Labour – take this seriously.

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.

48 Responses to “Labour – take this seriously.”

  1. duncanseconomicblog

    This is my great worry to. Electoral pacts risk changing the arthmetic.

    1929, Labour share of the vote 37.1%, seats won 287 and a minority government formed.

    1935 (against a coalition) , Labour share of the vote 38%, seats won – only 154.

    Things wouldn’t be so drastic in 2015, but it is perfectly possibe to imagine Labour’s share of the vote going up, but seats won going down (even ignoring the 50 seat reduction).

  2. CS Clark

    Hmm. I think there’s a short term/long term thing here. If Labour is going to have a real chance to win or be the largest party at the next election, breaking up such a pact would be in its interests. But if the maths is pointing to a revival at best, and Labour is looking to 2020 (!?) compromises could be costly.

    Other points to note – surely the Lib Dems of all people can split into more than one party. They’re only hanging on by their fingertips to being able to claim that their influence is a positive one. And if the cut in seats goes ahead isn’t that going to reduce the number of incumbents that can be left alone? A Tory and a Lib Dem fighting over a safe Coalition seat – I’m reminded of that scene in The Dark Knight with the broken pool cue.

  3. JackNight

    Given time, I do believe that this coalition will address the West Lothian question as another strategic consolidation. Whatever solutions may or may not be in Scotland then become rather less relevant in the grand scheme of things.

  4. David

    I can’t bring myself to get too worried about the possibility of permanent tory lib-dem alliance. The only part of the lib-dems that would really support this is the small state free traders currently in the ascendancy in the party, but they don’t really account for a large part of the lib dem vote at the last election. The key question is whether labour can build a winning alliance containing core labour vote, some left lib dem discontented, and some middle of the road floating voters (best scenario). I’m not sure that’s down to what the coalition does, as to what labour manages to do.

    • bert

      “….some middle of the road floating voters..”

      Lol I had to chuckle at this. These are the most crucial demographic for any party to get a majority – Tony Blair understood that, I’m now more certain than ever that the majority of Labour now do not understand that.

      Ed Miliband has no idea how to even present an opposition, let alone an alternative government. His rank opportunism this last week has been disgusting.

  5. BenM


    these are the most crucial demographic for any party to get a majority … I’m now more certain that Labour do not understand that

    What was Cameron’s excuse then seeing as he failed miserably to get a majority?

    Being vastly out of touch – a bit like yourself perchance?!

    • bert

      Well, he didn’t go round bragging that he was a socialist. I mean, that’s really going to attract southern English voters, isn’t? Don’t assume because I detest Labour with every fibre of my being that I am automatically a big fan of Cameron, either – I am not. The Tories’ election campaign was lamentable. Saying that, Pol Pot would have been a thousand per cent improvement on the disgusting Brown.

      I mean, what lunatic party would jettison it’s one and only electoral tour de force, and then replace him with an idiot savant – and then tie themselves to him to the bitter end? Clever lot, those Labour chaps.

      And let’s no forget the hugely forgiving electoral system that gives Labour grossly disproportionate seat numbers. You lot should have been wiped out on 29%.

      Out of touch? Labour have been that for the last five years – and continue to be so under the pathetic “leadership” of lisping Red Ed Miliband.

      • ian butler

        I think that you need to lose the invective. Would Pol Pot would really be better as a leader? What are you politics? if you are not a Tory and describing Blair as a Tour de force and Brown as an Idiot savant indicates to me that you have no idea of the damage that Blair has done to the left in general and Labour in particular. Yes we had 13 years in power but squandered it by lurching to the right and genuflecting before the city rather than expanding their base and moving the country forward. They certainly lost my membership. So Bert can you talk politics without abuse? Dare yah.

