Suspicions of Lib-Labbery

lib lab Labour Liberal Democrat logo14 Areas that they now agree on screams the headline. The Daily Mail and (behind the paywall) The Times are reporting on the degree of policy convergence appearing between the Liberal Democrats and Labour.

While Tory strategists admit they struggle to envisage reaching agreement on plans for another five years of power-sharing with the Lib Dems, Labour now agrees with Nick Clegg’s party on a broad range of issues.

Ed Miliband’s decision this week to effectively rule out a referendum on the EU if he becomes prime minister was the latest in a series of moves which bring the two parties more closely into line
An analysis by the New Statesman identifies 14 areas where Labour and the Lib Dems have converged, including cutting pensioner benefits, reducing the voting age to 16 and a mansion tax on expensive homes.

Others are preserving the Human Rights Act, introducing new green energy targets and restricting the ability of free schools to hire whoever they want.

Senior Labour figures are split over whether to prepare for the possibility of a pact – something Gordon Brown’s government failed to do in 2010, making it easier for the Lib Dems to reach an agreement with the Conservatives.

Lord Adonis, the shadow minister for infrastructure, has called publicly for the party to start planning for a deal, but Harriet Harman, the deputy leader, has dismissed such calls, suggesting it could prevent some Lib Dem voters from switching to Labour.

Our own Stephen Tall gave a sober analysis this morning of 17 areas of agreement including the following areas of (potential) agreement not covered by the Mail

  • tax cuts for low earners
  • scrapping the marriage tax break
  • cutting pension tax relief for high earners
  • scrapping the underoccupancy charge
  • local accountability for schools
  • Trident (!)
  • integration of health and social care
  • devolution of public services to local communities
  • political reform (counted as 3 items in the Mail: votes at 16, lords reform and party funding reform)

The Mail notes the following policies not mentioned by Stephen:

  • tougher oversight of the activities of the intelligence services
  • greater devolution from Westminster to local authorities and city regions
  • ban on for-profit free schools
  • more banking regulation and potential full-scale separation of banks’ retail and investment arms

Taking all this at face value, and counting political reform as 1, that makes 21 areas of convergence. Meanwhile on the economy, each party may end up outbidding the other as ‘sound on the economy’ while criticising the other’s record. Don’t be surprised to see pre-election commitments from Labour that Liberal Democrats can welcome, compare to the good intentions of 1997 and ‘make sure Labour stick to it this time.’

Meanwhile, it has to be asked, how much could a second LiberaTor coalition agree on? Both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, it seems to me, will want to ‘learn the lesson’ and concede less.

* 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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45 Comments

  • Adam Corlett 14th Mar '14 - 12:47pm

    I think both Labour and LDs very much want to do more on childcare too.

    There’s also overlap on wanting to boost low pay through the low pay commission / living wage.

  • Sounds good to me – would welcome a Government that did all of this (hopefully while maintaining the present Government’s economic course and ovreall approach to welfare).

  • Mark,

    One thing is clear from both past behaviour and current rhetoric – a Labour government would not maintain the present government’s overall approach to welfare, and would not maintain the present economic course. This is no longer Blair’s New Labour – the moderates have been driven out and a Labour government would raise taxes, raise borrowing and raise spending.

  • Malcolm Todd 14th Mar '14 - 2:00pm

    I take it that’s irony, Anthony Hook?

  • Liberal Neil 14th Mar '14 - 2:13pm

    Tristan – you’re right on welfare – Labour have said they’ll be ‘tougher’ on welfare than the coalition. I’d hope we wouldn’t sign up to that.

  • paul barker 14th Mar '14 - 2:32pm

    This is just fantasy Politics, Labour are falling apart before our eyes. If they make to 2015 in one piece they will get less votes than in 2010.
    A Government including elements of the present Labour coalition is a possibility, too soon to say.

