Why are we not talking about a Lib Dem-Labour Coalition?

Future coalition partners?

Future coalition partners?

The election talk on everyone’s lips at the moment is whether or not Ed Miliband will be happy to do a coalition deal with his Scottish rivals, the SNP.  While it is a frightening prospect to some and an exciting scenario to others, it detracts from the fact that it is not the most obvious in my opinion.  Instead, surely it would be a Labour/Lib Dem pact that we should be prepared for?

In 2010 the possibility that Nick Clegg could be Deputy Prime Minister to Gordon Brown was being predicted by many people like the SNP/Labour possibility is just now.  The famous ‘I agree with Nick’ quips from Brown during the Leader’s Debates seemed like a sign of things to come.  It wasn’t hard to see why either; both parties share ideological similarities along the centre left and have worked together in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly before.  Yet, despite the jigsaw pieces fitting together to an extent, there have been no such murmurings of it happening in 2015 as of yet.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown during a 2010 TV debate

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown during a 2010 TV debate

Firstly, this has been down to the skill of the Conservatives.  They do not want the electorate to start thinking along these lines because it probably would sound like a safe bet, particularly because they’ve seen in this Parliament that a coalition can work between two willing parties.  The Tories picked the SNP as the disastrous partner because it would be a better scare tactic than the Lib Dems. Notice how the Tory message is not really about Miliband getting in via the back door but rather that it would give Salmond and his colleagues power over Britain. This message is designed to frighten voters not to choose Labour because it will let the SNP into power, a much scarier prospect than if the Lib Dems were allowed back into Government.  The suggestion of an SNP/Labour pact was started by the Tories anyway and the Nationalists have simply rolled with it because it works for their campaign in Scotland too. However, it remains no more likely than a potential deal between Labour and the Lib Dems.

Secondly, the polls indicate that the Lib Dems will not do well, which therefore dampens any talk of them running the country again.  In 2010 it felt like the momentum was with the Lib Dems and they would have a stronger electoral performance than usual, and this therefore brought about connotations of being in power, albeit in coalition.  Compare this to now, where they might not even hold the balance of power in May, so we cannot mathematically talk about them in Government anyway. However, there is still optimism within the Lib Dem ranks and they remain as likely as the SNP to have enough seats.  This is mainly down to the party taking advantage of the electoral system and concentrating their vote enough to retain those important constituencies.  Many Lib Dem MPs are respected in their local areas and also face Tory challengers, which bodes well for them.

Will the SNP hold the balance of power?

Will the SNP hold the balance of power?

Thirdly, Labour are less willing to talk about coalitions under Miliband compared to Brown.  Labour were up against a battle in 2010, trying to defend a 13 year Government record on the backdrop of the economic crash.  It was difficult and the polls had them coming second, which meant that they were ready to consider a coalition to keep Cameron away from Downing Street.  This contrasts to the situation that Miliband has inherited, where Labour as the opposition want to show themselves as the authoritative challenger who can win the election outright.  For them to start edging towards a pact with the Lib Dems would show uneasiness and a lack of confidence; which is not a good image to voters.  Furthermore, they have spent five years attacking a coalition so it would be ironic to suggest going into one in the next Parliament at this stage.

Finally, the Lib Dems themselves haven’t said anything that would suggest that they would consider a deal with Labour.  Again, much of this comes down to their preoccupation with defending their current Government record and holding onto their seats on the backdrop of a series of poor election results since 2010.  There are also some within the party, like Lord Steel at the Scottish Lib Dem conference at the weekend, who would rather that they stay out of coalition altogether in the next Parliament in order to try and recover their damaged reputation.  Nonetheless, I find it a little strange that many within the party are instantly ruling out a deal with Labour and would prefer to go back with the Conservatives.

Perhaps if the Lib Dems did start opening the conversation about a potential Lib Dem/Labour deal then it could be the next media flurry.  However, for the reasons that I’ve mentioned above and, in particular the stances and objectives of the other parties, I don’t think that it will catch fire very easily.  Then again, nobody was talking about a Lib Dem/Conservative coalition before the last election and look where we ended up.

In an election where almost every possibility and story has been explored so far, from the bizarre to the unlikely, it might be a simpler scenario that plays out after May 7th.

By Jonathan Adamson, Junior Writer for Daily Political View.

Twitter: (@jon_adamson92)

Further reading:

No mood in Lib Dems for another coalition, Lord Steel says (BBC)

Labour and the Lib Dems have much in common – but will tribalism prevent a coalition? (NewStatesman)

General Election 2010: Labour reach out to Liberal Democrats for coalition deal (The Telegraph)

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