  6. Alan Ji

    Labour needs to win at least 68 seats at the next General Election. 9 held by Liberal Democrats, 3 by nationalists, 1 by a Green and 55 by Conservatives, of course
    Quite a few never electeda Labour MPs before 1997.
    But I’m struck by two that have never elected Labour MPs before.
    4.1% swing to win Edinburgh West
    4.4% swing to win Argyll and Bute
    Too right findiing the answers startsin Scotland.

    • bert

      Alan, with respect, I don’t think you can extrapolate voting swings/intentions in Labour’s client heartlands, to the south of England. If Ian Huntley was Labour leader, the Scots would still vote for them.

      They have a Labour gene implanted in them at birth.

      • Alan Ji

        Bert the expression “Client Heartlands” is extremely rude.

        I’m only too aware that most of the seats Labour needs to win, like most of those lost this year, are prosperous small towns in England. A Labour Party that can’t win in Norwich, Swindon, Brighton and the Medway towns is a Labour Party that can’t win.

        One feature is this year’s election was the 6 seats Labour held that never elected a Labour MP before 1997. They are all big-city suburbs. In Wirral South the majority of houses are detached.

      • Richard Manns

        I’d have personally assumed that saying Iain Huntley would get Labour votes was ruder than Labour genes…

        Anyhow, there are quite simple demographic reasons for the “6 seats” Labour kept from their surprise wins in 1997.

        Wealthier people move out of the mid-suburbs, and Labour people move out from the inner cities into the mid-suburbs.

        This is well-established. This is why expansions of the area of London’s GLA and its predecessors were done by Tories, because as London expanded, and the boundaries didn’t, all the people inside became Labour. This is why boundary size equalisation would wipe out so many Labour MPs, and not Tories, because Labour holds many inner city seats where no-one lives any more, whilst there are many more people in the Tory-held commuter towns.

        This is part of the reason why Labour has such an advantage in seat distribution (they got less of the total votes than the Tories did 1997, and the Tories got more of the total in 2010 than Labour did in 2005).

        And as for Wirral South, how many are dependent upon the State for their employment? This might be a defining factor.

      • Edward Carlsson Browne

        Bert, shall we try some basic reading comprehension?

        “But I’m struck by two that have never elected Labour MPs before.
        4.1% swing to win Edinburgh West
        4.4% swing to win Argyll and Bute”

        How exactly does this square with the idea that all of Scotland is a Labour heartland that votes socialist on genetic grounds? I enjoy the bile, but I think you may have got carried away with it this time.

  7. Richard Manns

    I find it fascinating how few LibDem MPs seem to have read their political histories.

    Back when the Coalition was formed, I was warning half-jokingly of the Coupon Election of 1918 that left Lloyd-George as a man without a party, the last time Liberals were in government.

    Now the LibDem MPs are so regimentedly following in their forebears’ footsteps, right up to their former leaders in rebellion (Menzies Campbell apes Asquith admirably) and the fault-line between the economic liberals (free-marketeers of 1919) and the Beveridges is creepily familiar too.

    Will it all end in tears? Because, with a serious electoral fault-line developing (ergo those LDs who see more capital in claiming joint glory for the Coalition’s successes, vs. those who wish to purge themselves of Tory association), the differences between the LibDems my grow greater than those between the 2 groups and the 2 bigger parties.

  8. snowflake5

    The big question is how the voters in the South West react. Voters hate the idea of not having any choice at all (it’s why they hate talk of parties being “finished”).

    What Labour should do is send in a team into the south-west and see if they can campaign for some council seats. Once we’ve established a foothold, then we become the alternative to the Con-Dem monolith.

    This is something Plymouth and Exeter CLPs should be looking at, but they are probably overstretched. Why don’t you organise something Hopi, if you’ve got spare time? Arrange for volunteers to go to the south-west to help?

    • snowflake5

      P.S. Wasn’t Billy Bragg involved in politics down Somerset way? I recall him organising the tactical vote in 1997. Send him an email and ask him if he wants to get involved in a new project, which is winning as many council seats as possible. I wouldn’t wait for someone in Labour’s hierarchy to decide on the strategy. Just contact the local CLPs and volunteer your services, and target LibDem wards.

