“Labour is going for a coalition with the Lib Dems come what may.”

That’s the view over at Labour Uncut, where editor Atul Hatwal reckons Labour is scaling back its key seat targeting strategy to an extent which means that – even if it works – Ed Miliband will only be able to govern with the backing of the Lib Dems.

… it is the scale of reprioritisation which effectively means Labour has abandoned thoughts of governing alone and is now aiming for coalition with Lib Dems.

Labour’s struggle in the south in particular is crippling the party’s ability to push for a clear majority. … One seasoned campaign professional with knowledge of the resources being allocated to key seats has indicated to Uncut that the high command now views majorities of over 2,400 in the south as increasingly beyond Labour’s reach.

Out of the 43 key seats in London, the south east, the south west and eastern regions, 28 have a majority of over 2,400 which would mean Labour is effectively concentrating on 15 seats.

Expectations are higher in the 63 seats in the north, north west, east midlands, west midlands, Wales and Scotland. But even here there are limits, with the source suggesting that based on current canvass returns and the performance of the incumbent MPs, majorities of over 5,000 will be extremely difficult to overturn.

There are 13 seats in these regions which have majorities of over 5,000, which when combined with the southern seats that are being de-prioritised sums to a total of 41 key seats where Labour is ramping down resources because it does not expect to win.

This gives an effective key seat total of 65 rather than 106 .

If all 65 were secured, and none of Labour’s vulnerable current seats are lost (let’s not forget, 17 have majorities in three figures) then Labour would have 323 seats – technically a majority of the Commons’ 345 MPs, given the 5 Sinn Fein MPs do not take their seats.

However there is little appetite within Labour’s high command for the instability that governing alone would entail. With the party already committed to major cuts, the prospect of repeated rebellions from the left, destroying the government’s ability to deliver its agenda, is one that strategists are keen to avoid.

Which is why Labour’s leaders are now privately committed to a new Lib-Lab coalition. There is no debate to be had.

All of which rather puts into perspective Labour’s hyperbolic claims to be pouring resources into unseating Nick Clegg in Sheffield Hallam – where the Lib Dems finished almost 20,000 votes ahead of third-placed Labour in 2010.

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28 Comments

  • I reckon let them govern on their own. They become unpopular because of the difficulties of managing the public finances while disappointing their key supporters because they can’t spend as if there’s no tomorrow and deliver on all their many unaffordable promises made in opposition. They lose a by-election or two and hence their majority becomes unworkable. We win back our supporters. New election comes along and we bounce back to an even higher number of seats than before.

  • It may not be an option if the prognostics of a catastrophic collapse in the number of Liberal Democrat seats comes true.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Feb '14 - 9:13pm

    Even Labour want to make sure Ed Miliband doesn’t break the bank. 🙂

    On a serious note: I think this does show Labour’s internal divisions, because someone who seems to idolise Thatcher isn’t interested in coalitions. The pragmatists versus the idealists.

    I’m pro coalition with Labour or the Conservatives, but only if we get enough of our policies through.

  • Little Jackie Paper 19th Feb '14 - 9:28pm

    RC – ‘ they can’t spend as if there’s no tomorrow and deliver on all their many unaffordable promises made in opposition.’

    With respect, Ed Balls is talking about a zero-budget review whilst the Conservatives appear to have made a commitment to a triple locked pension to 2020 AND more cuts. It has been one of the great, ‘unspokens,’ of this Parliament that certain areas of spend have been ringfenced. The implication being of course that everyone else gets clobbered.

    Don’t get me wrong here, there is much to be said for fiscal prudence. But please can we move on from the talkboard caricature on this. What exactly do you think the Conservatives would say in possible coalition negotiations about the pension triple lock based on the PM’s, ‘values,’ which is a gargantuan spend commitment. Is that somehow different or better to a Labour commitment? It is worth adding that free personal care that even borrow and spend labour baulked at hasn’t gone away.

    Just as a matter of interest, as I have been specific about the triple lock, can you give me some idea of which particular Labour spending promises you regard as unaffordable?

    As to the wider question of a Lib-Lab coalition, I think it is plausible and looking at the polls it is a possibility that parties should think about. The real question at that point is what is the Labour red line – energy bills?

  • It’s possible but I wouldn’t rely on a word of this.

  • Peter Davies 19th Feb '14 - 9:55pm

    I always assumed their targeting of Sheffield Hallam was intended to give the seat to the Tories. Easier but I still doubt they can do it.

