This blog is a political blog from a left-of-centre perspective. This is not specifically a party political blog, but does have a Lib Dem orientation. Constructive enagement with radical liberals, social democrats / democratic socialists and greens is particularly welcomed.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Grand Coalition of Tories and 'Labour' - No Chance !

Sorry James of the usually excellent quaequamblog! The Tories are SOUNDING more centrist, but all they are doing thus far is ditching the more unpopular policies and replacing them with nothing at all. Whilst this might eventually translate into policies that ape Blair a coalition will NEVER happen in my view, no matter how close the parties come in policy terms.

As the 'Brian Sedgemore' of Torquay with 15 years' experience of membership of the Labour Party I can tell you the tribal antipathy that activists have for the Tories would never allow for a FORMAL coalition. Whatever Labour people disagree on, the spectre of, and contempt for, Ramsay Macdonald is widely shared. No Labour leader will want to become the 'new' Ramsay Macdonald !

Certainly the one example of coalition at a local level between Labour and the Tories, in Rochdale, has generated real hostility there. More recently you'll recall Labour activists shared our distaste for the closer co-operation between Lib Dems and Labour that characterised the Ashdown years. Although, of course, this is countered by power sharing in Scotland and Wales.

For my part I changed my politics to a degree, but Labour changed there's even more. I used to be portrayed as ' hard left' in my Labour days, but this was a crude stereotype. Whilst I shared with the left a commitment to social justice and a bias to the poor in terms of policy priorities, I did not and do not adhere to top-down centralism. I never will be told what to think or act politically !

Other issues where I depart from 'New Labour' othodoxy can be summed up as such :

commitment to green issues and inclusive grassroots co-operative practice with power devolved to the lowest practicable level (eg credit unions, time banks, mutuals, town/parish councils, community associations)

firm believer in electoral reform (STV)

opposed to the state 'policing' of families (asbo/parental orders)

believe in free university tuition (as experienced by most of the Labour cabinet)

entirely believe in upholding individuals' civil liberties (anti-terror legislation, trial by jury, 'house arrest',equality before the law). I distrust the potential power of private monopolies and the state equally.

internationalist in outlook (pro reformed and more democratic EU and UN)

Accept that open and COMPETITIVE markets usually provide well the consumer goods and services we expect, but am less convinced about private engagement in public service provision such as schools, hospitals, probation service et al. New Labour has a dogmatic private good, public bad philosophy.

It could be that I am just a contrarian, but these days I feel much more in tune with the Lib Dems nationally than Blair's Labour. In reality I have more in common with instincts of social liberals, be they in the Lib Dems, Labour or Greens. I still see myself as being firmly left-of-centre, albeit in an unorthodox collection of ideas and influences. Maybe others don't see me as being very Liberal who knows ?!

I am, however, alarmed at the influence at the top of the party that the Orange Bookers' have. There isn't room for a third right-of-centre party ! Let Labour and Tories become indistinguishable. Let's hold our nerve and resist a lurch rightwards. Most of all I still despise the Tories, at least in the Thatcherite-like form I have politically grown up with. Unlike some in our party I'd find it hard to accept any post-election deal with an unreformed Tory party.


Blogger James said...

I agree entirely that there would be hostility within the Labour party to a formal Lab-Con pact. But I also know there would be considerable sympathy amongst some people at the top. I also know for a fact that there are plenty of people in both parties who would rather work with each other than with the Lib Dems. Finally, I'm sure there are plenty of Germans in the SPD and Christian Democrats who considered a Grand Coalition unthinkable a year ago.

What matters is the political arithmatic after the next general election and whether the Lib Dems start tarting themselves to one or the other of Labour or the Tories, which in my view would be electoral suicide.

If the Lib Dems remain determinedly independent, then a Grand Coalition may be the only option to the other two. Forcing the other two parties to admit they would rather work with each other than give us what we want, should be strategic objective.

12:01 pm GMT

Blogger James said...

Or, put it another way. It's fun to say things like this if for no better reason than to see what colour the average Labour member turns. I've tried it and it's hilarious. Highly recommended. ;)

12:03 pm GMT

Blogger Marcus Wood said...