      • Brian Hughes

        Shifting incumbent LD councillors has proved very difficult. It’ll be interesting to see if their party being in government makes any difference, in the past they’ve always been able to rail against Westminster whoever’s been in charge. Our recent by-election didn’t produce an encouraging result, the LD vote held up.

        I know it’s fashionable to mock their leaflets but they are very effective. I be prepared to place a small wager that voters are more likely to know the name of their councillor if he/she’s a LD. So they build up a loyal following for themselves rather than their party. Just as well because lots of them in my experience aren’t very loyal Lib Dems and often know little of their party’s policies. If our electoral system permitted it, many might be independents.

        So it won’t be easy….

      • Newmania

        Lives in Dorset , where else would you go if you are a life time advocate of mul-ee-kulturlizm

      • Gilliebc

        I was born and brought up in the South West, Devon to be more precise. At the moment I really can’t see Devon going Labour in any way that would make any difference in terms of MP’s It was quite a shock to most people when Exeter went Labour, but Ben Bradshaw is a good constituency MP. Hence the fact he was returned again in May. However, things are changing down here, in that a lot of familes are moving down here from the North and the Midlands, there is a huge new town being built on the outskirts of Exeter (god help us). Plymouth has always been slightly more Labour inclined. But, Plymouth has some very rough areas.
        I’ve just realised something. If, in the very unlikely event that Labour should gain much of a foot-hold down here in terms of council seats or MP’s I think I would have to leave Devon. I believe if someone were to ask ordinary middle of the road type people whether they would prefer to live in a Labour run neighbourhood with a Labour run council and Labour MP as opposed to a Tory controlled area, most of these people would, and do, opt for the latter option.
        I’m not a racist, never have been. I believe racism is pure evil.
        When Labour were in power they certainly let in far too many people from other countries. That strikes me as gerrymandering on a massive scale. And because it was a Labour Government that
        allowed these people in, I’m guessing that most of them would feel
        honour-bound and indebted to vote Labour. Which I suppose was the point of the plan. Manipulative or what?

        @ Hopi, sorry to use your estimable Website for my Left V Right, mid-life crisis !

  9. roger alexander

    After being in Coalition together for 5 years some sort of 2015 GE deal is probably a near certainty.
    Add to that:
    -Equalised constituency sizes.
    -50 less MP’s with Labour heartlands of Scotland & Wales taking the biggest hits.
    -Latest polls showing that the AV vote may go through.
    -A £50,000 cap on trade union donations
    -Long overdue action on the WLQ

    Labour have a mountain to climb.

  10. Matthew

    AV will be a big factor, no? With AV Tories and Lib Dems can recommend each other as 2nd preference, which essentially in many seats allows vote to be combined.

    • CS Clark

      Again, I think that makes supporting AV a not so good in the short term, better in the long term proposition. For 2015, when the Lib Dems still have some kind of vestigial existence, it might still count as a merger of two votes. After that, they would be seen as Tory Snickers. Meanwhile, a lot of good will will be lost if Labour as a pary actively campaign against it.

      Incidentally, I think its impact depends on the type of AV – if they use strict preferential voting, and don’t count a vote unless it ranks all candidates in order of preference (ugh, having to rank all the lower rankers) that’ll be more to the benefit of an alliance than an optional preference system.

  11. Newmania

    What about Europe , immigration , marriage , anti Americanism and the fact the Lib Dems represent more Public Sector Payroll, than New Labour proportionately .What about tax what about having to listen to their crapulous sanctimony ? I am not convinced
    Hopi what do you mean by Scotland and did you not applaud Ed`s pledge not to support Nick Clegg personally under any circumstances ?
    Answer- Yes you did , sod Clegg you said , there is no spoon long enough to sup with Clegg , you said , you were quite definite about it .

