The election showed that Britain is a progressive country but two significant interventions today make a Rainbow Coalition both unworkable and undesirable.
First, Douglas Alexander said that Labour could not work with the SNP because of “fundamental” policy differences. Without SNP support, a rainbow coalition would have just 323 seats – the absolute minimum – unless they relied on the support of the DUP. As Iain Dale highlights, it would be inconceivable for the Labour party to go into formal coalition with homophobes such as Ian Paisley Jnr.
Second, Jon Cruddas has wisely demanded a process for consultation with the broad Labour party. This would be an similar process to the Lib Dems’ “triple lock” – but negotiators should be clear that there is not yet support within the parliamentary Labour party and it looks increasingly unlikely that this support will be forthcoming.
There are also some practical objections that are well worth considering. The first, pointed out by Liberal Conspiracy’s Don Paskini, is that:
“The Labour MPs in the last parliament were the most rebellious ever. How can a coalition which depends on Jeremy Corbyn, Frank Field, Tom Harris and John Hemming all voting the same way ever get any legislation passed?”
And as highlighted by Rory Cellan-Jones on BBC, Lib Dem blogger and Left Foot Forward contributor, Mark Thompson has come out in support of a Lib-Con deal. He points out:
“Gordon Brown has promised instant legislation to bring in AV for the Commons and a referendum on something more proportional … It would only take a few Labour MPs to vote against this for it to fall. And having conversed with some Labour backbench MPs I am convinced that there would be enough for this to happen. So what Brown is promising simply cannot be delivered.”
There can be little doubt that the Liberal Democrats are between a rock and a hard place. The collective failure of progressive parties to win an additional 20 seats – which would have provided a parliamentary buffer – has scuppered their preferred option of a Lab-Lib coalition with a new Labour leader. But the Lib Dems must now hold firm and not sacrifice principle for power by getting into bed with the Conservatives. The only progressive route ahead is a Tory minority government with case-by-case “confidence and supply” from the Liberal Democrats followed by a Lib-Lab electoral pact at the next election.