Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Rainbow Coalition

I'm a bit distressed at Brown stepping down. I like our Grumpy Gord, and I was of the school that felt we were better off sitting this hung parliament out in opposition, with Brown as our leader for at least 18 months before we chose a new leader at the optimum time for the next election.

However, it appears that after five days negotiating with the Tories, the LibDems were unable to come to terms and requested formal talks with Labour. I guess we have to step up to the plate however reluctantly; someone's got to be the government. If the Con-Dem'd govt has fallen through, it's either a rainbow coalition or another election in a month's time.

So how would a Rainbow Coalition work? The numbers are eye-wateringly tight. Here's who will be in the coalition:

Labour 258
LibDems 57
SDLP (who are affiliated with Labour) 3
Alliance N.I. (who are affiliated with the LibDems) 1
Sylvia Herman independent N.I. 1
Plaid Cymru 3
Green 1

That gives a total of 332. Labour can comfortably work with all, they are all centre-left. The SNP who have six MPs also want in, and though they set our teeth a little on edge, we could include them as a margin of safety. (It will also look mean excluding them when we are including everyone else).

If this coalition is to be stable, it needs to be truly collegiate.

That means giving some of the small parties minister/junior minister posts to bind them in. I'm particularly keen on giving the SDLP, Alliance and Sylvia Herman junior minister posts - it will delight their constituents. We shouldn't underestimate how badly Northern Ireland wants to be part of the mainstream government after being this thing on the outside of mainstream UK for all of living memory. Including them in govt will do more to normalise N.I. than anything we've attempted before. After all, if we are the United Kingdom, why should bits be excluded permanently from the business of governing the UK?

We could give Caroline Lucas the environment ministry, make Nick Clegg the foreign secretary and Laws the business minister (Mandy can retire at last!).

The difficulty with this coalition is actually the Labour party - I've no doubt that all the other parties will behave beautifully as this is their one and only chance to be part of government. They'll probably stick it out for the full five years if they can.

Not only is Labour reluctant to be part of a coalition, the Labour party in the last three parliaments has been the most rebellious governing party in the UK's democratic history. This tendency to rebel and indulge individualism could be accomodated when we had large majorities, but in a coalition as tight as this one, there needs to be iron discipline.

But what can we do? The Con-Dem program includes such unpalatable things such as cutting the deficit this year, while the economy is still fragile and gerrymandering the number of MPs so that they have a permanent majority. Plus the Cons are a bunch of fruitcakes, so I suppose we have to make the attempt.

The difficulty of sustaining this coalition means we need to elect a Labour leader who is particularly persuasive and can carry the party no matter what. We need an Attlee-type manager. That kind of rules out the more abraisive characters. I'm still plumping for Ed Miliband.

If Labour is reluctant to go into coalition, the Conservatives are the opposite, palpably desperate to do a deal. Within hours of Gord announcing he would step down, they were offering the LibDems a whipped bill through parliament authorising a referendum on AV. This wasn't even in their manifesto and I doubt Cameron even discussed it with his MPs first. I guess his back is to the wall - if he doesn't become Prime Minister, he's for the chop, that's how the Tory party works.

These truly are interesting times


Neil Harding said...

As you suggest, it is the right wing of the Labour party that will be the problem. Particularly, to get voting reform will mean no more than 9 Labour MPs can rebel. This would be very, very difficult to achieve. There are some Labour neaderthals (notably Ed Balls, Tom Harries & Jim Murphy), mostly in safe seats of course that will need some coercing to abandon FPTP.

snowflake5 said...

Neil - it turns out that the LibDems weren't serious about doing a deal with us. They were just using us to put pressure on the Cons. So Ed Balls, Tom Harris and Jim Murphy have done us a favour by calling their bluff.

We are better off in opposition and allowing the LibDems to take the blame for the Tory decisions and picking up their votes.