What I’d do in Labour’s shoes

There’s no reason for me to offer this advice; still less reason for Labour taking it. But here goes …

I wrote last week about the potential danger to Labour of adopting a tribally oppositional approach to the Lib Dem / Conservative coalition government, at least while it’s enjoying its honeymoon:

The public, generally speaking, likes to see politicians working together sensibly and rationally, rather than tearing each other to bits. The sheer novelty value of the coalition is going to intrigue voters, many of whom will be willing to give Clegg and Cameron a chance.

With a leadership contest to come, Labour candidates will be jockeying for position. The temptation for them will be to play to the gallery and to their tribal instincts in order to secure the activist vote. That will be understandable but potentially dangerous for Labour.

If they’re smart, they should welcome the deal, and wish it all the best, rather than damn it in a way which will turn off voters. There will be plenty of troubles ahead for the Lib-Con government, plenty of time for Labour to exploit the difficulties the Lib Dems and Tories will face.

The evidence so far suggests Labour are going to slip very comfortably into their comfort zone: attacking every single thing the coalition does, irrespective of its merits. Labour’s backing for Say No to 55% is a case in point, with trenchant criticism from senior Labour figures casually flinging hyperblic allegations of ‘gerrymandering’.

I’m not going to revisit the arguments about 55% here: my LDV colleague Iain Roberts has already explained what nonsense the Labour allegations are. And Nick Clegg even more pithily deconstructed the arguments in his political reform speech yesterday:

We’re not taking away parliament’s right to throw out government; we’re taking away government’s right to throw out parliament.

Labour went into the election promising fixed-term parliaments: if that’s to have any meaning, there has to be a block on the Prime Minister of the day choosing to dissolve Parliament using their party’s majority. That’s why, when Labour legislated for fixed-term parliaments in Scotland, they set a bar for dissolution at 66%, rather than 50%+1.

So what should Labour have done? Simple: they should have welcomed whole-heartedly the coalition government’s proposal to introduce a fixed-term Parliament, pointing out (rightly) that it was in their manifesto, and of course they welcome the implementation of Labour policies – regardless of which party is bringing them forward.

But then Labour should have dared the coalition to go further. The problem with 55%, they should have observed, is that it sets the bar too low – there have been many governments which would have been able to dissolve parliament using their own majorities, which defeats the whole point of fixed-term parliaments. They should have declared they would move an amendment raising the majority needed to 66% to dissolve parliament – just as Labour had enacted in Scotland.

If Labour had done this they would have achieved three things.

First, showing they are not going to be thoughtlessly tribal, but will judge issues on their own merits. Secondly, they would have proved their consistency, continuing to advocate a manifesto commitment and arguing for the same threshold they legislated for in Scotland. And thirdly, they would have driven a wedge between the Lib Dems (who most likely would have recognised the force of argument that 55% is too low) and the Conservatives (who don’t much like the idea of fixed-term parliaments in any case).

And that exemplifies what should be Labour’s approach at least during the initial phase of the coalition government: applauding those progressive measures coming forward (especially those they have endorsed), but constantly daring the Lib Dems to be more radical than they can within the constraints of coalition. Not only will this allow Labour to pose as the most progressive, reforming party – it will also do much more to undermine the coalition government than simply reacting with a tribally oppositional jerk of the knee.

Thankfully for the sake of the Lib Dems, there seems no prospect of Labour taking my advice: their comfort zone is just so much more, well, comfortable.

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61 Comments

  • Sunder Katwala 20th May '10 - 9:13pm

    Stephen

    I agree there is/was a risk of Labour becoming insular and tribal. I am, however, struck by how many people recognise that, and there is a good deal of resistance to doing that too. Though it may remain a risk – and there will be important debates about, for example, whether Labour will campaign for the AV system it has advocated (where I strongly feel we should) – it is somewhat

    There is quite wide recognition the public will give any government a honeymoon. And they very much like to see politicians working together and not arguing (which the LibDems now stress); just as much as they bemoan the lack of ideological distinction and complain that all politicians seem to be the same (as the LibDems argued profitably in the campaign). There is of course both some truth and an element of anti-politics in these two contradictory claims.

    That does make a case for intelligent opposition and scrutiny. – but it does not mean giving a free ride to quite opaque and rather confused proposals, which at present are questioned by LibDems and Tories in different ways, as well as Labour and non-partisan voices. I don’t see why Peter Hennessy can be accused of misunderstanding what is proposed, for example, when he says it looks like doctoring the wicket.

    But I don’t think you successfully defend the 55% proposal. In particular, it has been introduced to allow the Prime Minister of the day to have the ability to dissolve Parliament, if he maintains the government which he has formed at the beginning of it. So it is “fixed temr Parliaments, including in this Parliament, unless the current government prefer not”. It is not an accidental proposal that 55% was agreed, so if the LibDems are against this (having suggested 60%) they had better sort that out wth their Coalition partners, or the accusation of a short-term fix will seem valid to many.

    The proposed amendment you suggest is a little early in the day. The call for a higher threshold also depends on whether one has a dissolution clock (as in Scotland) to deal with a lack of confidence in one administration but no sustained support for an alternative. Do you know if the Coalition is proposing this? Accounts of the negotiations on the clause suggest they will not.

