A rainbow coalition?


After Gordon Brown’s resignation yesterday, the possibility of a “progressive coalition government” is back on the cards. Formal negotiations between Labour and Lib Dem are now taking place, the Green party appear to be supportive, and so do the Scottish and Welsh nationalists. But if it comes to pass, how should it govern in the national interest? And what alternatives are there for progressive collaboration?

Rainbow-300x200Left Foot Forward has long argued that Britain has a progressive majority. Paradoxically by winning a bigger than expected majority in 1997, new Labour failed to take its opportunity to realign British politics. But there is now an opportunity for that realignment to take place.

Although 56 per cent of Brits voted for progressive parties in last Thursday’s election, the parliamentary arithmetic is tight. Since Sinn Fein will not take their parliamentary seats, a threshold of 323 rather than 326 is required for a governing majority. Labour plus Lib Dem delivers 315. They would therefore need to rely on the support of some combination of SNP (6 seats), Plaid Cymru (3), SDLP (3), the Alliance party (1), and Green party (1) to reach a majority. It might look unstable but as Polly Toynbee notes, “It would be in none of their like-minded interests to bring down this coalition government.”

So what should a rainbow coalition government do in practice?

1. Focus on the two key objectives: (1) a Comprehensive Spending Review that focuses on securing the recovery, sustains public spending in 2010-11, and protects the most vulnerable from the necessary cuts and tax rises after 2011; and (2) a Great Reform Act including a referendum on electoral reform (giving the public a choice of options), fixed term parliaments, a fully elected House of Lords, and a new approach to localism.

2. It should be time limited (perhaps to two years) with a clear commitment that parliament will be dissolved once the electoral reform referendum passes or falls.

3. It should make clear that necessary spending cuts after 2011 will fall fairly across the UK.

All that said, the choreography and compromise required could bring the whole house rapidly crashing down and end in a vote of no confidence, subsequent election, and punishment at the polls with the Tories gaining the 2 per cent swing needed for an overall majority. A number of Labour figures including John Reid, David Blunkett, and Tom Harris have already been clear about the resistance inside the Parliamentary Labour Party.

An alternative way ahead for progressives is this:

1. The Liberal Democrats offer the Conservative party “supply and confidence” on certain legislative measures contained in both manifestos such as schools’ reform, localism, and measures to address climate change. Nonetheless, they turn down seats in the Cabinet due to fundamental philosophical differences over economic policy (Keynesianism vs. laissez faire) and foreign policy (multilateralism vs. isolationism).

2. Labour elects a new leader by conference Labour engages constructively and seeks to amend legislation rather than acting as a systematic block.

3. Labour, Liberal Democrats, and smaller parties present a united front during the Emergency Budget opposing all additional cuts in 2010-11, the cut in the planned rise in National Insurance, and seek the protection of key front-line public services.

4. At the point that David Cameron overplays his hand (perhaps with legislation on an immigration cap), all progressive parties join forces to provoke a vote of no confidence and a second election. Progressive parties include in their manifestos a commitment to a referendum on electoral reform if re-elected.

5. Labour announces that it will stand aside in 60 Tory-Lib Dem marginal seats. In return, the Liberal Democrats announce that they will give Labour a free run in 30 seats where they are in third place or below.

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  • http://twitter.com/polleetickle/status/13779195007 polleetickle

    @leftfootfwd A rainbow coalition? http://bit.ly/ctFp58 << yes, that'd be right – nine Scotland MP's governing England ~ #democracy done over

  • http://twitter.com/ciphergoth/status/13779613952 ciphergoth

    5-point plan for Lib Dems by @leftfootfwd http://bit.ly/ctFp58 allow Tory minority govt now to set up progressive alliance + PR later

  • http://twitter.com/ving_faction/status/13779767129 Ving Faction

    RT @leftfootfwd: A rainbow coalition? http://bit.ly/ctFp58 – @wdjstraw outlines what a coalition means in practice

  • http://twitter.com/sohopolitico/status/13779963103 Soho Politico

    RT @shamikdas: RT @leftfootfwd: A rainbow coalition? http://bit.ly/ctFp58 – @wdjstraw outlines what a coalition means in practice

  • http://twitter.com/ciphergoth/status/13780141931 ciphergoth

    Biggest problem for @leftfootfwd plan http://bit.ly/ctFp58 no-one can afford another election, but least of all the LDs.