Barrie, the political objective of the Orange Bookers is, I believe, to position your party to be more acceptable to a future minority Tory government in the hope of being part of it in a coalition.

They believe that the most likely outcome of the next election is a hung parliament with the Tories being the largest single party.

It is the ultimate in unprincipled and opportunistic politics.

I doubt very much whether a formal Lib/Con coalition would ever be on the cards.

An Orange Book lurch to the right for your party would make your political stance even less defensible than it is at the moment.

12:14 pm GMT

Blogger TonyF said...

Basic disagreement with any coalition with the Tories, I agree wholeheartedly.
However, you seem to support the Lib Dems who have taken up a coalition with the Tories in Birmingham. This was voted through by a small group of people,namely councillors and candidates of the 2004 election. I and others abstained as we said we wanted to see the deal that had been done. We never saw it nor did the Lib Dem ward parties who were not given a chance to vote on the subject.
So much for Liberal Democracy

12:38 pm GMT

Anonymous Valerie said...

I'm fond of the Orange Book, and yet I agree with you on almost everything. I think the difference of opinion within the LDs is far narrower than it's sometimes supposed to be.

The only areas on which I'd differ is that I think it's worth *looking at* a social insurance system for the health service (given it's worked for many other EU countries).

I also wouldn't mind (although I'm not dogmatic about it) more choice and flexibility in the education system, but only after very careful enquiry, and definitely not along the lines of the current Labour or Tory proposals.

Anyway, these are individual issues for debate, and even if we did take them it wouldn't represent a lurch in any particular direction (I don't think any of the countries with social insurance systems for their health services see them as particularly right-wing).

Plus we'll always be distinct in style from both Labour and the Tories (and I agree with you on the major unlikeliness of a coalition between them).

1:20 pm GMT

Anonymous Valerie said...

p.s. on the choice issue, I'd agree with Stephen a few comments back - yes, everyone wants a good school/hospital on their doorstep, but the question is how to achieve it.

While I don't think it's possible to insist dogmatically that market forces will achieve it, equally well I don't think you can insist that they won't. It's a debate we need to have, looking carefully at international experience and how it would stand up in a UK setting.

1:29 pm GMT

Blogger Barrie Wood said...


I don't think it is unprincipled, nor do I think the motivations of the OBers are as you say. I just don't agree with them and their 19th Century solutions to todays problems, hence I am not a classical / Victorian liberal.

I trust that by defensible position you mean the party and not myself ! However, it is good to have a Tory perspective on these things too.

2:57 pm GMT

Blogger Barrie Wood said...


I understand what you're saying. Lib Dems in coalition in Leicester, at least the first time around, saw the Tories and their small numbers wagging the Lib Dem dog.

Generally speaking, I can usually find lots of common objectives with Labour people, even if their nannyish top-down approaches leave me cold. With Tories I find very much less common ground although this may change under Cameron and may be because I am fairly left-wing in Lib Dem terms !

So Tony, I don't support coalitions with the Tories at a local level as a rule either. When I was a county councillor in the late 80s I was on a NOC authority and there was no formal pacts, although typically Lab and Lib dems came to an accomodation and differences between us were less pronounced than with the Tories.

In Torbay we have two party politics - Lib dem and Tories - so the issue doesn't really arise.

Irrespective of differences I do believe in cordial debate and exchage with 'opponents' and I regret the animosity that exists between Lib Dem and the Tories locally, so I welcome ex-Tory PPC [Marcus Wood] visiting this site.

3:16 pm GMT

Anonymous Valerie said...

I don't think it's a question of 19th c. attitudes. The health and education policies currently in place in, variously, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland as well as many non-EU countries, aren't 19th century.

Why be against looking at the experience of our neighbours? France and Germany have recently had problems with their health deficits, but they've made changes to improve the situation, and are now looking at a much more sustainable future than we are.It's a debate worth having, that's all (and one that could become more and more urgent.)

4:00 pm GMT


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