At Labour conference last year, I organised an event at which Maurice Glasman said that in the case of another hung parliament, Labour should have coalition talks with the Conservatives straight off and ignore “the Liberals”. This would be the “Grand Coalition” of many a Westminster pub lunch discussion, ones which most of the participants take at face value as a flight of fancy. But Ian Birrell wrote a piece in the Guardian about it over the weekend, and in response, Nick Barlow proffered that it was all click bait driven nonsense.
But is it really impossible? I cited Glasman’s words, but does anyone else within Labour feel the same way as he does? What was strange about the event was that at least half of the crowd, and this is Labour conference remember, so these were very much your local ground warriors, seemed to nod along to Maurice’s words. Many of the grassroots hate the Lib Dems so much, getting into bed with the Tories seems preferable.
The whole thing, if it could ever possibly happen, would be done as a “temporary arrangement” – there was no stable government possible, so the two largest parties agree to govern together for a brief period before another election is called. Both Cameron and Miliband say something about “extremists” being kept out in the hopes that everyone buys the narrative.
Also, thinking back to the substance of the Birrell piece, what if a Tory-Labour government is literally the only stable government that can be formed? What if the parliamentary maths throws this up due to Lib Dem shrinkage, SNP growth and UKIP outperformance? People forget sometimes, in all their talk about minority government and its possibilities, that in a minority situation the largest party still needs support in the form of confidence and supply to get a budget through. What if this can only be achieved via the SNP and they demand something that neither of the two largest parties can deliver (Trident springs to mind)?
Here’s what I think: no matter what the possible downsides of minority government and constitutional chaos, none of them are as bad to both Labour and the Tories as those that going into government together would bring with them. If there were ever to be a “Grand Coalition”, that would be the death of those two parties, I think. It would be more than the current political climate could stand, and the subsequent election of 2015/early-2016 would probably see a Green/UKIP surge in seats leading to – ironically enough – another hung parliament, and another constitutional crisis. Tory activists might be able to wear it just, but a deal with the Conservative Party would permanently alienate at least half of Labour’s vote, young people and urban liberals being most prominent amongst the cull in that set of circumstances.
However, the fact that we’re even talking about this as a possibility shines a light on just how strange a time in politics it is that we’re currently living through. And I would love to be a fly on the wall in the Cameron-Osborne-Miliband-Balls coalition discussions. Wouldn’t you?