  • “It’s possible but I wouldn’t rely on a word of this.”

    I agree with Joe.

  • Little Jackie Paper 19th Feb '14 - 10:01pm

    Joe Otten – That sort of is the point though. Once you recognise it as possible, you need to think through what it means – good, bad and ugly.

    If Lib-Lab is what the parliamentary arithmetic throws up then that’s what it throws up. Confidence and Supply remains an option, though it is never really clear to me what the advantages of that are beyond making some people feel warm inside on occasion and undermining the idea of fixed-term parliaments (which, granted, are a lousy idea).

  • Really. So a party that has been consistently ahead in the polls for several years with a lead that would give them a clear majority and for whom the current electoral system favours them, in terms of winning a majority of seats with a small majority of the popular vote, throws in the towel despite being clear favourites! In your dreams.

  • The Tories have no hope in Sheffield Hallam. Labour is improving there, maybe helped by boundary changes. It must be one of the few seats where they did better in 2010 than 1997. The majority is so huge that it seems impossible Clegg could lose. A sensible Labour strategy would be to try and reduce the majority to 5 or 6000 and try and win in 2020. It just seems one of those areas, previously Tory, that has no hope of going blue again.

  • A Social Liberal 20th Feb '14 - 7:49am

    RC

    I don’t understand, since when was a coalition with the Nasty party good and coalition with Labour bad? I was under the impression that we were the party of coalition and would work with either of the other two to ensure the good governance of the country.

    You seem to be implying that we are Daves best mates and that we should ignore that nasty Ed boy.

  • Considering that projections based on current polls give Labour more than 350 seats, it’s unbelievable that they would be ‘prioritising’ only enough targets to give them 323.

    On the other hand, it’s obvious why the Labour party would be eager to give Lib Dem supporters and soft Tories the impression that their strategy would be to go into coalition with the Lib Dems rather than to govern alone.

  • @A Social Liberal:

    I think that RC’s comment just underlines the point that the LDs (like all parties) are themselves coalitions. Some people in the LDs feel that they have more in common with the Tories than with Labour.

  • @ JUF

    “Some people in the LDs feel that they have more in common with the Tories than with Labour.”

    Well I’m not one of them. I detest the Tories and think we have very little in common with them.

    But going into government with Labour with a tiny number of Lib Dem MPs is going to be just as suicidal and as unpopular as the present Coalition has been, if not worse.

    We need a situation where we can negotiate from a position of much greater power than we did last time and force Labour to take us seriously.

    Also it would be great to see Labour suffer the same problems we have faced in retaining their voters when the public finances mean you have to keep spending down. They really deserve it.

  • Anyway, we should not let these soothing words from “sources close to” the Labour party lull us into a false sense of security. Labour are out to kill our party and jump up and down on its grave singing hallelujah. Just as the Tories would like to. We must find a way of keeping something like our present total of MPs in parliament and retaining our position as an important third force in politics.

    Talk of alliances in 2015 on either side simply damages our prospects of doing so by diminishing our already much reduced electoral appeal.

  • RC points out obvious dangers for 2015. If our support is seen to crumble badly we would be in a similar position to Labour in 2010 and our ability to justify continuing in government would be compromised, though I think there is a balance of dangers between a negotiated coalition and a more ad hoc ‘confidence and supply’ strategy. The latter approach would see Lib Dems under constant pressures and easily blamed by either side when anything turns out badly.

    A possible complication is that in the backwash of a Scottish NO vote, there could well be an enlarged SNP group also holding the balance.

  • Some people here say that the Coalition with the Conservatives has been “good for us”‘ whereas they believe a coalition with The Labour Party will be “bad for us”.
    Strikes me that a coalition between Conservative and Labour would be good for us. They have so much in common. Those people temporarily in the Liberal Democrats or who like Edward Davey and Jeremy Browne have “changed their minds” on key Liberal Democrat policies could go and join that coalition. Everyone would be happier and real Liberal Democrats would have the chance to recover from the last four years and go back to increasing the number of Liberal Democrat MPs which is what all previous Liberal Democrat leaders leaders managed to do before Clegg.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 20th Feb '14 - 11:26am

    @ Steve

    “Really. So a party that has been consistently ahead in the polls for several years with a lead that would give them a clear majority and for whom the current electoral system favours them, in terms of winning a majority of seats with a small majority of the popular vote, throws in the towel despite being clear favourites! In your dreams.”