  • I find it very unlikely that Labour would enter a coalition with the Liberals at the next election and, I suspect, impossible unless Clegg is gone as party leader before the election. Only some extremely unlikely electoral arithmetic will make it a possibility: Labour will choose a minority administration, possibly followed by a second election (no-one believes the fixed term bill will stop that, do they?) over letting the tainted Lib Dem brand soil them, even more so they won’t consider taking Clegg on.

  • Tristan – I fear you are right. Still it would be interesting watching Danny A adjust from Osborne to Balls!

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 14th Mar '14 - 3:18pm

    @ Paul Barker

    You are right, this is fantasy politics. Labour have pledged to scrap the Bedroom Tax. Will the Lib Dems? Andy Burnham has promised to scrap the recent NHS bill. Will the Lib Dems?

    You are right, this is fantasy politics: UK Polling Report has for months been projecting the majority of Labour Seats at the next General Election at around 58. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats have lost 8 deposits and came last behind the Bus Pass Elvis Party and a man dressed as a duck. If Labour gain only a small majority at the next General election they can govern for five years without going into coalition thanks to your five year fixed term parliaments which are an affront to democracy and our constitution. Your only hope is that you and your Tory pals can cobble together some coalition arrangement between your two parties that will give you a some kind of majority. even though you are not the largest party. But on the evidence of Wythenshawe where your party again lost its deposit and Labour increased its share of the vote on a lower turn out by 11% I’d say that that 58 seat majority projection will prove to be accurate.

    Yes, you are right, this is fantasy politics. I really can’t tell you how angry grass root members of the Labour Party get when they hear Lib Dem MPs and ministers spouting the Tory mantra that the Global Meltdown and subsequent recession caused by bankers gambling with our money was all “Labour’s mess”; or observe the Lib Dems refusing to take responsibility for their government’s punitive policies against the poor, and blaming everything that goes wrong for them on the previous Labour Government even though the Liberal Democrats have been in power for four years. And then the Liberal Democrats have the gall to suggest that we in Labour contemplate joining them in Coalition? Go into Coalition with the architects of the Bedroom Tax? Go into coalition with those who privatised the NHS and destroyed the lives of millions dependent upon the Welfare State? Go into coalition with those who have given the Health Secretary the power to shut down hospitals within forty days without consulting the electorate? Never! If it happened I’d tear up my Labour Member ship card and I’ve been a member for decades. And their are plenty of others like me. The Labour Leadership know that. Dream on.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 14th Mar '14 - 3:27pm

    Corrections:
    should read: can cobble together some coalition arrangement between your two parties that will give you a majority even though neither of you are the largest party and Labour hasn’t achieved a majority but is the largest party.

    And there are plenty of others like me.

  • Simon Beard 14th Mar '14 - 3:47pm

    The Irony of all this is that Labour could really do with a coalition partner in 2015-20. They are going to be handed a pretty poisoned chalice with continuing divisions about Europe, austerity on austerity with no let up until the very end of the parliament, if all goes well, and education and health systems that are still badly in need of reform. The last thing they want is to have to take all of this on their own back given that they have barely started to rebuild after the disaster of 2010 and these are all issues on which they can pass the blame if they wish.

    The Lib Dem’s probably need another coalition like a hole in the head. With Labour forced to make unpopular decisions and the Tories moving ever rightwards the next parliament is not without opportunities to rebuild ourselves, but going into another coalition would just mean a whole lot more compromises and annoying the people who weren’t put off by our joining the Tories.

    If there is any justice in the world Labour would realize this and make sure it is both feasible and worthwhile for us to join in a coalition next time around. There is no justice in the world.

  • I wish I could understand what people think is the point of all this endless agonising about possible future coalitions.

    Historically, a hung parliament is very unlikely. A hung parliament in which the third party has a choice of which of the major parties to support is unprecedented since the Second World War.

    Does it not occur to you that your remaining supporters may be rather reassured than otherwise by the prospect of the party readopting its traditional role of an opposition grouping outside government, able to put forward principled policies, rather than betraying its birthright for a mess of ministerial cars?

