Labour should sit this one out – Why a Tory-Lib Dem coalition might benefit Labour

What I’m about to suggest might well be unpopular with everyone who voted but I’ve given this so much thought I decided to write a blog. And I don’t write many blogs.

Just for the record, being in power is great – in the past thirteen years the Labour government have achieved things that wouldn’t have been achieved under the Tories: the minimum wage, public service investment, redistributive tax credits and reducing crime.

But government inevitably makes a party unpopular – being forced into unnecessary wars, pressurised into knee-jerk reactions by the press, making difficult decisions that end up backfiring. In Thursday’s election, Labour have done very well, seat-wise, given the amount of damage they’ve sustained over the past few years and the fury that they’ve faced from the press.

Sadly, Gordon Brown hasn’t done enough to keep the public on side. He has been very strong on the economy compared with the other two party leaders, but he just couldn’t communicate it well during the debates. Although he managed to shake off Andrew Rawnsley’s bullying allegations and the Gillian Duffy disaster (incredibly Labour retook Rochdale), he has still come across as a difficult person to work with. He simply cannot last as Prime Minister or, indeed, leader of the Labour Party.

There is the chance that should Liberal Democrats and Tories not reach a deal, Brown, or at any rate the Labour Party, could form a coalition. Given the combined vote share of the parties stands at 52%, this would be popular in the country at large and I’m sure a lot of natural Labour voters would be happy to compromise with the Liberal Democrats on things like civil liberties, Trident and Heathrow.

The trouble is they’d need the support of the nationalist parties – that could leave the door open for costly deals to keep support for the government and I cannot see this lasting. The more parties Labour relies on, the more volatile every major Commons vote will be.

If a Labour-Liberal Democrat government fell apart, it would be enough to put the Tories into power at the ensuing General Election – and of course, the majority of the public doesn’t want this.

Furthermore, Labour doesn’t want another election so soon given its precarious finances and relatively good number of MPs, which could fall if the Conservatives gain popularity from a faltering coalition government.

Under the circumstances, Nick Clegg is right to enter negotiations with the Conservatives with their mandate in the public and Parliament. Who knows how well a coalition between the Tories and Liberal Democrats will do. But while it wouldn’t have the power to carry out its policies, Labour would benefit in several ways.

Firstly, it wouldn’t risk haemorrhaging any support by being part of an unstable coalition with the Liberal Democrats and nationalists.

Secondly, it would stand to benefit electorally from any blunders committed by a Tories and Lib Dems, who, of course, would have to make the difficult decisions given the present state of the economy. One caveat to this is that the Tories and Lib Dems would have some ammo to use against Labour.

Thirdly it would give Labour a chance to regroup and figure out what it stands for and then hopefully regain some ground at the next general election, assuming the coalition holds.

As Chris Addison said at his show on the eve of the election, trying to figure out who the next Labour leader should be is like interviewing people for a job and then realising at the end there’s no one left and thinking “we’re screwed”. Most of the candidates, several of whom would make a good future Prime Minister, have never been in opposition so a stint on the Speaker’s left will give them some perspective and a chance to develop some mettle.

No one knows how a Lib-Con coalition would affect voting intention but Labour could be in a good position to enter government again, albeit as part of a coalition, especially if Clegg secures some electoral reform. This is the reality Labour will have to come to terms with over the coming weeks.

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