  12. Brian Hughes

    Another thought. The French, as so often, are ahead of us. Their UMP is essentially a merger between conservatives and liberals.

    Doing pretty well at present despite the nation’s penchant for, v stylish natch, street protests. But their left is even more fractured than ours so there’s not much real competition.

  13. roger alexander

    ‘I suspect finding the answer begins in Scotland’

    Gordon Brown to make a comeback?

    • bert

      Maybe they’ll try to synthesize and reproduce the Labour gene that all Jocks are born with, and try to introduce it to the South. Meanwhile, where on earth is Sen? A momentous vote yesterday, the rabble of the SS (Socialist Students), NUS, anti-capitalists, anarchists, and other left wing special interest groups – trashing London…and not a peep from Sen.

      Come to think of it, not a squeak from Lisping Ed either.

      Their silence is deafening.

  14. Jeremy Robert Poynton

    “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.”

    Look – bar the very odd constituency, usually in Bristol, we don’t vote Labour down here. We may be bumpkins, but we are no idiots. Labour is no friend of the countryside – and if you look at various capitation listings, most especially education, you will see that we are constantly punished for not voting Labour. OK, it’s not a formal coalition, but you might say that for the voters it is.

    Where we live in Somerset, we didn’t get a single election leaflet or visit from Labour. Good job, or we’d have chased him down the street…

    It is also worth noting that when the West Lothian question is sorted out, as our Lib Dem MP assures me it will be, Labour will be dead in the water in England, and confined only to Welfareville.

    Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio — you’ll all have to bugger off to the Scottish Socialist Paradise. won’t you?

  15. Jeremy Robert Poynton


    Bragg? Yes. The Champagne Socialist has a £1 million house in Weymouth.

  16. bert

    “I believe if someone were to ask ordinary middle of the road type people whether they would prefer to live in a Labour run neighbourhood with a Labour run council and Labour MP as opposed to a Tory controlled area, most of these people would, and do, opt for the latter option.”

    This is so true. You don’t hear of many people aspiring to move to Tyneside, or huge parts of the West Midlands, or any number of client Labour areas. Why would they? Higher crime, unemployment, teenage pregnancies, educational under achievement, etc, etc. In some Labour controlled areas, life expectancy is lower than what it was in ancient Rome.

    Yet, the same people dutifuly go to the polls and put their cross against “Labour”. When a government comes in to try and shake things up – and make real, long term changes – the very same people assume the culture of “victimhood” and say they are being prejudiced against.

    Labour governments do not enrich societies – they retard them.

    • BenM


      Instead of proving yourself to be a bit of a reactionary buffoon, I’d like you to back up the statement: “In some Labour controlled areas, life expectancy is lower than what it was in ancient Rome”.

      Note that most negative social indicators make a steep rise when the Tories are in power: unemployment, illiteracy, teen pregnancy rates, crime. The Tories hold the record in all of these.

      This is not a surprise. To build a functioning society you have to invest in it. Investing means spending money. There is no fantasy “reform” of any worth that does not involve money spent on the ground, no matter what the blinkered Right might like to think.

      In fact cheapskate, ill-thought out Tory policies usually end up making things a whole lot worse.

    • Edward Carlsson Browne

      Have you ever lived in rural Essex? I did, for more than a decade and a half. Believe me, Labour has no monopoly on backwardness, on ignorance, on lack of opportunity, on social disintegration, on what I can only describe as barbarism (if more of the illiteracy variety than the Attila the Hun sort).

      And I say that as somebody who quite likes my home village.

    • Brian Hughes

      Très drôle, but you make a good point.

      Down here in the SW, some of Labour’s older (and possibly wiser) heads mutter that bashing the LDs amounts to “doing the Tories’ dirty work for them”.

