Thursday, 18 December 2008

Would we demand Brown's head as the price of a coalition??

Mike Smithson thinks we should. Over on Political Betting he indulges a little bit of fantasy politics; with Labour getting the most seats with less than one third of the vote cast (graphic above). Not an implausible scenario says Smithson and indeed it isn't. I know Liberal Democrats don't like to talk about coalitions because, amoung other things, they exacerbate ideological tensions within the party. However, not talking about them in a climate where all the polls are now agreed we could be headed to a hung-parliament would be a bit like the proverbial osterich burying it's head in the sand.

It is not a question we should try and avoid because I happen to think the people who would vote for us have a right to know what we would do in this position. They know they are voting for a thrid party who is realisitically not going to form a government but with the polls as they are they know we could well be king-makers.

Smithson's advice to Clegg is clear;

Yes to a deal with Labour but under a different leadership. The price of support would be Brown’s scalp. They could argue that the votes totals showed that Brown has lost the support of the country and it was only the quirk of the electoral system that put Labour in the position they were in.

Fantasy - yes - but if the election result follows current polling this is precisely the territory where we will be. Clegg would require a significant prize for propping up a government that had so failed with the voters and Brown, the man who hasn’t even got the the courtesy to get the Lib Dem party name right, could be the fall-guy.

However, making the price of a coalition deal the scalp of a leader is deeply petty. If we look like we are pursuing a personal vendetor we will quickly lose support and rightly so; Smithson is right about the arguments we could make for demanding this price but the reality is simple that we would need major policy concessions. The first reason for this is it is right. Our MP's are elected to represent their constituents and win support for our of policies. Concerns like who won the most votes or seats should be secondary to this; the question of votes is academic because our vote tally would count with our partners if we consider what we are getting as our primary concern.

Secondly, policy concessions are the only thing that could stop our party rending itself limb from limb and entering a coalition much diminished. Tangible policy concessions would make just about any kind of coalition palatable to me; despite having or feeling no ideological kinship and indeed feeling a strong strain of anitpathy for the Conservative Party I could even invisage myself supporting a deal with them; if the price was right. The price asked from each party would be subtly different; a requirement of both would be a referndum on voting reform. Labour would be expected to roll back their socially authoritarian agenda where as the Conservatives would be expected to practice 'compassionate' Conservatism and stick to their commitment to civil liberties. Of course, I am thinking generally here but I can say in the concrete that electoral reform would have to be advanced.

Entering a coaltion is not the same as entering government; rather we should view ourselves as entering the position of official opposition where we oppose where the government is wrong and support where it is right. This question is, of course, one best dealt with in the concrete not the abstract but it is one that must be dealt with......


Oranjepan said...

It's more likely that there would be a Labour-Conservative grand coalition, especially if this created splinter groups so that the opposition bloc numbered over 150.

But if Brown can hold together a minority administration with the help of the SNP, PC and the DUP this may be his preference.

Darrell G said...


I think a 'Grand coalition' is unlikely to be honest; mostly because of the rancour between the two leaders. For that to happen Brown would almost certainly have to go....

It maybe but the math wouldnt work in his favour in the Smithson scenario....

Oranjepan said...

And if the tories were to remain in opposition if he didn't swallow his pride?

Another term in opposition would have dramatic consequences either for the leader or for party unity, so either way it's this time or never for Cameron.

Darrell G said...


The seering contempt the two hold each other in (which I do not think is just for show) almost melts my laptop screen during PMQ's - I think both Cameron and Brown would rather do a deal with us and chuck us some policy bones than do a deal with each other....

Oranjepan said...

And don't we have a say in this?

I'm sure we wouldn't rule out brokering a deal with any party, but we would set stringent terms for any deal.

So this is where we have to calculate how the balance of our party and national interests are best served - do we demand Nick Clegg as Home Secretary with Vince Cable as Chancellor, together with guarantees on electoral reform, constitutional reform, tax reform, ID cards, nuclear, the Euro - how high do we set the bargain?

