So, here’s the scene on May 8th: Labour has 295, 300-odd seats; the SNP have done as well as predicted in Scotland, taking north of 40 seats; the Lib Dems have defied the worst predictions and held 35-odd seats. Labour are in a bit of bind at this point. There are two clear roads ahead. One would be tricky but has high potential rewards; the other can only lead to trouble and may even presage Labour’s demise as a party capable of getting a majority ever again.
Given that, you’d think the tricky but rewarding path would be far more likely. However, I’m not sure if that’s what those around Ed Miliband are thinking at present. The destructive path seems weirdly the more likely.
The first direction would be coalition with the Lib Dems; the second, a supply and confidence arrangement with the SNP. Let’s go over the pros and cons of both.
The cons of a coalition with the Lib Dems are straightforward: one, almost all Labour activists hate the Lib Dems, so getting the party to swallow it would be hard. Second, coalition isn’t a popular concept overall and the Lib Dems probably wouldn’t agree to anything looser.
The pros of such an arrangement: in the above stated psephological circumstances, this would be the only genuinely stable arrangement available. And the Lib Dems have already proven they are committed to making coalition work and that they can stay the course.
The cons of a less formal arrangement with the SNP: Labour would simultaneously be risking their vote in both Scotland and England on a scale never before seen. In Scotland they will have reinforced the SNP’s messaging perfectly: vote SNP, get a Labour prime minister who has to listen to the Nats on every bill. So why wouldn’t those who voted SNP just keep doing so forever? In England, having to accede to the SNP on every bill will mean England gets screwed – and since the SNP only run in Scotland, Labour will face the electoral consequences for this alone. Finally, Labour would be entering into an arrangement with a political party that 1). wants to destroy the Labour Party and 2). has been given the means by which to do so.
The pros of a deal with the SNP: Labour don’t have to go into coalition with anyone. That’s all I could come up with.
Before any of you say, “Well, you’re a Lib Dem so would say all of that”, can I just retort that going into coalition with Labour might not be the best move for the Lib Dems anyhow. As we’ve seen over the last five years, the junior partner always suffers in the polls; do the Lib Dems really want to go through that a second time? Also, a Labour Party getting ground to dust by the SNP coupled with a Conservative Party that will by then have moved massively to the right does leave a large space in British politics to inhabit. Don’t think the Lib Dems could capitalise? You’re forgetting how short people’s political memories are. If you don’t believe me, see: Blair, Tony; Iraq war; protestors; post-2010 increase in Labour membership figures.
So it’s ultimately no skin off my nose what the Labour Party does post-May 8th, should they find themselves in a position to call the shots. I’d only advise them to think very carefully about it all.