    So it is perfectly legitimate for the opposition to see how the shiny new politics Coalition deals with many unanswered questions about this proposal – such as whether that mechanism will exist so that a plurality of the House could achieve a dissolution in a deadlocked Parliament, as in Scotland, and what the mode of entrenchment of the supermajority is. At present, there are significant impacts on the consequences of a No Confidence vote, given the other British constitutional conventions which would be in play to seek a new administration if dissolution was ruled out..

    Since you are now the government, let us hear your proposals to address these problems. You can then legitimately expect

  • Sunder, I dont think you have grasped either the scale of Labours defeat or the changes you need to make. In terms of vote share, which is all that matters you have just had the 2nd worst result in your Partys history. Its no good making comparisons with 1918, then Labour was a new Party on its way up not an old one on the way down.
    It is likely that Britain has seen its last One-Party Government, if Labour is a serious Party it has to rethink everything it says & does in terms of possible coalitions in 2015. Less shouting, more listening.

  • I think Labour should do the sensible thing and elect Diane Abbot. 🙂

  • Actually the Labour Party, many Tory MPs and others should be doing exactly as they are doing in opposing the 55% proposal. They should continue to attack it for the blatant self serving attempt at a constitutional fix it really is. Never mind the potential for a major constitutional crisis it would engender.

    Liberal Democrats can continue to try and disguise this by hiding behind the artificial split of confidence from dissolution all they want, attempting to discredit the opposition to this proposal as being confused. It does not change the fact that there was no proposal in any party manifesto to fix the term of the current parliament, nor to do so by moving the bar for dissolution to 55%. There are many reasons why the Scottish Parliament, which is being paraded as some kind of justification and precedent does not cut it under closer inspection. Carl Gardner usefully unpicks the proposal here:

    http://www.headoflegal.com/2010/05/13/more-on-55/

    On this particular issue, daring the Lib Dems to go further is a nonsense, it’s a bad enough proposal as it stands.

    There are enough contradictions inherent in this coalition that it will collapse from within, regardless of anything the Labour Party does. I’m sure if you actually propose sensible policies you will get Labour support, the problem is we are yet to see any. The devil will be in the detail.

    Worse still, from the attempts to rig both Houses of Parliament to raiding Tax Payers for financial support, when you have the whole of the civil service working for you; we now clearly understand what ‘New Politics’ means.

    I’m sure you would love to go quietly about your business free from scrutiny and opposition. That ain’t going to happen and rightly so.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 20th May '10 - 10:47pm

    It is perfectly possible to believe in fixed term parliments which take away the power of the PM to declare an election at the time of theri chosing – it is quite something else to develop a system that would in effect protect a minority government from being forced into an election when it is forced into statemate which is in effect what the 55% rule achieves. Other countries have such safe guards built into their fixed parliment legislation. Circumstances could arise where LibDems (and heaven forbid the people who elected them) may actually want to leave the Coalition – it might also be the case that Labour supporters would not want their party to enter into a new coalition with the LibDems for a wide variety of reasons – the end result would be a weak Conservative minority government until the 5 years are up. Remember sometimes Parliments are short because Governemnts are weak and not because

    We also have the little question as to why we now have 5 year fixed parliments – when all the talk (and Lib Dem policy) duirng the election was of 4 year terms.

    Ther present arrangements for fixed term parliments have not been put in front of the electorate – and as a basic democratic and liberal principle i don’t think changes should be made to our electoral systems without our review and consent – and in this case it hasn”t been given for the current arrangements. If the LibDems want to democrats and liberals they should be insisting that the proposals and alternatives should be put to the elctorate in a referndum.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 20th May '10 - 10:57pm

    The proposals to pack the House of Lords with political hacks from the Coalition parties, pending the introduction of direct voting, should also raise some concern. If the numbers are as reported the the House of Lords will quite clearly have a massive inbuilt majortity for the Coalition (given the normal behaviour of cross benchers and abstentions among the existing members) to saying nothing of a substantial downgrade in the level of skill and knowledge. So until the new electoral system is introduced we can probably put aside any chance of the House of Lords performing its role as a revising or scrutiny chamber – or of it acting as any form of check or balance. This should be a worry to all liberals and democrats – but all i’ve heard from LibDems is self interest regarding who they would like to see wearing ermine.

    Of course LibDems may want to try and engage in Punch and Judy politics by failing to address my points and saying Labour didn’t address these problems during its time in office – too true but the concerns I raise would still not be addressed .

  • @Stephen Tall

    Ok, so you would infer from that that it would include the current parliament during which the legislation is passed. I don’t quite see that myself. It is certainly not explicit. Indeed I would refer you to this article you wrote in May last year

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/cleggs-100day-100-day-action-plan-to-save-britains-democracy-in-full-15178.html

    With regard to Fixed Term Parliaments it refers to

    Paul Tyler’s Constitutional Renewal Bill, currently before the House of Lords, would limit all further sessions of Parliament to four years, fixing the dates of all future general elections after 2010

    Now, I’m assuming here that the intent would have been to pass the legislation prior to the 2010 election, meaning we went into that election knowing the next was going to serve a fixed term; not that it was intended to fix the term of the last parliament. On that basis it would be consistent for legislation in this parliament to relate only to future parliaments.

    Now, I have done extensive searches to try and find full details of these proposals which I believe where from an attempt to re-draft the original Government Bill. Unfortunately all the official papers I have found do not include details regarding fixed term parliaments, and of course they were not in the final bill passed just before the election.