Or are our more radical longer term aims better served by setting a price beyond that which either Brown or Cameron would reasonably accept?

Grand coalitions are notoriously unstable, so would there be a quick election from when we would expect to make massive gains? How would we perform as the official opposition in such a period of Grand Coalition'? Would we be looking to be the second largest or largest party at that point?

Nick Clegg is experienced at negotiations and all negotiators know that the only way to guarantees a successful result is to enter them is from a position of strength.

So all options are on the table. We can't be unprepared for the contingency.

Darrell G said...


Of course we do that is what this post is about. Controversially I am not too bothered about what postings we would get in a coalition Cabinet though I am sure the individuals concerned probably are.

In terms of how high the answer is 'high as possible' in terms of policy. In terms of your questions the simple answer is we would make it clear that while we are part of the government we still hold it as our responsibility to hold it to account (hence me not being too bothered if frankly none of our team were in a Cabinet and thus hamstrung by collective responsibility).

Bearing in mind the economic situation as it stands means the next government is probably going to have to make itself horribly unpopular relatively quickly there would be a danger in being too close.

Letters From A Tory said...

The Lib Dems could destroy Labour in a hung parliament.

Clegg would never side with Labour because he is clearly to the right of the Lib Dems. The only question is whether he could see eye-to-eye with Cameron on enough issues to enter into a coalition.

Personally, I suspect that a coalition would never happen and the Conservatives and Lib Dems would rejoice in paralysing Labour in a hung parliament.

Darrell G said...


Hmmm possibly but you do have to bear in mind this is broad-church party and setting out to destroy one party or the other isnt really a choice.

I dont think thats the case at all Letters; I think if you stack-up the rhetoric then you may have a case; but if you look at the policy then that it becomes not as clear-cut. Even some of the rhetoric doesnt support your have missed the fact that we are calling for targeted tax cuts (which could mean tax rises for some) not tax cuts across the board. As I said its really not about seeing eye-to-eye it's what Cameron would give us that matters most...

We will just have to wait and see hey :)

Oranjepan said...

here's a good game: look at all the potential coalition possibilities and compare the prospective members of a cabinet in each government.

The simple fact is that we have the greater talent pool.

jim said...

If Labour lose this amount of seats at the general election I would imagine Brown would go and probably fairly quickly. If we had a situation where Brown tried to cling on to office and/or the leadership of Labour party we should not touch it with a barge pole.

More generally, the situation we've seen in New Zealand in the last 10 years would be the most likely in a UK hung-parliament, i.e. letting either Labour or the Tories form a government whilst extract some (probably fairly minor) policy concessions in return for a promise for us to vote with them on things such as the budget, the queen's speech, and motions of confidence, to guarentee stablity.

Whilst the price of this would probably not involve electoral reform, it would enable us to block such a government if they try and do things we think are not in the national interest.

Darrell G said...


My position on Cabinet posts has nothing to do with the relative merit of our team and everything to do with political positioning and posture...


Minor policy concessions wont cut the mustard to my mind a) because there wouldnt be enough to please whichever side of the party was dissappointed with our choice of partner and b) because stipulating it as a price for a colation is probably our only realistic chance of ever getting at least a referendum on electoral reform...

asquith said...

A Labour/LD arrangement would be a disaster & I for one would vote Conservative to unseat it from government.

I'd actually rather see a deal with Camoron. At least he isn't tainted with the last 11 years & might just provide a very slightly more liberal thinking. If he were in government alone, there'd be a lot for the LDs to criticise, & I personally would be opposing him most of the time.

A change of face would achieve nothing to make Labour more liberal & policy compromises would be reneged upon whenever they felt able to get away with it. Have you forgotten the pre-1997 courtship?

Is the faultline between us, which first made itself known over David Davis, going to resurface? ;)

Darrell G said...


