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.