    I think it would be reasonable to believe that the intention to fix the term of this parliament was by no means clear in the manifesto commitments of the Lib Dems or Labour. The proposal only merited a sentence in the Lib Dem manifesto and a short paragraph in Labours’.

    Considering the lengths I have gone to in order to find out the detail, and I’m still not clear; It would be reasonable to assume that myself and others would see the commitment differently to you. From both manifestos it is open to interpretation. If you are saying with certainty that the Lib Dem commitment was to fix the term of this parliament, I will accept that as you are better placed to know.

  • @Mark Pack

    Again, as I’ve said before, I’m fully aware it was in the Labour Party manifesto. It does not say it would fix the term of the current parliament in which the legislation is passed.

  • In Scotland there is 4-party politics in a chamber elected by PR. 66% + 1 is needed to protect an otherwise unstable parliament. Hiding our heads in the sand about an anti-democratic carve-up made behind closed doors without being in any manifesto will do real damage to our reputation for fair play. Our reputation is far too valuable to have been discarded so needlessly.

  • @CowleyJon “Hiding our heads in the sand about an anti-democratic carve-up made behind closed doors without being in any manifesto will do real damage to our reputation for fair play.” Er… I’d reply to you, but all there is to say was in the previous sentence you wrote “In Scotland there is 4-party politics in a chamber elected by PR. 66% + 1 is needed to protect an otherwise unstable parliament.” It’s a normal part of coalition arrangements.

    If I ‘were Labour’ I’d lie about what happened in coalition talks and try to put all the blame on them breaking down on the LibDems having some private fetish for the Conservatives ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/12/cameron-clegg-pact-gerrymandering-parliament ) and then I’d eschew candidates who might genuinely reform the party in favour of Ed Balls or David Milliband, depending on how well Ed Balls has done his maneuvering within the unions and the parliamentary party (pretty bloody well I’d expect).

  • Sunder Katwala 21st May '10 - 7:02am

    Duncan

    You are falling for a pervasive myth in “how well EB has done his manouevering with the unions”. There will be 4 million people who receive individual ballot papers in the affiliates section: the ability of “manouvering” (do you mean “campaigning?”) and the influence of union general secretaries to “deliver’ or somehow “stitch up” those who vote in this section is really very limited.

    Tony Blair received very very few union general secretary or management committee endorsements in 1994: he did get 55% of that section of the ballot though.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st May '10 - 9:30am

    “First, Holyrood is a PR-based Parliament …”

    Could someone explain to me why not having PR should make fixed terms any less desirable? I should have thought the opposite. Obviously the Labour manifesto pledge for fixed-term Westminster parliaments wasn’t coupled with PR.

    Perhaps it’s time for someone from the Labour side to explain what mechanics they have in mind for fixed-term parliaments, rather than simply sniping at what the government is proposing.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st May '10 - 10:11am

    It seems to me to be vital for Parliamentary control over the Executive that Parliament should be able to express no confidence in the government and ask for a new government to be formed under another Prime Minister, without this meaning members of Parliament are also forced to reign en masse from their five year contracts with the electorate.

    Why are people in the Labour Party having so much difficulty understanding this concept? The proposed rule prevents David Cameron from trying to end the coalition by calling an early general election where he claims “I need a majority in Parliament to be able to do the job properly”, doing it at whatever is the time of maximum convenience to the Conservative Party. But it does not stop the Liberal Democrats breaking the coalition and trying again with Labour should for whatever reason that become a viable option.

  • There is a crucial difference between the Westminster Parliament and the Scottish Parliament. The former has plenary jurisdiction, the latter has derived jurisdiction. The Westminster Parliament can change its dissolution rule any time it wants to anything it wants, by 50%+1. The Scottish Parliament, by contrast, can only have its dissolution rule changed by the Westminster Parliament. Even in 2010, Dicey rules.

    In local government we now have something analogous to the 55% dissolution rule, and that is what we’ve been told to call the doctrine of the “strong leader”. A Council leader, once elected, cannot be deposed during the lifetime of the council. Is this democracy, or one more nail in the coffin of independent local government?

  • If you opened you eyes maybe you could see it’s not just Labour who have reservations about the proposed change?
    But no, you’re just blindly following what your glorious leaders have put in front of you. Which quite frankly is not what I expect from the Lib Dems, and I’m very disappointed to be honest.
    I’ve voted Lib Dem in the past but the 55% hurdle blatantly looks like a fix for the benefit of the Coalition and the idea of packing the Lords with hundreds more unelected peers just to rubber stamp the coalition’s legislation certainly makes me question if I could ever vote for you again, well certainly in the near future anyway.
    If you carry on like this then Labour won’t have to do anything to get re-elected, it appears by disillusioning a large section of the electorate you’re about to do most of the hard work for them.

  • Dianne Abbott would at least be interesting. The others are all dead boring.

