresh start, the thought of Nick Clegg standing on the threshold of Downing Street again with his arm around Ed Miliband rather than David Cameron is not one to set the pulse racing.”

    There are a lot of Liberal Democrat members, supporters and voters who would like to believe in a real alternative and would like to see a fresh start.

    Mr McCluskey’s thoughts on the subject of Nick Clegg , David Cameron, Ed Miliband and others in the Westminster Buble are probably shared by many more Liberal Democrats than the relatively small number who leave comments in LDV.

  • Pleasing to see the FT recognising that the Coalition has been stable and done a decent job on the economy. And being disliked by both the worst kind of Tories (Peter Bone) and proper lefties (Len McCluskey) is a badge of honour.

  • @Mark – Couldn’t agree more.It’ll be interesting to see how the media handle any future Coalition.Certainly the lines that it inevitably leads to weak govt and the nonsense that the LD’s lack the stomach to be a Party of Govt wont wash.

  • Mark, What is your definition of “proper lefties” ? Is it the same as “reds under the bed” ?

  • I agree with Mark. Not being liked by either Peter Bone or Len McCluskey is a badge of honour.

    “Proper Lefties” are those who think we can adopt the same economic approach as Hollande has tried to in France and make them successful in the UK. e.g. Miliband and his investment-destroying energy “policy”.

  • Adam Robertson 27th Feb '14 - 3:02pm

    I agree that the Conservatives or Labour should be allowed to say that in a event of another balanced parliament, that they will seek to govern as a minority. However, they should not assume that this will automatically mean that the Lib Dems will support them on the Queen’s Speech and Appropriations Bill. I think in a balanced parliament, I think there will have to be some form of agreement.

  • Mark – I hope it proves right that the Coalition has “done a decent job on the economy”.

    However, there is an alternative view on this – that the government has, in time honoured fashion, arranged a short term shot of stimulant to create a bubble and feel-good factor just in time for the next general election after which … ooh, err.

    What strikes me is how little in the way of useful structural changes have been made. So, for example, instead of LVT we got the remarkably bad and dangerous Help to Buy. I don’t remember a single supportive comment when Danny Alexander wrote a puff piece about it here on LDV. So, we had a complete reversal of what liberal instincts suggested and yet somehow we welcome what happens? I fear the longer term outcome will be very different from the shorter term.

  • In politics as in life people always look for “alternatives” to what has to be done. That does not mean those “alternatives” are valid or practical. When those who talk about alternatives come to power they usually find those alternatives are not practical and then do a “U” turn which makes the electorate cynical and disillusioned.

    People say there is no difference between parties and if that is true it is because options are limited , whether for practical reasons or because in a democracy the electorate cannot stomach the truth. We have to find a way out of this dilemma but it has existed for most of my life so I am not optimistic.

  • David Allen 28th Feb '14 - 1:07pm

    Thanks FT for your frank comment: “It is not clear that a minority government would have had the legitimacy to enforce spending cuts and tax rises on the scale seen.”

    So much for all this talk about restraining the Tories. What Clegg’s coalition policy has actually achieved is to provide political cover for the Tories, and to enable them to move faster and further in implementing a radical right-wing reform programme in the spirit of the Orange Book.

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