  • While those positioned at the extreme right and left detest and despise the idea of a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition — with, it must be said, complete justice from their points of view — it should be added that for those with a centrist standpoint (including, I should think, Nick Clegg) such a coalition, if possible, would be the optimal outcome for the Liberal Democrats as a centrist party. It would knock down the notion that the Liberal Democrats are the junior auxiliary of the Tories, reassert Liberal Democratic independence, and provide a necessary corrective to certain rightist tendencies within the party itself. It would also offer the possibility of gaining some liberal objectives which are completely impossible with the Tories in power.

    The most significant problem, however, is that entering such a coalition with < 25 seats both makes a coalition intrinsically unlikely, and even if it were possible, would put the Lib Dems in an even weaker position than they are now. And with the Tory press and PR flaying the Liberal Democrats as "traitors" (though I suppose they do that now anyway), and with Labour still stinging from and seeking revenge for their humiliation of 2010, the Lib Dems would have a chance to discover who their real friends are.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 14th Mar '14 - 5:56pm

    @Simon Shaw.

    “In your rant you seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that the Lib Dems want there to be a Labour/Lib Dem Coalition post 2015. For most Lib Dems nothing could be further from the truth.”

    Is that really so? I wonder. And your evidence for this is?

  • @Mack: Simon Shaw’s evidence is that he personally is opposed to it, and fondly imagines that all Liberal Democrats think as he does.

  • Stuart Mitchell 14th Mar '14 - 7:58pm

    @Simon Shaw
    “In your rant you seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that the Lib Dems want there to be a Labour/Lib Dem Coalition post 2015. For most Lib Dems nothing could be further from the truth.”

    I have bad news for you, Simon. According to Stephen Tall, “three-quarters of party members want the party to continue playing an active part in government after 2015… By a 2:1 majority, more Lib Dem members would prefer Labour as our partners to the Conservatives next time.”

    And that’s despite the party losing all those left-leaning members after May 2010.

  • Well that’s that sorted out then.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 14th Mar '14 - 10:45pm

    @David-1

    I am sure that there are plenty of Liberal Democrats at the grass roots who share the same values as I do. Unfortunately, the Lib Dem Leadership by their utterances and their actions patently don’t.

  • Passing through 15th Mar '14 - 2:25am

    @ Simon Shaw

    “you seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that the Lib Dems want there to be a Labour/Lib Dem Coalition post 2015. For most Lib Dems nothing could be further from the truth”

    Well it is the LDs right to only ever want to form governments with the Conservatives but publicly stating that probably doesn’t help you with your differentiation strategy to convince the electorate you are something more than just an appendage of the Tories.

    Given the current probabilities of outcomes for the 2015 GE are Labour win > Conservative win > LibLab Coalition > LibCon Coalition that would be a particularly perverse election strategy.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 14th Mar ’14 – 10:45pm
    @David-1
    I am sure that there are plenty of Liberal Democrats at the grass roots who share the same values as I do. Unfortunately, the Lib Dem Leadership by their utterances and their actions patently don’t.

    This would seem to be born out by opinion polls since Clegg became leader, even before the Coalition was set up.
    The drop in the number of Liberal Democrat MPs at the last general election is another sign.
    People have spent too much time analysing the impact of The Coalition, the rot set in after the defenestration of Charles Kennedy. The right wing clique of MPs at the top of the party possibly genuinely thought that a right wing Liberal Party would have greater electoral success. That is certainly what Jeremy Browne seemed to be saying when he was sacked from his second ministerial job. All the evidence of the last hundred years points to Liberals and Liberal Democrats doing well as a left party and doing badly as a right wing party. The consequence has been the hollowing out of the party under Clegg whose so-called Centrism is nothing more than a flimsy cover for constantly shifting to the right .