  • Paul McKeown 21st May '10 - 11:17am

    @David

    Interesting, agreed, a female ethnic minority candidate would be attractive in representing a modern face for Britain; but then there is her hypocrisy in sending her child to be educated privately, her Daily Politics vanity project, her left-wingery and her Brown uber-loyalty. I think the balance is negative. I quite like John McDonnell, too, simply for being an excellent constituency MP and speaking with honesty on just so many occasions, but his left-wingery and pro-Union instincts would also perhaps prove impedemental. Millipede, Microgram and Castrato are just too tainted by their close links to either Blair or Brown. When it comes down to it, David M looks and sounds too like Blair, no doubt intelligent, diligent and hard-working, but his Blairish touch does make my hair stand on end, perhaps unfairly, but there you have it. And anyway, he never put the knife into Brown, can’t see the electors going a bundle on equivocation and cowardice, which would be staple diet for the tabloids in any future general election. Ed M is just a shapeless blob, perhaps appeals to Labourites, but I just don’t get him at all; Labour must try to appeal beyond its core vote if it is to form government again, but unless he has been hiding his charisma under a bushel, he won’t do it for them. Burnham? Doesn’t stand out, rather hesitant demeanour, and perhaps too closely associated with the previous government. Balls has been winning me over a little recently with his touch of humility and gratitude at being re-elected, but he has a mountain to climb, if he is to convince the public that he isn’t a a Brown re-tread.

    Balls or Burnham, but surely Labour has young, untainted, hard-working talent on the back-benches with a pro-civic rights, anti-war bent and a non-ideological, centre-left outlook, unattached to any obvious vested interests?Perhaps even amongst the fresh intake? Otherwise, the prognosis ain’t great for them.

    Ultimately Labour’s problem, but as a Liberal Democrat, I really believe in having a choice.

  • Paul McKeown 21st May '10 - 11:32am

    Labour’s needs a great new idea to engage electors. I suspect that it is the issue that dare not speak it’s name: immigration. Britain needs a fair, non-racist immigration policy, which does not impair economic growth, but cannot be portrayed as discriminating against the white, working class either. I would suggest that Labour could start by looking at the Green’s policy of raising the minimum wage; this might help mitigate the effect of immigrant labour undercutting salary levels in the lowest paid sectors of the economy. There must be many other ideas that can be employed, too. Labour is in opposition; this gives it the perfect opportunity to grasp this nettle which no party has yet done satisfactorily.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st May '10 - 12:07pm

    “The Westminster Parliament can change its dissolution rule any time it wants to anything it wants, by 50%+1.”

    So if we’re really serious about fixed-term parliaments, we need a written constitution.

  • @Paul McKeown

    A masterful analysis of the Labour Party, thank you.

  • Anthony Aloysius St wrote:

    “So if we’re really serious about fixed-term parliaments, we need a written constitution.”

    We do have a written constitution. It’s all in writing somewhere. What we don’t have is a single consittutional document. But even that wouldn’t give us entrenchment – the ability of Parliament to bind itself. According to Professor Wade, entrenchment can only be achieved by a revolution – basically, knocking the whole lot down and rebuilding it. Wade did subsequenlty suggest that the Factortame case amounted to a revolution that had produced entrechment in the limited area of EC law, but that is arguable. It can equally be said that all the House of Lords did was apply a rule of interpretation derived from the ECA 1972 that Parliament does not intend to legislate in a manner contrary to EC law.

  • Paul McKeown 21st May '10 - 1:00pm

    @Dave
    “I’d like to see genuinely fixed terms except in cases of absolute necessity: no 50%, 55% or 67%, but instead explicit provision for dissolution only when the Commons can’t offer a working majority to any government. Right now that can’t be done unless a House so fundamentally and evenly divided can come up with a clear vote for an election that’s likely to leave half of its members on the losing side.”

    Agree strongly. As the constitution is unwritten, parliament is sovereign and the fixed term applies to the current parliament and so needs to get up and running quickly, the idea of allowing a court to arbitrate whether the Commons may dissolve early is not a runner. In that case, I would suggest to leave it to the Speaker to investigate after a failed confidence vote whether or not a government could be formed by the Commons under a different leader or with different governing parties, and then formal approval of a dissolution from the Lords.

  • Paul McKeown 21st May '10 - 1:52pm

    @Dave

    The whole point of the Lords in these times should be to provide revision, advice and oversight. Can’t think of a better example than formal approval of a dissolution.

  • Paul McKeown 21st May '10 - 2:00pm

    @Dave
    But ultimately, I can’t get really get worked up about the 55% rule. It works elsewhere, and it can’t reasonably be seen as a stitch up either. In fact, to be fair, it rather works against the Conservatives in this current parliament. They can’t, on their own, push for a dissolution; there is always a danger for them that the Lib Dems could in fact stitch them up and form a government later with Labour. It must be said though, that that danger is more theoretical than real, given the hatred towards the LDs shown by many of the Labour tribe, and also the fundamental and obvious decency and gentlemanliness of the older LD parliamentarians. I’m sure Ming, for instance, might have preferred Lib/Lab, but havingt agreed to the current coalition, he most certainly wouldn’t go back on that, except under the most extreme provocation.

    I think we should all take this on trust, in the spirit in which it was intended, unless someone comes up with something better. Stuffing the Lords, though, that I do object to, and very strongly.

  • Paul McKeown 21st May '10 - 2:20pm

    @Dave
    “But your warning against tribal partisanship cuts both ways: I’d like to see a lot less of it from LibDem commentators to.”

