The seeds of a Lib/Lab pact have already been sown

Labour needs to be prepared for a coalition even if it doesn't want one.

Labour needs to be prepared for a coalition even if it doesn’t want one

Speaking at Ipsos Mori’s ‘Beyond the Bubble’ event at the Labour Party conference in Manchester, the Guardian’s senior political correspondent Andrew Sparrow argued that the most important person within the Labour Party at the moment is whoever has channels open to the Liberal Democrats.

He was right.

Amidst tight polling and a general sense of malaise within Labour, all signs now point to a coalition after next May’s election. As Lord Prescott  noted, Ed Miliband’s speech was such that he may as well have finished it, “Go back to your constituencies and prepare for coalition”.

While Lib Dem ministers have notionally argued that Labour would be fiscally irresponsible, these are merely words they feel they have to say. When it comes to the Tories, Lib Dems feel every bit of the venom they now have trained on Cameron and Osborne et al.

Coupled with a poll of Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidates carried out by ComRes for the BBC’s Sunday Politics Show, showing more support for a coalition with Labour rather than the Tories, it is clear that for all sides this is now the preferred option for many in the party if a Labour government is not possible next May. And the policy seeds of such a coalition have already been sown.

Constitution

In the wake of the referendum in Scotland, the Tories went on the attack, calling Labour’s bluff by calling for a twin-track approach that would provide for English Votes for English Laws.

In response, Ed Miliband was mocked for preferring instead to kick the issue into the long grass with calls for a mass participation constitutional convention. The Lib Dem minister David Law’s  praise for such a stance in the Guardian last week is just one of many indicators that on the constitution Labour and the Lib Dems are now very much on the same page.

This was further reinforced by Ed Miliband’s conference speech in which he called for a reformed House of Lords to become a new Senate of the regions and nations as well as calling for the voting age to be lowered to 16.

Mansion Tax

Labour’s call for a mansion tax now dovetails nicely with the Lib Dem’s following Nick Clegg’s confirmation on the Andrew Marr programme yesterday that his party would introduce a mansion style tax though the introduction of new council tax bands.

Europe

Lib Dem policy to go for a referendum on EU membership, but only where there is a likely loss of sovereignty, matches Labour’s call for a vote only when there is a new treaty change, when and if that happens.

Teachers

Labour’s campaign to end the absurdity of unqualified teachers being able to teach in free schools and academies has been at the core of its policies for schools. With the proportion of such teachers in classrooms having increased by 16 per cent over the past year, the Lib Dems have now pledged that the party’s election manifesto will include also proposals for a new ‘parental guarantee’ that all children will be taught a core curriculum and by qualified teachers.

Winter Fuel Payments

Addressing the party faithful in Glasgow yesterday, chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander recommitted the Lib Dems to scrapping the payment of the winter fuel payment to wealthy pensioners, a policy that Ed Balls has been calling for.

Green Agenda

In contrast to the Conservative’s abandoning the green agenda altogether, shadow ministers have made clear that Labour will pledge next May to decarbonise the UK electricity supply by 2030, a policy which enjoys the  support of the Lib Dems.

Human Rights Act

The Tories’ commitment to scrapping the Human Rights Act has acted only as another opportunity to highlight the chasm that now exists between the two sides of the coalition, with Labour and the Lib Dems the only two main UK-wide parties committed to maintaining it.

 

For all the talk of seeking an outright majority, Labour’s prospects of achieving this now hangs by a thin thread, not least given John Curtice’s assessment of the party’s position in Scotland.

The best hope of a progressive agenda for government looks increasingly like a Lib/Lab pact of some description. Labour needs to be prepared for this in a way it singularly failed to prepare for the 2010 coalition discussions.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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