Chatter about an extended coalition is real. Labour should take it seriously, or face a decade in opposition.
In the middle of tumult about tuition, why does Ben Brogan produce an article about an extended coalition? Mr Brogan is an excellent journalist, and also one who is capable of reproducing the thoughts of senior people in order to get access to important stories first. When someone with that combination of qualities speaks, run the cui bono test and have a think.
Here’s my take. The Tory high command have a feeling that a long term deal with the lib Dems would be a strategically smart move. Some sort of coupon or non-aggression pact would allow them to focus resources against Labour marginals only, effectively turning much of the south-west into safe coalition territory.
It would prevent the threat of a FDP style lib-dem defection, and might even lead to a Tory majority at the next general election, turning the Lib Dem leadership in a National Liberal style accessory to government, rather than a full coalition partner. At the same time, it would mean the government going into the election with a pretty secure 84 seat majority.
All of these are powerful Tory arguments for a longer term deal. Trouble is, how to sell it to their own backbenchers and to the Lib Dems. So note how rightist Jacob Rees-Mogg is lauded for suggesting coalitionplus. Remember, Rees-Mogg’s sister fought a hard battle against the Lib Dems in Somerton and Frome.
When it comes to the Lib Dems, I think there’s a good argument that the optimum time to quietly put the offer on the table is now. The Lib Dems are under enormous pressure, facing severe criticism internally, they are being crucified by Labour MPs in public, and recieving quiet, solid support from their conservative partners.
It’s possiblel that after the 2011 or 2012 elections, which will likely be bad for the Lib Dems, even those most nervous about the political consequences of coalition will look to the next election with apprehension. When that fear is at it’s greatest, the Conservatives can offer to make it go away.
I remain of the view that a formal pact is unlikely. The Lib-Dem leadership would be damaged by it. But an informal pact? Little activity in respective seats, no attacks on each others record, a defence of joint achievements, a co-ordinated assault on Labour. That I can imagine.
So how does Labour position itself to prevent such an alliance?
I suspect finding the answer begins in Scotland.