    I’m guilty of that, I’ve been accused of being a “Liberal Democrat tribalist”, which, in some ways, I take as a compliment, because outside of Lib Demery, most saw the LDs as a protest vote, rather than a vote FOR something. I think the Beveridge/SDP/left-wing of the LDs finally grew up: they have now realised that core Labour had never any intention towards the LDs apart from absorbing them or otherwise destroying them. It helps the LDs claim their own identity, rooted in its Liberal and Social Democratic past.

  • Paul McKeown 21st May '10 - 2:24pm

    @Dave
    There are plenty on the Conservative and Labour benches who would only be too happy to press for a dissolution at any moment. If the government genuinely failed and a new government could not be formed, parliament would dissolve itself, of that I have no doubt.

  • Paul McKeown 21st May '10 - 2:36pm

    @Dave
    “Good idea, and it should be close to pro-worker and anti-racist Labour hearts”

    There are of course two other issues that none of the main three parties have been willing to deal with sensibly: Europe and crime.

    I find it absurd that the Lib Dems, who believe strongly in democratic renewal, still treat ever election campaign as a re-run of the 1975 referendum, the last time, perhaps, that they were on the winning side of very much. Taking a strong stand for engagement in Europe, should not mean that they should be viewed as supporting an unreformed European Union. The current form of European decision making is remote, obscure, opaque, corrupt and undemocratic. Nick Clegg, in his recent pamphlet more or less said as much, and the thought is present in the Orange Book, too, but there has been no attempt to develop this observation further. The solution offered by UKIP and the rightwing of the Conservative Party of withdrawal is fundamentally an economic suicide pact, and mainstream Conservatism is held captive by this rightwing narrative, so unless the right and/or centre-right is capable of re-alignment (bring on PR), then the initiative must come from the LDs or from Labour. The structures and decision making processes of the European Union must undergo thoroughgoing and radical democratisation. This is also the sort of policymaking that can best take place in opposition.

  • Paul McKeown 21st May '10 - 3:45pm

    @Dave
    Re: LD identity -v- Tories. True, but I think every LD is aware of the danger represented by past “National Liberalism”. Mistakes of the past will not be repeated.
    Re: dissolution. Fair argument. Via speaker and the Lords, then?

    @Kehaar
    The election is past and gone, the next one 5 years away. Bit more constructive engagement, please, and a little less trolling, eh?

  • Could somebody explain why the Lib Dem Cons intend to save money by reducing the number of elected MPs (a ridiculous proposal given that the population of the country has increased by over a million) and yet wish to waste vast sums of money appointing scores more unelected people to the house of Lords?

    As for Labour, all they need to do is to wait for the wave of outrage when the unemployment queue is expanded by half a million after the brutal cuts of public sector jobs are imposed double quick by the unholy trinity of Osborne, Laws and Cable.

  • Paul McKeown 21st May '10 - 4:25pm

    @MacK
    Yawn……………………..

  • Rigging the House of Commons vote; packing the House of Lords; emasculating the 1922. Sounds very much like the old politics to me.

  • Paul McKeown 21st May '10 - 7:37pm

    @MacK
    Snore…………………..

  • Paul McKeown 22nd May '10 - 12:13am

    @Tony C
    In what way is it tribal to observe that the points made are not relevant to a thread “What I’d do in Labour’s shoes”?

  • Paul McKeown 22nd May '10 - 12:24am

    @Tony C
    Strangely enough, given your “tribal” comment, “Dave”, clearly a Labour supporter, and I managed to have a rather civil conversation earlier on this thread, coming to a mutual understanding. Then along comes someone determined to disrupt, writing about “rigging the House of Commons vote,” et cetera, an obviously baited non sequitur. Strangely enough, the thread is now no longer discussing “What I’d do in Labour’s shoes”… not a tribal comment, then at all, but one of common courtesy.

  • @Paul McKeown

    Given your comment below, I guess you are no stranger to ‘tribalism’ yourself.

    “Interesting, agreed, a female ethnic minority candidate would be attractive in representing a modern face for Britain; but then there is her hypocrisy in sending her child to be educated privately, her Daily Politics vanity project, her left-wingery and her Brown uber-loyalty. I think the balance is negative. I quite like John McDonnell, too, simply for being an excellent constituency MP and speaking with honesty on just so many occasions, but his left-wingery and pro-Union instincts would also perhaps prove impedemental. Millipede, Microgram and Castrato are just too tainted by their close links to either Blair or Brown. When it comes down to it, David M looks and sounds too like Blair, no doubt intelligent, diligent and hard-working, but his Blairish touch does make my hair stand on end, perhaps unfairly, but there you have it. And anyway, he never put the knife into Brown, can’t see the electors going a bundle on equivocation and cowardice, which would be staple diet for the tabloids in any future general election. Ed M is just a shapeless blob, perhaps appeals to Labourites, but I just don’t get him at all; Labour must try to appeal beyond its core vote if it is to form government again, but unless he has been hiding his charisma under a bushel, he won’t do it for them. Burnham? Doesn’t stand out, rather hesitant demeanour, and perhaps too closely associated with the previous government. Balls has been winning me over a little recently with his touch of humility and gratitude at being re-elected, but he has a mountain to climb, if he is to convince the public that he isn’t a a Brown re-tread.

    With regard to the proposals for the dissolution of the commons and appointments to the lords; it is not ‘tribal’ to oppose it, simply common sense. The only ‘tribe’ that doesn’t get what is wrong with these proposals is the Liberal Democrats.

