Monday, May 10, 2010

Brown goes – is the progressive coalition now on?

With the dramatic announcement that Gordon Brown has called upon the Labour Party to initiate a leadership contest that he won’t be taking part in, the political landscape has suddenly been turned upside down. As, Terry Pratchett wrote in ‘The Fifth Elephant’, “And suddenly the world was tap-dancing on quicksand. In that case, the prize went to the best dancer.” Given how fast-moving the situation is now, the big question is, who is the best dancer?

It was clear from an early stage that whilst many Liberal Democrats favoured a deal with Labour, the idea of leaving Gordon Brown in 10 Downing Street was unthinkable. To be blunt, he isn’t collegiate, he isn’t consensual, he’s a bit of a control freak. In short, he rubs liberals up the wrong way.

So, what happens now? Is it possible to negotiate terms with a political party without an effective head, and what will that party look like after a leadership contest?

I’m guessing that I’ll be seeing rather less of my wife than I might have hoped…


Jay Sharma said...

Here's a way for you to see rather more of your wife.

It is for the party to walk away from both unworthy suitors, paying heed to the injunction "marry in haste, repent at leisure" for one is the Devil and the other the Deep Blue Sea.

Let me explain my thinking.

Brown’s protracted resignation, coming some days after the election, seems on the face of it, a game changer.

This is Labour improvisation on a discredited theme, with death bed conversion to the electoral/political reform that only days before, they were dismissing.

Furthermore, we also have fundamental disagreements with Labour on a whole host of issues dear to our hearts, including civil liberties.

We must remain sceptical of Labour, and not just because the numbers simply don’t add up.

Lib Dems are in danger of being seen as ‘playing politics’ with ‘national and economic stability’ by those not well disposed towards us. I see a coalition with either the Tories or Labour as being a poisoned chalice.

Time has moved on, and even without Brown’s announcement, the game has changed. We already look foolish for wanting more detail from the Tories on key policies at this stage. Is that just playing for time? Or are we looking for a deal breaker?

Surely, those are matters to be sorted out at Green/White Paper stage – and if not to our liking, we can simply vote down.

We need to seize the timetable and make the running. What I would like the Lib Dems to do is to offer the Tories limited co-operation – the Queen’s Speech and the economy being priorities and in return, the promise of a referendum within 2 years on electoral/political reform.

Why the Tories? Just because they won the most votes and seats and have more of a mandate than do Labour. It is a bitter pill to swallow, but swallow we must. But our deep felt aversion to aspects of Tory philosophy and practice endangers our very soul. Hence, my preference for limited co-operation and not a coalition.

This may be throwing away the best prospects of ‘real’ power for a generation. But we would come away with integrity and considerable goodwill of the electorate for not acting in purely party political interests.

And we would keep the party together, in good spirits and proud that we walked away from both the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea!

Mark Valladares said...


The evidence is that a deal with the Conservatives would be very difficult to sell to activists and members. If Liberal Democrat Voice is to be believed, 80% of members believe that PR is a deal breaker.

On the other hand, Labour are apparently offering legislation to introduce AV, with a process to make further changes subject to a referendum. It would have to come as part of a package which would produce a stable government for a fixed period, but it looks like a better deal, stability of governance and radical reform of our politics.

But there is still a long way to go yet, and the situation is extremely fluid. We can only wait and see...