  • @ John Tilley

    “The drop in the number of Liberal Democrat MPs at the last general election is another sign.”

    No, wrong. it’s a sign that lots of our seats were targeted by the Tories with a big thick wedge of cash from people like Lord Ashcroft. The Tories had a very focused campaign and it was partially successful. Why do you always ignore this fact?

  • RC — can you provide a link to anything from me in LDV or anywhere else to justify what you have just suggested?
    When and where have I ignored the role of Lord Ashcroft?

  • “No, wrong. it’s a sign that lots of our seats were targeted by the Tories with a big thick wedge of cash from people like Lord Ashcroft.”

    It’s more a sign that the Tory vote national had risen since 2005 and the Labour vote nationally had fallen, and that there were more Tory/LD marginals than Lab/LD marginals. So although the LD vote was about the same as it had been in 2005, there was a net loss of seats. The number of seats would have been predicted pretty accurately by a uniform swing projection.

  • Paul [email protected]

    Would you be kind enough to provide some firm evidence to back up your comment ‘Labour are falling apart before our eyes. If they make to 2015 in one piece they will get less votes than in 2010.’, or at least try and explain how you come to that view.

    Thank you.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 15th Mar '14 - 9:44am

    @ Paul Barker,

    Labour falling apart before our eyes? Sorry, but I think that you’re being blindly optimistic on that one. They know that, by saying little about what they would do instead and concentrating their fire on the Tories, they retain a strong chance of winning in 2015. The retention of the existing constituency boundaries and the fact that the Coalition has had to make some very unpopular decisions places the advantage in the hands of the Opposition.

    That’s not to say that they will get a majority – there is much that might happen between now in May next year, and if the economy continues to improve, both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats will have some positive things to campaign on. Also, it was noticeable that, in the run-up to the last General Election, as soon as the Tories started detailing their policies, their poll lead started to dwindle, so there is risk for Labour there, especially as the media won’t be as soft on them as they were on the Tories in 2010.

    But call me old-fashioned if you will, I find the talk of possible coalitions slightly distasteful. Let’s see the political parties, including the Liberal Democrats, campaign on what they believe in, call upon the voters to support that, and see what happens. Yes, by all means consider what the position might be if no party has an overall majority, but that’s for behind the scenes rather than in the gaze of the media.

    @ Mack,

    Fixed term Parliaments an affront to democracy? So the fact that fixed term administrations operate at every other level of our democracy from Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly to parish councils make all of them an affront to democracy? Steady on there, my friend, there are good reasons why organisations like Unlock Democracy welcome fixed-term Parliaments, in particular, taking away the right of the governing party to game the economy to suit a snap election. And if you take the viewpoint that having a majority government on a 35% share of the vote is a good thing, then your view on what makes a vibrant and credible democracy isn’t mine.

  • I think Ed Miliband’s new stance on Europe is a game changer in that it makes Labour the only viable partner for the Lib Dems in the event of a hung parliament. The Lib Dems could not risk the UK’s position in Europe by agreeing the Tory terms for an in-out referendum and the Tories could accept no less. The Labour position on Europe is now very close to the Lib Dem position, the only real difference being that Labour has a much larger eurosceptic wing. However if Miliband holds his position into the Labour GE manifesto he will in effect be seeing off his eurosceptics.

    However I agree with Mark Valladares – we should be concentrating now on maximising Lib Dem support. A hung parliament is always unlikely with a first-past-the-post voting system.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 15th Mar '14 - 10:55am

    @Mark Valladares
    And if you take the viewpoint that having a majority government on a 35% share of the vote is a good thing, then your view on what makes a vibrant and credible democracy isn’t mine.

    The electorate had the opportunity to decide what makes a vibrant and credible democracy at the recent AV Referendum and they overwhelmingly voted for First Past The Post! I suggest we have another plebiscite on Fixed Term Parliaments and find out what the electorate thinks.