    The original article re-opened the debate about the issue of 55% with ‘tribal’ and partisan comments dressed up as ‘fact’. They needed to be challenged.

    Indeed, there remains a silence from LDV when this proposal is challenged in any detail.

    At the moment there is clear hostility between some in Labour and some in the Liberal Democrats; with both sides blaming each other for the failure to go into coalition. That will probably pass over time.

    I can only speak for myself here, but I believe there are three pressing concerns for the Liberal Democrats currently; on dissolution, on Lords appointments; and on ‘short’ money. For me, they do cast a big shadow over the Liberal Democrats, raise serious questions and should be scrutinized and opposed. So far, the majority of Liberal Democrats appear to be comfortable retreating into ‘tribal’ defence.

    With regard to the wider issue of coalition policies, let’s see the ‘devil in the detail’. There may be agreement from Labour in some areas. So far, it is difficult to see beyond an attempt to roll back the state and slash public expenditure, regardless of the consequences.

  • Paul McKeown 22nd May '10 - 10:08am

    @Steve D Posted 21st May 2010 at 12:18 pm

    “A masterful analysis of the Labour Party, thank you.”

    You can’t have it both ways, now, Steve, can you?

    “The original article re-opened the debate about the issue of 55% with ‘tribal’ and partisan comments dressed up as ‘fact’. They needed to be challenged.

    Indeed, there remains a silence from LDV when this proposal is challenged in any detail.”

    Yet, a proposal was put forward here, speaker, then the Lords, which a Labour supporter, Dave, found to be a possible way forward. Comments?

    “At the moment there is clear hostility between some in Labour and some in the Liberal Democrats; with both sides blaming each other for the failure to go into coalition. That will probably pass over time.”

    True. The two parties will have to work together in the future.

  • Paul McKeown 22nd May '10 - 10:11am

    @Steve D
    “At the moment there is clear hostility between some in Labour and some in the Liberal Democrats; with both sides blaming each other for the failure to go into coalition. That will probably pass over time.”

    However, there are certain Labour minded individuals posting here, who do so not in the spirit of constructive criticism, but one of sniding, undermining and one-eyed negativism. I don’t include you in this, though. Your points are argued and on topic.

  • Paul McKeown 22nd May '10 - 10:19am

    Dave, Steve D,

    I am not convinced that the PLP is really trying to find anyone but an establishment candidate for leader. Abbott is not a convincing non-establishment candidate, nor, sadly, despite his honesty, love for his constituency and hard work, is John McDonnell. His failing, in my eyes, is that it is easier to see what he is against, rather than what he is for.

    How about someone like Gisela Stuart (“I’m Labour, my values are Labour, but I think for myself.”), who has always struck me as being what an MP ought to be? Not that there has been much time given to allow candidates to come forward and find the necessary support for their nominations.

  • Paul McKeown 22nd May '10 - 10:30am

    @Kehaar

    The thread concerns “What I’d do in Labour’s shoes”. Jumping in with “Rigging the House of Commons vote,” is just an attempt to disrupt the thread, so that instead of talking about Labour, we talk about a topic dealt with elsewhere in this forum. Common courtesy and adherence to basic rules of netiquette is all that is being requested.

  • @Paul McKeown

    You can’t have it both ways, now, Steve, can you?

    Fair cop! I guess we can’t have it both ways!

    My objections to the 55% proposal are rooted in their application to the current parliament, not for future parliaments.

    I have said before that I favour fixed term parliaments. More importantly; I favour removing undemocratic royal prerogatives and the ability of a Prime Minister to use some of these to his or her own/party advantage. So I have no issue with transferring the power of dissolution to parliament.

    I think the threshold for dissolution depends strongly on how that parliament is elected. Where the electoral system still distorts representation (FPTP or AV), we move beyond a simple majority at our peril; since it is difficult for me to see how it would work consistently.

    For example we could have the situation of a majority government elected on 40% of the vote, having well over 55% of the seats; in this instance a 55% threshold would not work. Conversely we could have the current situation where a 55% threshold causes all sorts of problems, as previously discussed.

    In a commons elected under PR, where coalition government would be the norm, then a threshold above a simple majority has merit.

    How to avoid the Prime Minister simply whipping his MPs to vote for dissolution, is tricky. The German experience suggests that the Chancellor there can still manipulate the Bundestag, however it would require cross party support to do so. At the very least there should be a ‘cooling off’ period during which there must be an attempt to form a new Government. In Germany the ultimate decision still rests with the President. Here, that would still be the Monarch. Should she have that power? I don’t think so, but who else exercises it?

    Perhaps we have to accept the expressed will of parliament, however it is expressed regardless of motive? It would be strange to give MPs this right and then at the same time complain about how they exercise it!

    A number of possible suggestions would be:

    Only opposition parties can put down a motion for ‘dissolution’ and/or there should be a qualifying number of MPs required, demonstrating cross party support , to put down a motion for dissolution.

    In the event of a Queens Speech or Budget not passing, there must first be an attempt to enable government to continue. If this is not possible during a set period, then dissolution should follow. The option could either be a brand new Government or a revised Queens Speech or Budget from the existing Government that can command confidence.

