Monday, 11 November 2013

Coalition with Labour? Even Harder to Divide the Spoils....

If you thought coalition negotiations with the Tories were tough going then just wait until you have to do them with the many-headed Hydra of Labour.

One has to chuckle at those of the more Leftist slant within our party who departed in disgust when we ended up in bed with the Tories. Ironically the portfolios that the departees most care about would have been off-limits to the Liberal Democrats because these too are the hotly contested favorites of the Labour faithful and delivering them over to the "wet behind the ears" LibDems would have caused massive recriminations on their side. As it was the talks with the Tories involved us being thrown fish the Tories didn't want on their plate, but that LibDems go weak at the knees at the very mention of, such as Scotland and energy. 

So it's a case of be careful of what you wish for because any putative talks on a Coalition with Labour will run into ructions not on opposed interests, but on the common ones. So verily I would liken the task to the Judgement of Solomon (pictured below) which was only solved by the true mother renouncing her beloved. How many in our ranks will go into shock to see Energy and Climate Change slip out of our hands to be replaced by the role as Secretary of Basketweaving and Advanced Macrame?     

The problem here goes beyond common interests with Labour, but over-focus on interests within our party. At a recent party event I attended I was dismayed by the narrowness of the discussion... it might have been a Green Party event.. I love green issues but... while the Greens can proudly say that they do not have (nor want) policies on a lot of things, that is fine as they are focussed on what they do and at least in the UK they don't have pretensions to be a party of government. 

I see wide swathes of public policy where we not only have weak or non-existent policies but we don't have spokespeople any more (as we did in opposition) because we have "left that to the Tories". Good examples are defence, foreign affairs and finance. It was amusing to see a survey recently in which party members were polled on what ministries we should hold in future coalition talks and the top polling post was that of International Development. That role reminds me of a past US vice president who described his role as "not worth a bucket of warm spit". Maybe we have (lots of) members whose idea of self-actualisation is drilling water wells in South Sudan BUT... the broader public are not going to change their votes for a party for which this is the main priority.

Now that Nick has seen the light (presumably under goading from Ryan Coetzee) on the need to make some airspace between himself and David Cameron (note how much rarer the joint photo ops have become) and space between us and the Tories on the issues of repressed contention (immigration, privacy etc) we still are not challenging on the areas which we have ceded to Tory domination. However, if we were to end up with Labour in a coalition then would the roles that we have wanted to grab in the last four years (energy, climate change etc) be ones which Labour would want to hold for itself? We would have a far better chance of ending up with financial regulation, defence and maybe even the Foreign Office in a coalition to our Left. Are we ready for that?

I might also mention that if Scotland votes for "in" and Labour "win" the election (and end in coalition with us) then there is no way we get to keep Scottish Secretary role... anyone care to brush up on Northern Ireland....? That's what will come of being in coalition with a party with which one has too much in common!

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