  • http://twitter.com/danhartland/status/13780482965 DanH

    RT @leftfootfwd: A rainbow coalition? http://bit.ly/ctFp58 – @wdjstraw outlines what a coalition means in practice

  • http://www.tdsays.blogspot.com Tyler

    Again with this “progressives” nonsense…..there was no “progressive” party on the voting form. Most of Labour’s policies in the last 13 years can hardly be labelled progressive, and I think you’ll find that only the gaurdianista wing of Labour are what you would describe as “progressive”…the rest of it is unreconstituted.

    But you don’t really mean (and I doubt you know the meaning of, or have any real definition of) progressive, you just mean “not Tory” and like many in the Labour party, are more interested in holding on to power by any means than democracy.

  • http://twitter.com/shamikdas/status/13779572627 Shamik Das

    RT @leftfootfwd: A rainbow coalition? http://bit.ly/ctFp58 – @wdjstraw outlines what a coalition means in practice

  • http://twitter.com/thirtysix/status/13781536816 Nat

    RT @ciphergoth: 5-point plan for Lib Dems by @leftfootfwd http://bit.ly/ctFp58 allow Tory minority govt now to set up progressive allian …

  • http://twitter.com/sarahalmedha/status/13779611843 Sarah Pritchard

    RT @leftfootfwd: A rainbow coalition? http://bit.ly/ctFp58 – @wdjstraw outlines what a coalition means in practice

  • http://twitter.com/RupertRead Rupert Read

    Thanks Will; interesting stuff.
    Yes – the awful threat looming if we do not get a #progressivemajority government is that of a snap election in which Tory cash – and #Caschcroft in particular – will overwhelm us all.
    If there is to be a ‘rainbow alliance’ of some kind as you have sketched, then it needs to get some positive response from Labour SOON. Why are Labour being so hostile about the smaller Parties at present?

  • http://billyblofeld.wordpress.com Billy Blofeld

    So England is to be shackled by the Scottish, Welsh, a lady in Brighton and the voters in some urban areas in the North West……..

    I’ve never felt the urge for an English parliament before – I do now. Gordon’s abortion-coalition has tipped me over the edge. Break up the union. I want out.

  • Tom Scott

    Like most commentators, you’ve forgotten that the SDLP is actually the Labour’s sister party in northern Ireland. They have three MPs and will, as in past Parliaments, take the Labour whip. This would bring the Lab-LibDem total to 318, only 5 short of the total needed for a majority in the Commons.
    If Labour fails to grasp this opportunity and lets the Tories in, this could be a disaster. The Cons will enjoy a honeymoon period, and call a snap election when the polls look good. The Tories could be back with a working majority, and Labour could be out of power for a generation or more.

  • http://twitter.com/ciphergoth/status/13784432725 ciphergoth

    Another problem with http://bit.ly/ctFp58 : by the time the vote of no confidence comes, Labour could be strong enough to go it alone.

  • BenM

    Gotta love the way Billy Blowers and Tories like him use the union as a means of expediency then as soon as they don’t get their way, storm off in a spectacular huff!

    Billy ought to remember that the combined Lib Lab vote share last Thursday in England too was 52%. No joy there for English nationalists unfortunately.

  • http://twitter.com/chris_maslen/status/13790530060 Christopher Maslen
  • http://twitter.com/timparkin/status/13792438326 Tim Parkin

    Most sensible commentary on progressive political strategy so far – http://bit.ly/c3K5nI http://bit.ly/a68LF1

  • nick s

    “The Cons will enjoy a honeymoon period, and call a snap election when the polls look good.”

    The banksters will no doubt try to give them an easy ride early on, but that won’t last if it becomes clear that the bond traders are the silent, dominant coalition partners. Absent a World Cup win for England, the honeymoon’s going to be brief.

    The people who switched their votes this time round, especially in the Midlands and North, will only switch back if they’re given a taste of Tory rule — ideally one where the right-wing re-emerges and demands payback for its campaign silence. It doesn’t take much buyers’ remorse to swing many of those seats back.