  17. Blue Canary

    I’m not convinced that the future of the Coalition lies entirely in the hands of the strategists. Both the LDs and the Tories are going to have to campaign at the next General Election on the back of the performance of the Coalition Government. If it’s performed well (or been lucky) then it would be entirely reasonable for them both to emphasise how well they’ve worked together. If it’s not done well (or been unlucky) then you’d expect them to blame each other and emphasise the differences between them.
    Labour will need a strategy for both scenarios.

  18. Alan Ji

    Richard Manns @ December 11, 2010 at 11:15 am

    I think you’ll find that as almost everybody that can afford to buys a house, safe Tory seats become safer but fewer (you know; those quaint places where villages have no street lights) whereas more and more suburban seats have modest but solid Labour majorities.

    Welcome to the property-owning democracy. Not what its early advocates hoped for.

    That’s why the gerrymander bill isn’t going to work. I’m so looking forward to all the 2011 and 2012 elections.

    • Richard Manns

      @ Alan Ji, December 11, 2010 at 9:29 pm

      I do not want any political system that imparts a consistent bias for a particular party, as many Tories, e.g. the sole Tory MSP in 1999, would agree. The concept of supporting a voting system (FPTP in Scotland) that would, incidentally, harm your own chances of re-election was laughed at by Labour MSPs, I recall, illustrating their group incomprehension of principle of good, stable government over personal or party-political gain.

      This chasm in attitude is illustrated by polls of MPs, showing Labour MPs to consistently rank as tribal and most likely to believe that the opposition were inherently evil. Your juxtaposition of “gerrymandering” to describe equalisation not in your favour, coupled with gleeful gloating in the expectation of further bias in the future, shows you to be a minor member of the left-wing tribalist attitude.

      I treasure my non-tribalist left-wing friends, who provide stimulating debate and discussion. They are, unfortunately, so rare in your neck of the woods.

      • Alan Ji

        Richard Manns
        December 11, 2010 at 11:15 am

        ” boundary size equalisation would wipe out so many Labour MPs, and not Tories, because Labour holds many inner city seats where no-one lives any more, whilst there are many more people in the Tory-held commuter towns.”

        You’ve not at all understood my point (which is not the same as disagreeing), and your thinking is stuck in the 1950s. In 1945 Labour won some suburban London seats that did not vote Labour in 1966.

        The lines on the map do not produce (much) bias in the system. The changing pattern of a larger proportion of the whole nation’s Tory voters living in safe Tory seats is the Tories problem. That is not going away.

        Redrawing the boundaries more often, taking out the locoal public inquires that are older than one-adult-one vote elections and changing the size of Parliament will not change that demographic pattern.

        In bad years for Labour, a smaller Parliament might rub out some of the islated red dots. But in good years for Labour it might increase them and rub out more of the isolated blue or yellow dots.

        The current constituencies are no more out of even that any previous set. It’s just that they were a bit older when they were first used.

  19. Robert

    Not that much new here Hopi.

    The Tories and LD’s have had a non-agression pact in Brum since they formed a coalition council in 2004. Possibly informal, but you don’t see any real campaign effort against the other on each other’s turf.

  20. Gilliebc

    @ Hopi – Where are you ? Hope you didn’t get caught up in the students demo. on Thursday. Or, perhaps that pesky neighbour of yours has rendered everyone in your building homeless, by torching it or flooding it. Most of us are waiting to hear your take on the tuition fees and what the students got up to on Thursday. What I don’t get about that is when Labour first introduced tuition fees in 1998, I think it was, there were no protests, i.e. students taking to the streets. So why is it then when the Coalition Government increases the fees, the students go mad! I suspect if Labour had been returned to Government in May, they would have to have done exactly the same.

  21. Gilliebc

    @ Hopi – I see you are still tweeting ( I should have checked that out before writing my previous post) so you are okay, that good.
    BTW Who is Austen Chamberlain ? I’ve heard of Neville Chamberlain, but not of Austen Chamberlain. Maybe, Austen was Neville’s lesser known brother or something?

  22. roger alexander

    Is anyone aware of the excuse given by the muslim scum responsible for bombing peace loving Sweden?

