Opinion: Damian McBride and the next coalition

power tripThe effects of Damian McBride’s book on the next election will be negligible. The vast majority of voters simply don’t care.

And to those who do, the vicious way members of the Labour government conducted themselves, and the reckless aggression of their spin doctors and advisers, are hardly news. The general picture was well known before 2010: indeed, Armando Iannucci and Peter Capaldi had been portraying it on screen for five years by then. McBride has added details, but any vote that might have been influenced by it, already has been.

So it won’t change anything on polling day. But what about the day after?

It’s no surprise that pundits like to speculate on the choices the Liberal Democrats would make, in the event that a majority coalition is feasible with either of the larger parties. It may not be the most likely outcome, but it’s the most interesting.

In response, our party takes a businesslike approach. A mature negotiation with political opponents. Willing to work with either party for the good of the nation. And so on.

But just put yourself in that situation for a moment. You have a choice of working for the next five years with one of two partner organisations. One you’ve worked with before. It wasn’t all plain sailing, but on a personal level you got along professionally enough. You even achieved one or two things to be proud of.

The other organisation has a well-founded reputation for creating an utterly toxic working environment. For concocting briefing wars between colleagues to stir up tensions and get them sacked. For exposing the past personal lives of perceived rivals to destroy their careers. For planting fictional stories in the press about the non-existent sexual affairs of the people they work with, simply because they had the temerity to utter some mild disagreement. And of giving not a moment’s thought to any bystanders caught in the blast radius.

All parties have rivalries, infighting, jockeying for position. But the last Labour government was qualitatively worse. And many of the senior players in the Labour party today were complicit in making it so.

Whatever policy agreements you might come to, whatever the strategic benefits of the partnership, if you had to make the choice, would you be willing to subject yourself to that sort of workplace? For five years?

Perhaps you could. Perhaps you would judge that the good of the country would be better served by your sacrifice, assuming this new coalition managed to get anything done instead of turning in upon itself. Or perhaps you might take a leap of faith, hoping that they had changed their ways.

However, our MPs would not be human if the question did not give them pause. Labour’s response to this book can hardly inspire confidence that they have repented of their past behaviour. And that’s why, if Labour fail to secure a majority in 2015, the McBride revelations may yet exert a powerful force upon the government of this country.

* Iain Coleman is a former Liberal Democrat Executive Councillor on Cambridge City Council, now living in London.

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10 Comments

  • Cllr Steve Bradley 1st Oct '13 - 12:55pm

    Labour’s problems in this area both pre and post-date the Blair government, and run very deep indeed.

    The toxic nature of how Labour conducts its business was there to be seen throughout the 90s in NUS – a Labour puppet organisation dominated by Labour Students. The smearing of opponents and former allies, the control freakery, the utter intolerance of anyone who diverted from their view of the world – all there to see even before Blair was leader. And who were Labour’s NUS Presidents across that era ? Stephen Twigg, Lorna Fitzsimmons, Jim Murphy – all becoming high profile Labour MPs during the last government.

    And their toxic modus operandi is still to be seen in Town Halls around the country in this post-Blair area. All political parties believe that they have the right answers to society’s challenges, but Labour have a peculiar superiority complex. They appear to believe that not only are their opponents not right, but that they don’t even have the capacity to ever be right. Because they’re not Labour.

    A party with such an absurd sense of self-righteousness will most likely only attract and retain members who share such an infantile view of the world. And if you’re the sort of person attracted to a party that is snearing and intolerant of alternative views which eminate from outside it, no surprise if you likewise developan unhealthy view of those who disagree with you inside the party.

    Like most organic compounds prolonged to toxic material for too long, I fear the Labour party’s DNA has been fundamentally altered by the nasty, controlling and utterly intolerant way they’ve gone about their business for decades now.

  • Julian Tisi 1st Oct '13 - 1:12pm

    Thanks – a really good article. If there were such a result in 2015, I can’t currently see Labour being any more prepared for coalition government than they were in 2010. Having spent the past 3 years telling everyone that we’re nothing more than Tory lapdogs, having acquiesced to an entirely Tory programme of government I expect most of them will believe their own propaganda and expect we will do “the same” for them. They will offer a few ministerial seats – perhaps magnanimously making Vince Chancellor – but no real policy concessions at all.