    “Break up the union. I want out.”

    If that’s your deal, Blowers, then break up England at the same time, because the top hundred miles is hardly more amenable to the Tories than Scotland. I wonder why that might be?

  • mahoney

    If the Lib Dems are just an extension of the Labour party, as all these “Lib Lab vote share” and “progressive” claims seem to assume, why don’t they just merge? If the choice before the electorate is between the Conservative party and the Progressive party then be honest about it.

    When I voted Lib Dem I did so on the basis that they were a party in their own right, not a Labour proxy. I can assure you that in the event that the choice is clearly between Lib/Lab and Conservative I’ll be voting Conservative. I resent my vote being assumed to be anti-Tory, rather than what it was – ant-Labour and pro-Lib Dem.

  • ober

    Hello. I’m Lib Dem voter, not Labour, but I found your post heartening. It’s nice to see that you recognise that in practice there is *no* alternative to a Tory government at the moment. Lib-Lab negotiations were just about Clegg demonstrating that to his party and hopefully giving them some cover against arguments that they sold out and spurned progressives. Lib Dems need to put Tories in now because the alternative is an election which the Tories win. Once one recognises that fact then it is easy not to hold the Lib Dems’ conduct against them – which is important, because the only way that we will ever get the realignment we need is for Lib Dems, Lab and other parties to work together to agree a framework for it. That is a way down the line – it looks like Clegg is trying for something beyond the bare minimum with the Tories, presumably because he calculates that any deal will damage him, so he may as well try and postpone reckoning with the electorate for as long as possible. Don’t hold that against him either. Remember: he is stopping a Tory majority.

    The key thing in all this is that progressives recognise that Clegg has no alternative to a Tory deal. Labour need to get beyond bitterness and oppositional gamesmanship and work to fashion a reform programme. I’m glad some of you seem to be heading that way already. Look at the years of cross-party work in the Scottish Constitutional Convention which made devolution possible. That is what we need to bring lasting reform. If you are serious about it, please try and set the wheels in motion – establish a new constitutional convention. open to all (including Tories sensible enough to see that the UK won’t hold together without change).

  • Peter Hall

    Lib-Lab minority… the swan-song of New Labour

  • Peter Hall

    Laura Kuenssberg has put out on Twitter: No 10 sources recognise talks with the libs and labour are over and working out how to declare their side of the negotiation is at an end.

    The swan is about its song

  • Chrisso

    This LibDem supporter does NOT agree with Nick having seen his behaviour today in forming a coaltion with the Tories. I wonder why the LibDems have betrayed their supporters which include many progressive people of both Tory and Labour predilections that voted for neither in the hope of electoral reform? There is simply no need for this coalition which is a wartime political artifice. The LibDems should have held out to the Tories, given the parliamentary arithmetic, the promise of just ‘confidence and supply’. When they supported Labour in the mid-Seventies there was no coalition sought nor offered. More details are to follow but apparently they and the Tories have agreed to push through legislation for fixed term parliaments. This is not something that can be good for the dynamism of the body politic IMHO. Now that Clegg and colleagues are taking cabinet posts they will become pariahs in Scotland alongside the Tories. Scotland has exiled the Tories since 1979 and replaced them with LibDems and increasingly the Tories have also been driven back south of Derby in England, they have even lost ground in London. Simon Hughes tonight slagged off Labour for refusing them electoral reform (fair comment) but Heseltine smirked in the corner and studiously avoided looking at him. There is no meeting of minds between Tories and LibDems but the LibDems are now hoist by their own petard and I predict an early LibDem split. This will become an opportunity for Labour. I also anticipate that the LibDems will now lose support heavily and possibly for a generation in local councils and in Scotland as they will be seen as *actively* propping up the Tory government not conditionally anmd objectively. They will be reduced to a rump at the next election, possibly back into the teens. PR will be hugely rejected by Labour and Tories alike – because if this is how LibDems behave then why should they be given a better chance to do so? I cannot see Labour agreeing any ‘progressive pact’ with them now (as you suggest) not to contest seats. Such a dreadful waste of an opportunity for real political change …

  • John77

    One of the prime aims of the proposed coalition of progressives would be the return to speaking Welsh. Remind me what progressive means .

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