UK: The paradox of coalition

Published on HopiSen, by blog owner, August 25, 2013 (see also our new blog: politics for the 99%).

Want to know what the silliest thing in modern politics is?

Preparing for coalition by identifying what you’d be prepared to give up to get into government after not winning a General Election, when by giving up much less than that before the election you’d significantly increase your chances of winning power.  

What do I mean? Well, ignore the things that Labour and the LibDems agree on already, more or less: Votes at 16, green energy, european policy, skilled immigration in HE, industrial banks etc. They don’t present a problem and won’t shift many votes in any case.

Consider instead the probable stumbling blocks for any Labour-Lib-Dem coalition. The biggest would be something like:

  • 1. Nature of continued deficit reduction, and whether on a slightly slower path (or more tax-biased) than current.
  • 2. Extent of acceptance of the public sector reforms the current government has put in place, and details of revision of some areas – like admissions policy in schools, commissioning in the NHS.
  • 3. Increased focus on tax cuts for low-earners, and details of mechanism for increasing wages.
  • 4. Constitutional changes – possibly PR, whether for Lords reform or local councils.
  • 5. Something around Civil Liberties/Freedom of information/Privacy/legal rights1

You could produce a similar list of tensions between the LibDems and Tories. It wold probably involve Europe, skilled immigration, higher and corporation rate tax, civil liberties and extent of public cuts. With a side order of stuff like wind farms, PR, votes at sixteen and so on.

On each of these, a Lib-Lab or Lib-Con coalition would have to find a path through issues that involve painful concessions for key parts of the Labour and Tory parties. To be in government, the price would be willingly paid.

Here’s what’s odd to me: If I were advising the Tory party how to win the next election, I’d tell them to embrace a stance similar to that they’d offer the Lib Dems on the biggest issues if they didn’t win: Slightly slower deficit reduction, slightly more pragmatic on Europe, less keen on tax and public service cuts.

In a hung parliament, they’d clearly be prepared to accept that strategy anyway to get into government, but if they adopted that stance voluntarily in the election campaign (rather than reluctantly in the Cabinet office after the election) it would be a popular and surprising campaigning position. They would vastly increase their chances of winning an overall majority in the first place. What’s more, they’d avoid the need to give up any more on the “little” stuff.

Same goes for Labour. If Labour took a political position not far off what we’d be prepared to adopt anyway to secure a stable coalition with the LibDems, it would probably mean we did not have to seek a stable coalition with the LibDems … //

… (full text and notes).


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