Face the facts: the Lib Dems are an opposition and the Tories are the enemy

Written By: Kevin Maguire
Published: September 17, 2011 Last modified: September 16, 2011

Let us envisage the same party in government increasing capital gains tax so speculators collecting windfalls pay more, not less, than the standard 20p rate of income tax.

Let us look forward to that Labour government refusing to spend tens of billions of pounds on son of Trident, a doomsday weapon of mass destruction rendered redundant by the end of the Cold War which could never morally be fired in anger.

The same administration would have no truck with national identity cards, internal passports likely to prove expensive and intrusive for law-abiding citizens and, for master criminals and terrorists, an inconvenience remedied by a bung to a forger.

And ministers would justify the Human Rights Act, an unloved child of the Tony Blair era which deserves to be cherished not ludicrously scapegoated for every ill in society

That Labour government would also resist calls to weaken already pitiful employment laws, including protection for temporary and agency workers, articulated by the CBI and the other frothing mouthpieces representing the economy’s Victorian mill owner tendency.

All the above can be chalked down in the credit column by the Liberal Democrats. Yes, Nick Clegg’s yellow peril are also guilty of heinous acts such as the near trebling of university tuition fees when the party pledged at the 2010 general election that it would abolish education charges. And by jumping into the back of David Cameron’s chauffeur-driven Jag, the Lib Dems must shoulder a heavy share of the blame for benefit cuts, industrial vandalism, austerity and the fatwa on public services. But only a blind tribalist could deny the present Government has done a few good things and most, indeed the majority, are down to the Lib Dems. The positives are heavily outweighed by the negatives. Clegg made the wrong political choice hopping into a car driven by the Tory toff. The received wisdom in the Westminster commentariat was Clegg had no option, that Cameron was the only game in town. That wasn’t true, of course, and I recall the same commentariat had taken a Cameron victory at the polls for granted. A Lab-Dem minority coalition would’ve been better for Britain, recognising the madness of slashing public spending and sucking £12 billion out of the economy with a record VAT rise when the private sector remains bruised and battered by a global financial collapse.

Yet I believe the time has come for the Labour Party to recognise that while the Lib Dems are an opposition party, the Conservatives remain the party’s enemy. Granted, it may not feel like that on the pavement battlegrounds and in council chambers. That’s the reality of an adversarial electoral system and fundamental differences between Labour and the Lib Dems. But it’s also true the approaches of the two parts of the Con-Dem coalition aren’t identical, whatever Dave Clegg might spout when he peers starry-eyed at Nick Cameron.

Painting the Con-Dems as a monolithic entity has strategic attractions yet so does exploiting divisions. Not to portray the Lib Dems as heroic, rather to expose the divisions and confusion within a Government riddled by contradictions, zig-zagging Britain in the wrong direction – despite the occasional policy I’d support.

Labour worked with the Lib Dems in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly (where, let us not forget, the party also did a deal with Plaid Cymru) and it may well need to seek a pact with what’s left of the Lib Dems after the next general election.

To peer into a crystal ball is reckless, particularly when the point in the future to be focused on is years away, but I’ll do it anyway. May 2015 is pencilled in for Britain going to the polls. The coalition could collapse before then, but Cameron enjoys the mantle of Prime Minister and wants his five years. After studying Labour’s slender poll lead, assessing Ed Miliband’s leadership and anticipating the impact of parliamentary gerrymandering designed to benefit the Tories by mainly reducing the number of Labour and Lib Dem MPs, could you hand on heart predict – with any conviction – a Labour majority? I can’t.

I’ve heard thoughtful Labour MPs on the left of the party privately musing how the leadership needs to recalibrate its relations with the Libs. Not to throw a lifeline to Clegg’s troops, but to face realities. Whatever else softening the approach to Labour-leaning Lib Dems would do, it would send Cameron’s increasingly restless right-whingers up the wall. It’s happening already in the bars of Westminster. The moment has come for it to start in public.

4 replies to “Face the facts: the Lib Dems are an opposition and the Tories are the enemy

  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s now seen as quite possible that the west could have a decade plus of low growth resulting from the massive decade long debt based boom.  If this turns out to be the case then far more cutbacks will be inevitable as the UK can currently only paid for 75% of its spending. With lack lustre growth the debt mountain will grow year on year without large cuts. The only recourse would be to reduce spending as the AAA rating would otherwise be in danger and we could not afford to borrow substantial amounts at 5% and higher interest rates as the debt mountain relentlessly grows. Most of the west has already borrowed so much there are few options to boost demand. The UK relies mainly on consumer spend and this has been rolled back by prices rises without matching salary increases. The industrial sector is unlikely to rescue us as it is small and most of out importers in in a similar financial position.
    The real enemy is a long recession which will require cutbacks beyond anything even the conservatives would like to make as cutbacks do not win votes.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Lib labbery may become a pragmatic response to an electoral result or some crisis: to plan for it is surrender.

    • Daniel Henry says:

      A lack of plan is one of the reasons why a Lib/Lab coalition was impossible in 2010.
      The Labour negotiating team didn’t agree amongst themselves, let along the party they were negotiating with. They hadn’t been prepared/trained in how to negotiate and move the discussions forward, and ended up offering the Lib Dems even less than the Tories did.

      Added to this, Labour MPs were publically calling for a retreat into opposition even while the talks were still ongoing. The numbers of a Lib Lab coalition would have been so tight that it would only have taken a single rebel to bring the entire thing down. In short, through lack of planning, Labour made a left-wing coalition in 2010 impossible.

      They should aim for a majority in 2015 by all means, but unless they come equipped with a plan B in case things go wrong, they’ll just end up handing power back to the right for another generation. This plan means building bridges and making negotiations in advance rather than a rushed cock-up on election day.

      • Anonymous says:

        Absolute nonsense in the vital matter of the referendum which Brown offered to be held as early as November and didn’t hedge with the totalitarian elements Cameron did.

        The Lib-Dems, if they aren’t reduced to a couple of taxis’ full at the next election will have no choice: Labour or self immolation.

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