  • Perhaps Labour is a little worse, perhaps because some of it’s streetfighters were (a) brought up on the street.
    But I suspect that it washes more of it’s dirty linen in public too -perhaps retired Labour SpAds are less likely to have posh corporate jobs awaiting, and are more likely to need the money from writing exposes.
    There may be some public school camaraderie among the higher ranks of the present Coalition parties, but it is naive in the extreme to believe that the Tories would not assist in the digging up of dirt on anyone they see as a threat to their economic interests. A significant of high profile Lib Dems of the last 30 years could probably testify to that…

  • In any event, the Lib Dems are unlikely to be able to CHOOSE – there are likely to be enough minor party MPs to make coalition with the smaller of the two main parties impossible or very difficult, as in 2010.

  • Nicey, Nicey LibDems? Do LibDems honestly think that the dirty politics especially by the tories and their supporters will not hit the libdems come the next election. Do you honestly think that you stand any chance of having any party left after the 2015 GE. It seems to me your leader is leading you like lambs to the slaughter in 2015, if an about turn and break away from this coalition isn’t done soon. The General Election has already started and you look like missing the boat. So in the name of democracy and a fairer society and basically just doing what is right, pull away from the coalition now, before you go down like the Titanic and start standing up for what you trully believe in, fairer society, equality and the rest. Right now you are being well over shadowed by your partners in coalition.

  • Peter Watson 1st Oct '13 - 2:30pm

    I doubt that any side is innocent. Even the Lib Dems have been accused of briefing against Vince Cable recently.
    But why would we use this as a reason to side with the tories who have used the Daily Mail and other papers to do their dirty work for them for many years (and even recruited Andy Coulson from that gutter). The horrid, pointless and hypocritical attack by the Daily Mail on Ed Milliband’s late father is just the latest example.

  • Simon Banks 2nd Oct '13 - 9:38am

    The roots of this kind of vicious self-righteousness do indeed run deep in the Labour Party, but it’s a classic Greek tragedy. Labour grew up in an environment of mass workforces, assembly lines and capital/labour struggles. In this environment solidarity was crucial and the argument that people were either for you or against you had force. This formed the party’s DNA. When it moved into a more complex and confusing environment, where mass allegiances had broken down, its activists struggled to recreate the required certainty and solidarity. This led to one the one hand vicious internal struggles reminiscent of the Bolsheviks, in which those in the party who disagreed with you and your comrades were traitors, and the tendency we still see strong today of trying to turn any community campaign into a Labour campaign, to dominate and to co-opt or push out people who buy the cause but not the party.

    However, there have always been brave dissidents and resolute civil libertarians within both the Labour Party and the trade unions. I remember many years ago attending a local union meeting where they knew I was a Liberal. They were grumbling about control-freakery at the union’s conference. I explained how the methods they described would be impossible at a Liberal Assembly. They didn’t sneer: they were envious.

    In the event of a Lab-Lib Dem coalition, we could strengthen the liberal tendencies in the Labour Party.

    At the same time the Tory party is changing. For a very long time they were on average less vituperative, less ruthless, more open-minded than Labour, even if to me their policies were less acceptable. Thatcher started the change; and anyone who’s encountered the new breed of hard-right extreme free marketeers and haters of poor people and minorities will know, they can be just as nasty as an Labour spin doctor.

  • Very amusing how one person on this thread proved what others were suggesting, albeit opinion.

  • I have to agree with the comment about Town Halls. Down here in Greenwich the ruling Labour leadersip have been more unpleasant to their own side than even to us – and they only refer to us preceeded by the word “vile”! This is the latest http://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/10716569.LISTEN__Greenwich_Council_leader_swears_at_and_threatens_colleague_in_sensational_foul_mouthed_voicemail/
    After years of this sort of behaviour a national coalition with Labour will be a challenge to support, but I guess that was the same issue in 2010 for all our Tory facing areas.

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