    Fixed Term Parliaments, far from providing a vibrant and credible democracy, by entrenching power for five years and creating conditions where Governments lose vital votes in the House of Commons and yet can not be got rid of, only stir up public anger, create disenchantment with democracy and make our constitution and our politics too politically inflexible and unresponsive to change. If a government is bad, such as the present one is, the public should have the opportunity to get rid of it without having to endure it for five long years. Just because the institutions you mention have fixed term parliaments doesn’t invalidate my view at all.

    Fixed term parliaments are also a gift to oppositions because they know they don’t have to declare their policies until the General Election, the date of which is already fixed.

    “In particular, taking away the right of the governing party to game the economy to suit a snap election.”

    A government will always do that. . It’s what the Liberal democrats and the Tories are doing now, cf, Osborne’s economy heating, housing stimulus. The only difference being that this government knows specifically now when the next election will be. Fixed term parliaments are the means by which the Liberal Democrats, without a public mandate, have insinuated themselves into five uninterrupted years of power. I suggest that a substantial group within the electorate feel deeply resentful of that.

    @Simon Shaw
    I can still be a left wing member of the Labour party and share similar values to Left groupings within the Liberal Democrats without thinking that I am in the wrong party. I am intensely pro-European, as many Labour members are, and I thought that the Lib Dems’ manifesto commitment to give citizenship rights to illegal immigrants most commendable. I do not share all of the values which determine and and create Lib Dem policies. For example, those which have created the conditions in which a hospital can be closed within 40 days without any objection from the people in the local community which it serves, or a law that retrospectively deprives poor people of the homes they have lived in all their lives because they have a spare bedroom. I suspect, that many Lib Dems do not share the values that created those policies, but it is not those Lib Dems Labour would be entering into coalition with, It would be Lib Dems like you, for example, and that is why I strenuously oppose it. By the way, have you ever reflected on the possibility that you are in the wrong party?

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Mar '14 - 12:11pm

    Mark Valladares

    And if you take the viewpoint that having a majority government on a 35% share of the vote is a good thing, then your view on what makes a vibrant and credible democracy isn’t mine.

    Mack

    The electorate had the opportunity to decide what makes a vibrant and credible democracy at the recent AV Referendum and they overwhelmingly voted for First Past The Post!

    Indeed, so what the people want right now is a completely Tory government? Well, by voting for First Past The Post, that is what they were saying – the Tories won the most votes, so we like the idea of an electoral system which twists their representation upwards and gives then over 50% of the seats, even if they got well under 50% of the votes.

    But if that’s the case, why did so many of the people give as their reason for voting No to electoral reform that they were angry with Nick Clegg for “rolling over and giving in to the Tories” or similar words we have heard since May 2010? Surely if one believes the best government is a single party government even if that party got well under half the votes, then one ought up be APPLAUDING the Liberal Democrats for “rolling over and giving in to the Tories” because the more they do that, the more the government is like this single party government.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 15th Mar '14 - 3:18pm

    @ Mack,

    So, you don’t want to answer my point about fixed terms for every level of government other than Westminster, and you like the idea of a minority of voters having the right to impulse their views on the majority. Well, fair enough, I suppose.

    But gaming the economy towards a fixed date is quite a bit harder than just gaming it, and if a minority administration loses the support of partners, somebody else can have a go if they think that they can garner enough support.

    But did the public vote for First Past The Post, or against AV? I’d suggest the latter, as my experience on the doorstep in a heavily anti area was that very few people understood what it was about and didn’t like the idea of supporting something that Nick Clegg was in favour of. And that’s the problem with seeking electoral reform in this country – you first have to get people to agree on a system, and then explain its benefits to the public, a complex task at best.

    I’d suggest that our politics is broken, with three major political parties often competing on the same ground and playing the same game in the same way. All three have encouraged private sector involvement in the NHS, all three have introduced private finance into our schools, so don’t please come over all holier than thou. It was a Labour administration who introduced the concept of a bedroom tax for those receiving housing benefit to rent private sector accommodation, after all.

