Why a New Coalition is a Bad Idea
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In my first piece about what happens after May 7th I worked on the basis that the result would be around Con 275, Lab 275, LD 35, SNP 40, UKIP 5, Green 2, Speaker 1, all the Northern Irish 17 (of which the present numbers are DUP 8, SF 5, SDLP 3, All 1). Since then the numbers predicted by the polls have wobbled a bit around these numbers but the only consistent change has been to push up the SNP to perhaps 50 seats. And given the lack of a “late swing” of any size the LD number may be a bit high.
Given the provisions of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act it all still adds up to the likelihood – or the opportunity? – of a minority government (or democratic parliament?) that lasts several years, perhaps for the full five. Yet our official line is still that we want to join another Coalition. Officially we will negotiate with Tories or Labour, starting with the party with most seats (though in practice we will be talking to both simultaneously if that is what the numbers decree). Unofficially our leadership are reported to prefer another coalition with the Tories.
It’s no secret that this idea causes a severe onset of jitters in many parts of the party. With a week to go, the Times’ lead story reports “Lib Dems to revolt over fresh pact with Tories”. The story is pretty anecdotal, full of unattributed comments by “senior figures in the party” and the like (only Andrew George breaking cover), in general a typically flimsy piece of tabloid style journalism of the kind we see nowadays in the Times.
This does not mean the essence of the Times story is not true. Any attempt to go into coalition again with Cameron will be very controversial within the party. I don’t know whether activists will have enough energy after this election to start a civil war, but there will be widespread protests and, if it happens, a significant number of resignations. Whether it could get a two-thirds majority at a special conference is certainly not clear.
So the question should now be asked – why is it not a good idea? First, the numbers. Let’s say the Tories scrape to 300 seats and we get 27 (the current Guardian poll of polls estimate) – or it might be 290-35, the precise numbers don’t matter. Such a two–party coalition would have a tiny overall majority. (I am assuming that Liberal Democrats will not enter a government which includes or depends on the illiberal bigots of either UKIP or the DUP). This contrasts with the very comfortable majority at Dissolution of 66.
This would not be the Coalition We Have Known. It would mean a Commons in which the Government moved heaven and earth to get a majority on every single vote. It would attempt to impose iron and brutal discipline. All the opposition parties would be denied and marginalised. Trench warfare for five years. Not a pleasant place for Liberals. And one doomed to fail as the Government lost seats at by-elections.
Second, the Liberal Democrats would be far too few to “man up” all the departments, even with the help of such Liberal Democrat Lords as were still willing to take part. The idea of a “flat” coalition with a person placed in each department to Coalitionise or even Liberalise hard-line Tory measures would be out of the question. Yet a “deep” coalition in which Liberal Democrats took over a couple of departments would make matters much worse. Liberal Democrats in the Commons (and, I suspect, increasingly hopelessly in the Lords) would be whipped to push through a thorough Tory agenda with just a few goodies – a scatter of Liberal cherries to decorate the Tory pudding.
Third, such a Coalition would be in hock to the “bastards” on the Tory Right, with more of them than the Liberal Democrats. And finally, the basic problem with any new coalition with the Tories – the destruction of the Liberal Democrats in the country would continue apace. By the time of the next election 2020, we will have effectively closed down as a countryside campaigning force.
This is why the party must start listening to people like Bill le Breton who are arguing the case for a much more open, democratic and liberal set-up involving a minority Government that works with Parliament instead of trying to dominate it in a majoritarian manner.
Article first appeared in Liberal Democrat Voice on Thursday 30th April 2015
See the original article here