  • Yes the thread was ‘What I would do in Labour’s shoes?’ That’s why I suggest that my comments were entirely relevant: Fortunately for Labour the Lib Dems are not in Labour’s shoes — they are in the Tories’ shoes and are having to cramp their toes accordingly. That’s why, (at the risk of making people yawn), the Lib Dem Cons are already embarking on an abuse of power and I make no excuse for reminding people of this. I make no apology either for interrupting your urbane discussions: you want to discuss the nuances of a 55% vote and its implications for a vote of no-confidence; I want to draw attention to the arrogance of the proposal and its undemocratic nature. And if Lib Dem supporters are sent to sleep at the prospect of half a million unemployed public sector workers then the future for the workforce under the coalition is even worse than I imagined. I would still like an answer to my original question, by the way. (@21st May 4.20pm) Current estimates, I have just discovered, put the population at nearly 62million in 2010. In 2001 the census recorded nearly 59 million, therefore my original suggestion of 1million population growth was somewhat conservative. So, with the population increasing by millions why are the Lib Dems supporting the Tories in cutting the seats of elected MPs? and abetting them in packing the House of Lords? Nothing to do with the fact that the seats that will go will all be Labour’s, of course! Not a non sequitur, for discussion of the peers’ issue appeared earlier in this thread. As for tribalism, the sheenanigans of the coalition have reminded me of the insescapable fact that all politics is tribal. In fact, I am so outraged by what I have seen masquerading as ‘negotiations’, vote rigging and betrayal of principles that I am starting to resile from my original support for P.R. and find myself agreeing with right wing Tories that P.R. would be a terrible mistake. Or is that too a non sequitur?

  • Paul McKeown 22nd May '10 - 11:25am

    @MacK
    a) cutting the number of parliamentary seats.I disagree that it would only hurt Labour. It would probably reduce the LDs representation even more dramatically and it would certainly make it even more difficult for the smaller parties. I don’t understand why it is being proposed, apart from cutting costs, playing to a general anti-politics mood in the country and perhaps the difficulty of fitting so many people into the Commons. So agree with you there.
    b) Packing the House of Lords. It cannot be said that the Lords have unreasonably opposed any proposal of this current government, so packing the Lords clearly cannot be the right thing to do. Agreed.
    c) I don’t understand what enrages you about the formation negotiations. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats looked at each others manifestos found areas of mutual interest, proposed to take those forward, and noted areas of disagreement and in general took a view. Surely that is how negotiations for coalition formation should take place. Do you have a specific objection?
    d) Half a million unemployed public sector workers? Is that a specific figure given by this government, or is it a hyperbolic debating point? What should the government do with regard to the deficit and to public spending plans from the previous government for which matching funding has not been provided? Is it preferable that the government should allow the possibility of a collapse of confidence in the British economy, like has recently happened in Greece? Surely the blame for any public sector unemployment in the immediate future should be laid at the doors of the previous administration, which spent recklessly as evidenced by Liam Byrne’s arrogant and unfunny joke?
    e) PR is about allowing the electors’ wishes to be accurately reflected by their representation in Parliament. It is about choice, rather than the sterile red/blue duopoly which assumes that it can tell the people what they want, rather than listening to what the electors decided and coming to a negotiated programme for government which reflects the votes cast.

    But back to the topic. What do you think Labour should do in the coming months?

  • @MacK

    I share some of your concerns, however I think it reasonable to remember this is a Liberal Democrat Blog which kindly invites and allows for opinion from others. I have strong views regarding certain proposals and have been grateful for the opportunity to share them here. I know also that I do so at times using stark language, not to every ones’ taste. Deliberately antagonising people here will in the end be self defeating and is to say the least, rude.

    I don’t have any inbuilt hatred of Liberal Democrats as a Party, or as individuals. I genuinely find the three areas of concern I have raised to be at variance with what I believed to be Liberal Democrat values. In the end that is not to say I am ‘right’ either about the proposals or Liberal Democrat values.

    I agree with the premise of this article that Labour should not ‘tribally’ oppose every proposal from the coalition and that it should welcome and support proposals it shares commonality with. I’m sure that will in the end be the reality. This is a very raw time at the moment for all sides and understandably there will be some anger. In the end it should be directed at specific proposals and not individuals or parties.

    In that spirit I should probably withdraw my previous contention in this thread that ‘New Politics’ is simply ‘New Corruption’. It is of course a far more nuanced situation than that.

    For me, my political views have often found a home within the Liberal Democrats, specifically in the area of Constitutional and Electoral Reform. I also have some concerns regarding civil liberties under Labour, but not to the extent of some. With regard to Europe as well I share much in common with Liberal Democrats. In 2005 I voted Liberal Democrat. What changed for me was the economic liberalism of the orange book brigade that has taken over the party. In the last election I voted and campaigned for Labour, whilst secretly voting Liberal Democrat at a local level for council and Mayor!

    There is significant overlap between our parties and this really is a defining moment in British Politics. At the moment we are starring down the barrel of a centre right realignment; which I’m not sure everybody wants.

    Clearly we must move beyond the hangover from this general election if there is ever to be a reassertion of centre left politics. As much as it is a difficult time for the Labour Party to define itself; the same is currently true for both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives.

  • @Mark Pack

    Mark, I have now read the comments policy which eluded me before and if my robustness has seemed rude I apologize. I withdraw the epithet, ‘The unholy Trinity of Osborne, Laws and Cable’ which was used for rhetorical effect.