I dont see why it should because i've made it quite clear here I would accept a deal with Cameron if we got the right concessions so you may well find me in your camp arguing it's case...

Of course you may not but I dont take an ideological approach to this question. I wouldnt say at this stage it should be ruled out or ruled in; where as to be honest you are ruling Labour out. What if Labour offer us more policy wise??

asquith said...

Well, I'd rather you didn't say "us" as I'm not part of the LDs in any real sense, as much as I prefer them to what else is on "offer" in most things. :)

A scenario could be imagined in which a minority Tory government relied on LD votes to get its legislation through, but the LDs kept their independence from the government. That is in many respects my ideal, as I prefer the Tory stance on some issues, such as the EU. But it would all depend.

I recognise you're prepared to make great compromises & are not fixated on ideology: I apologise for seeming to say otherwise (that was just poor use of language from me). But I think you see some vague hope in Labour whereas I don't, not without a long spell in opposition, a hard re-think & a change of personnel.

I'd want Purnell, Hutton, Flint, Hoon & how many others out before I'd even begin to talk to Labour. There'd be no one left! As I said, Labour have posed as liberal before, but I think since the SDP defection there have been few if any genuine liberals in Labour.

Darrell G said...


Sorry, noted :).

The scenario where the LD's keep as much independence from government is the best one to my mind to be honest because I think a too close association would be hugely damaging.

In terms of 'hopes in Labour' maybe you are right to a degree and are probably right there is no hope; but being in a scenario where power was at stake may focus minds. In terms of the psychological trauma it would inflict on a party so used to power it is possible LP thinking could go in all kinds of weird and wonderful directions so anything becomes possible.

Realistically, as is the basic thrust of this post, we could not demand personell changes (which may happen as a result of the above) in either case. If we could i'd want rid of Cameron who I happen to think is a bit too opportunist for my personal liking but the reality is it's all about the policy....

Oranjepan said...

a concern about positioning really depends on you having taken up a position prior to being able to take a view on it.
I prefer to look at policies on their merit - whether they meet certain criteria, whether they cohere and how sustainable they are.

add to that list Jacqui Smith, Balls & Cooper, Miliband, Straw, Blears, Jowell and Mandelson.
I concede that they each have their abilities, but I won't comment on where I think they lie.

asquith said...

Oranjepan, with the exception of Mandelson none of them have personally offended me, though I don't carry a torch for one of them, or any other senior Labour figure.

The list was of the ones I most hate on a personal level because of their illiberalism :)

I don't think asking for Cameron's head would be appropriate even if it could be done. I think he has more substance than you allow. His views aren't mine, but he seems a stronger charachter than many believe.

Oranjepan said...

Jacqui Smith!!!???!!!???

I refuse to believe anyone can think she's even ok.

asquith said...

I do dislike her, just not as much as the ones I named. The personal element isn't there.

Hutton vilified people on benefits, then lectured us on how we should "celebrate" City boys etc, just before they were discredited.

Flint wants to persecute council tenants, yet refuses to countenance serious building of social housing.

Purnell is inexcusable, & you can add Phil Woolas to the list.

Smith has not personally offended me in such a way, but if you point to some outrages she has committed along the lines described above then you might convince me :)

Oranjepan said...

Jacqui Smith: 42 days, ID cards. Nuff said.

asquith said...

Yes, but were either of them her schemes? I associate ID cards with Blunkett & Howard, & 42 days with no specific individual. Of course I might be getting it wrong :)

Oranjepan said...

Smith is responsible for the content and publication of the white paper on the secondary legislation for ID cards. She has done nothing to soften the proposals.

Smith was one of the strongest advocates for lengthening the period of detention without charge and takes every opportunity to argue for increase police powers (even in the wake of the Damien Green affair).

She also however thinks that the police are overpaid for their privilege of shooting innocent passengers of public transport with impunity.

Darrell G said...


Well you have your opinion and I have mine which is fair enough :). I think the list you could write rather illustrates my point about where Smithson is wrong though...