    Exactly. Hatwal seems to be ignoring the evidence of Labour’s recent By-election results; for example: an 11.2% increase in vote share on a hugely reduced turnout at Wythenshawe. And my experience of the Labour grassroots is that they would cut their own arms off rather than go into coalition with the promoters of the bedroom tax. Does Hatwal really think that Labour are campaigning furiously everywhere just to re-elect Nick Clegg? Dream on!

  • Peter Watson 20th Feb '14 - 12:14pm

    @Peter Davies “I always assumed their targeting of Sheffield Hallam was intended to give the seat to the Tories.”
    Or so that the Lib Dems would channel lots of resources into securing Clegg’s position and weaken the defence of more than one other Labour target.

  • “Or so that the Lib Dems would channel lots of resources into securing Clegg’s position and weaken the defence of more than one other Labour target.”

    Of course that’s why Labour is not likely to broadcast this kind of information about its targeting strategy, any more than an army in wartime is likely to give the enemy a list of positions it isn’t going to attack …

  • Never mind Hallam, this is the important bit:

    “However there is little appetite within Labour’s high command for the instability that governing alone would entail. With the party already committed to major cuts, the prospect of repeated rebellions from the left, destroying the government’s ability to deliver its agenda, is one that strategists are keen to avoid.

    Which is why Labour’s leaders are now privately committed to a new Lib-Lab coalition. There is no debate to be had.”

    It seems sadly plausible to me. It is the same logic as Cameron ‘s. Why govern alone, with your internal rebels in a positio to throttle you at every move the way they did John Major, when you can co-opt a nice quiet bunch of unimaginative “centrists” who will do anything you say just to get their bums onto Cabinet seats?

    This is not good news for the Lib Dems, unless you are a potential Cabinet Minister. It’s a proposal to co-opt us and remove our independence. Just like the Tories have done.

    It won’t affect their campaigning, by the way. They will still take seats off us if they can. They may try slightly harder to get seats off the Tories, but that’s all. And they might make an exception and go for Clegg, who they still think (as I do) has an inherent blue-side bias they would like to see the back of.

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 7:37pm

    Of course Labour will join with them if needs be .

    It’s not as if we are talking about real lives, principles or morality here.

    There is money and power to be considered.

    We are simply the mechanism that provides it.

    When do we all wake up and realise that change is necessary?

  • Mason Cartwright 20th Feb '14 - 7:42pm

    Apologies.

    The obvious has become unfashionable in this modern age and it is customary to consider all who speak it as a “leftie”

    So I am told.

    Actually red or communist usually works better when someone wants any form of change that benefits human beings.

  • Currently polling less than UKIP. Lib Dems are finished.

  • Simon Banks 25th Feb '14 - 9:46am

    Labour can pick up any number of votes in the Manchester Wythenshawes and not have a majority. Atul Hatwal correctly points to the south including marginal London. A reasonable guess would be that Labour support will slip a bit as the election approaches. During parliamentary elections voters, especially in England, start thinking about whom they can trust to run the country with a sure hand, not just who has policies they like or whom they would like to kick, and I don’t think Ed Miliband has closed the deal any more than David Cameron had – probably less.

    Looking purely at our advantage or disadvantage (which should not, of course, be the only factors) there is a very simple argument for a Lab-Lib coalition – that it would correct the impression that we lean to the right and are a flower in the Tory Party’s helmet. The main tactical argument against that I can see, is if we do take a big hit both in seats and votes. Then admitting we needed to rethink and withdrawing from government for a couple of years at least would seem right. Problem is – similar to 2010 – if Labour emerge as the biggest party but short of a majority, and we are seen to have refused to do a deal with them (different if we can argue they were the awkward ones), they ask the Commons for an early dissolution, the Tories are shamed into supporting it, we get hammered even more and Labour gets a majority.

  • Simon Hebditch 25th Feb '14 - 6:20pm

    All this discussion emphasises the importance of having sensible policy discussions with Labour now rather than wait until the outcome of the election – and then hurtle into a five day conflab like last time. Of course, it is always possible for parties to change coalition partners but it would produce real problems for the Lib Dems in terms of agreeing a policy programme with Labour (which I favour) when it will mean agreeing to reverse policy in many areas. Just take two examples. Labour will be committed to repealing the bedroom tax. Will the Lib Dems sign up to that? How can one completely reverse a policy adopted only recently? Could we agree to Labour’s approach to energy pricing?

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