    @Paul McKeown

    Regarding a) and b) I am glad that we are essentially agreed on those points. However I do think that Labour will lose the majority of seats under the planned boundary changes because most of the subsumations will be of smaller, urban Labour held constituencies. But I accept that the Lib Dems will be affected too.

    Regarding my objections to the conflation document: two paradigms will suffice: the abandonment of a principled immigration policy in exchange for a clumsy cap; the abandonment of a cautious and measured approach to debt reduction in exchange for immediate and savage cuts. Two examples of a complete volte-face. I believed that that these were absolute red line principles for the Lib Dems and I am very disappointed to see them given up. However unprincipled New Labour may have been at times, one expected the Lib Dems to uphold their principles, no matter how much one may have disagreed with them. I accept that the Tories have given some policies up too and I, of course, understand that the process of negotiating a coalition involves synthesis. However, the Lib Dem Con coalition process has revealed to me the essentially unattractive nature of coalition government and the cynical compromises it requires of committed politicians. I have therefore concluded that it is not for me. As P.R will inevitably produce many more coalitions I find that less and less attractive too. I am of the view that our manifestos are a pledge to the electorate and we should keep our pledges.

    Half a million lost public sector workers jobs is not a hyperbolic debating point: It is an assessment I have heard made by economists. As for reducing the deficit, Osborne seems to think that the only tax increases need to be in capital gains and everything else can be achieved by slashing the public sector. I believe that high levels of taxation need to be imposed on vast company profits (which the rise in NICs was intended to address) .
    Public sector workers should not be asked to take on the whole burden of responsibility for the national debt. The previous government’s spending plans are now your government’s spending plans and many will have to be abandoned but to avoid the intensification of class antagonisms the wealthy will have to bear a much higher tax burden. At the bottom of the economic heap we really are all in this together. Labour’s policy was to have two thirds of the burden borne by cuts and the other third by taxation. That seems fair to me. It would appear that the Lib Dem Cons intention is to have less than a quarter of the debt reduced through taxation. Therein lies unfairness. I gather that there is talk now of the Lib Dem Cons reducing the 50p increase in taxation on the very rich soon, which would reduce public expenditure even further. And we know what happened to the Mansion Tax. The deficit should be, as Labour suggest, reduced at a moderate pace — over four or five years. After all, it was only, I think, 2006 when the country paid off its Second World War debt.
    There is no comparison between Britain’s situation and that of Greece. Greece is not the sixth largest manufacturing country in the world; Greece’s debts are mainly short term, Britain’s are long term; and, thanks to Gordon Brown, Britain is not in the Euro.
    You say: P.R is about allowing the electors’ wishes to be accurately reflected in parliament and I absolutely agree with that, which is why I support a list system of P.R. However, recent events have persuaded me that when individual electors vote for a party they should get what’s on the tin and not a pig in a poke which is what P.R. and Coalition government might consistently deliver for them.
    The huge size of the deficit was caused, for the most part, by Labour’s bail out of the banks, which returns me to this thread. What should Labour do? Regard the coalition as an aberration which will soon collapse. Abandon New Labour and return to its socialist principles; and in the light of the banking crisis review its revised Clause Four. (Not with the objective of returning it to the obsolescent status quo, I would add)

  • Correction: should read: the deficit should be halved over four or five years.

  • @ Steve D.

    Steve, I find myself either in agreement or sympathetic to most of your remarks and I certainly take on board your comments on guest behaviour. However, having not read the comments policy previously, and having observed many of the ruder remarks made on this site I assumed that a robust level of discourse was acceptable. But, of course, two wrongs do not a right make.

    Going back to your substantive comments, I would suggest that as the unfairness of the cuts impinge more and more upon workers the fractured economic base will transform the political superstructure and make the kind of concensus you speak of so much more difficult. That is why I would have wished the Tories to govern as a minority party, for then the opposition parties could have curbed their instinctive excesses when it comes to the public sector.

    I have been wrong often enough never to believe that I am always right. I don’t have an inbuilt hatred of the Lib Dems either. I just like them rather less now, that’s all. I had huge admiration for their courage and principled policies. Immigration for example. Whereas the Tories responded with predictable populist opportunism on the back of the right wing media’s exaggeration of the effects of immigration I thought that the Lib Dem’s Earned Citizenship policy was brave, heroic and realistic. Hence my disappointment when it was dumped for a crude and intolerant cap. I have long held the view that nations which are relatively safe from the worst consequences of global warming will, in the end, have to act as lifeboats for all those areas of the planet which are most adversely affected. At Least Hodge and Cruddas helped to repudiate the lie that Britain is a deeply intolerant nation.

  • “As for Labour, all they need to do is to wait for the wave of outrage when the unemployment queue is expanded by half a million after the brutal cuts of public sector jobs are imposed double quick by the unholy trinity of Osborne, Laws and Cable.”

    Yes, you’re quite right, aren’t you! Labour should find it dead simple to win by default next time, simply by condemning the coalition for doing what they would be doing had they won.

    So why are they already doing so terribly badly? All but one of their “leadership” contenders seems to think that their big mistake was not being bigoted enough. No doubt they should have listened to Mrs Duffy, and then asked Nick Griffin to help put a bit more muscle behind their policy development planning.

    My vote goes to Diane Abbott, for telling Labour not to start by blaming everything on the immigrants!

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