  23. Darrell

    Please, please let this happen….it would be the perfect Christmas present. Hopi, you underestimate the level of resistance this would meet in the Conservative Party especially. The right is on the march and they are already pretty hacked-off and wanting rid of the Lib Dems and the Cameroons…..this would give them the perfect excuse to get rid of both. If this happens then it will destroy both our opponents in the long-run so please, let it be true….

  24. John O'Shea

    Both the LibDems and the Tories deny any electoral pact in Birmingham, although it is interesting that in almost all council seats, the only serious activity comes from the side best placed to beat Labour. Labour is the only party with a significant vote in almost all of the 40 seats in Birmingham.

    An electoral pact of the nature that Hopi describes is exactly what I expect and what I fear most – it is devastatingly effective in focussing the attack on Labour and hoovering up the anti-Labour votes for what is effectively a single party. However, there are a couple of other considerations.

    What may save us is the fact that the electorate may not appreciate being corralled on a parliamentary basis. Media coverage of national politics is very different to coverage of local politics, where virtually all of what most people hear about their council is filtered through their local representatives – there is little coverage on the local TV stations and the press doesn’t have the coverage it once did. I suspect that it will be much harder to deliver a national message that encourages Lib Dems to vote Tory and vice versa.

    If it can be made to work, then Labour is in serious trouble and will struggle to transform a national poll lead into a winning position, but remember that the informal non-aggression pact in Birmingham is the only way that the Tories and the Liberals could run the council – they each hold seats that the other side has little chance of ever taking. That isn’t the case on a parliamentary scale – it will be virtually impossible to stop some of the marginal Lib Dem/Tory seats turning blue without virtually withdrawing candidates, which would raise more questions that it would solve. The Tories could potentially win a majority almost by default.

    However, if the polls remain in a similar state, with the Liberal Democrats facing major reverses in the local elections between 2011 and 2015 and the Tory vote largely holding up, then the temptation for the Tories to cast aside the deadweight of their Liberal Democrat friends and push for an outright win could be irresistible. Would the backbenchers already uneasy with concessions to the Liberal Democrats be willing to let Cameron stick with the Coalition? I suspect not.

    If things improve for the Coalition, then the Tories will want to push for their own majority, but if the situation remains challenging over the next five years, then the lifebelt of assuring continued government through coalition will prove a strong pull.

  25. scandalousbill

    Perhaps an interesting sub topic would be if the coalition will see out the full five years. The tuition fee divide could merely points out one schism in a marriage of convenience. While I would not expect the Tory right to manifestly sabotage Cameron, Clegg and Cableco could well face a leadership challenge as the cuts take hold. Their pre-election position vis a vis current coalition austerity policies could well haunt them in the near future if the Maycouncil elections go sour and if the optimistic growth projections from the OBR fail to materialize.

  26. JAnthony

    There would definitely be support in the Tory party for anything which both undermines the LibDems (by alienating their SDP wing) and gives us a better chance at long-term government. Most are impressed by the positions Clegg and Alexander have taken and would be very happy for Laws to be brought back; they’d probably prefer Laws to Ken Clarke, if it came down to it. For the Cameroons, you also have the benefit of marginalising the headbangers on the right.

    As you’ll have seen from ConHome opposition to the coalitionists, though, it would be very difficult for the leadership to organise a formal deal. As you say, an informal deal, minimising central support and funding for certain seats, might be possible, plus perhaps more formal support for LibDem ministers. Conservatives in Sheffield Hallam could easily be persuaded not to stand against the Deputy Prime Minister, and there are 12,000 Tory votes which could go a long way to neutralising a student backlash.

  27. Semi Trailer

    Whatever solutions may or may not be in Scotland then become rather less relevant in the grand scheme of things. The right is on the march and they are already pretty hacked-off and wanting rid of the Lib Dems and the Cameroons…..this would give them the perfect excuse to get rid of both.


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