    I’ll not defend the works of this Coalition administration, some of which I support, some I think ill-advised, but I can’t see much mileage in placing my faith in the Labour Party to do any better. I will, however, listen to what senior Labour figures have to say about what they would do, rather than their endless criticising of what is being done. But I’m sure that you were pleased to hear Rachel Reeves say that Labour would be tougher on welfare than the Coalition have been…

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Mar '14 - 3:36pm

    Mark, but if democracy is about individuals, rather than parties, then First Past The Post and electing a local MP is the most democratic structure. I am not saying I believe what I just wrote, but it is a good counter argument as to why FPTP is not so bad. 🙂

  • @Mark: re: electoral reform.

    It would have helped if (a) the vote hadn’t been on such a miserable little compromise and (b) the Yes campaign hadn’t started off with a bunch of nonsense about making MPs more accountable. And, remember, AV was likely to be _less_ proportional in many circumstances not more. Shame really, it was probably the best shot at electoral reform I’ll see in my lifetime and it was squandered.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 15th Mar '14 - 4:44pm

    @ Jack,

    Couldn’t agree more, the Yes campaign was an utter shambles, working with a proposed change that didn’t really change that much. And I share your view of the prospects for electoral reform any time soon.

  • “And, remember, AV was likely to be _less_ proportional in many circumstances not more.”

    The rise of UKIP has certainly vindicated this aspect of the anti-AV case.

    AV would almost certainly have made it harder, not easier, for UKIP to win parliamentary seats.

  • Stuart Mitchell 15th Mar '14 - 5:00pm

    @Jack
    “Shame really, it was probably the best shot at electoral reform I’ll see in my lifetime and it was squandered.”

    Dead right. I still maintain that Nick Clegg made a massive blunder in rejecting the Tories’ original offer on electoral reform, which in my view was superior to the one he eventually accepted. That original offer was for a “commission of inquiry” to develop proposals on voting reform within the current Parliament, with the promise of a referendum on whatever the commission came up with. Clegg turned this down in favour of a guaranteed referendum on AV.

    In my view, the original offer was better because – though it offered no guarantees – there was at least a good chance of the commission proposing some sort of PR, for the simple reason that AV is so manifestly abysmal that it’s difficult to imagine how any remotely objective commission could have favoured it. Clegg therefore turned down a reasonable chance of a vote on PR for a guaranteed vote on AV – and we all know how catastrophic that turned out to be.

    Of course a referendum on PR might have failed as well, but at least the Yes campaign would have been able to make strong and honest arguments in its favour – something that was never going to be possible with AV.

  • Passing through 17th Mar '14 - 12:31am

    @Simon Shaw

    “Sorry, by “post 2015″ I meant “2015 – 2020″. Accordingly I am not saying the Lib Dems should never form a government with Labour, just that switching from a Conservative/Lib Dem Government to a Labour/Lib Dem Government in 2015 is the absolute worst outcome for the Lib Dems.

    Interestingly your claim about “only ever wanting to form governments with the Conservatives” is the reverse of the problem that there are clearly some on the far left of the Lib Dems who think we should only ever form a coalition with Labour. I don’t actually think there are any Lib Dems who think what you allege, but both views would be equally wrong (as well as dangerous).”

    But by expressly ruling out a LibLab coalition 2015-2020 you are effectively ruling out ever forming a coalition with Labour.

    Without PR or even AV and current poll figures the likelihood of the LDs getting another chance to form a coalition government for at least a generation must be quite low and even then it is as likely to be the Conservatives or some other party than it is to be Labour. Which means the small possibility of a LibLab Coalition in 2015 is probably the only chance in the near future for any sort of LD government and certainly the only likely chance of a LibLab government in our lifetimes.

    Yet it is a possibility you’ve leapt to rule out, moreso you’ve suggested that you speak for all LibDems in doing so.

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