Monday, December 13, 2010

22 Days in May - my reaction

David Laws account of the coalition negotiations and his few days of ministerial office is a must read. Learn the difference between a traffic light coalition and a car crash coalition. Find out exactly where the hand of history was squeezing. David's account is most politically relevant for its description of how willing the Conservatives were to negotiate in good faith and compromise on policy, and how unwilling elements within the Labour party were to do the same. Shockingly the Labour negotiators didn't seem to agree among themselves, or have the authority to negotiate for the party. I'm shocked enough that they included Ed Balls at all - that really isn't trying to make a deal work is it?

Of course this account is disputed by Labour figures, who want to portray the outcome of the election as Lib Dem decision. (Along with the existence of the deficit.) Naturally I believe David Laws' account and Labour supporters believe the opposite. Of course it is true, as David says, that a deal with Labour would have been much harder to operate because of the parliamentary arithmetic. But you might have thought that sort of difficulty would inspire Labour to greater not lesser efforts than the Conservatives.

The credibility of Labour's version of history falls apart when we get to Appendix 5 of Laws book: Labour's 10th May policy proposals for a Lib Lab coalition. If this had been a serious attempt to reach agreement, if the Lib Dem negotiators had capriciously rejected it, then this document would be waved in the face of every Lib Dem MP, councillor and grassroots member up and down the country with the refrain "this is the radical, centre-left government you could have had". It would be in all the newspapers. Every government policy would be compared to it. You Lib Dems have chosen that when you could have chosen this. And surely enough Plaid and Irish MPs could be found to say the same.

Why has this not happened? Because the document is pathetic. All major disagreements on policy between the parties seem to be met, at best, with a review. Labour know they are right and their review will confirm it. The Lib Dems should be grateful for this sharing of wisdom.

If Ed Milliband has really been won round by the Lib Dem position on student fees, he might have said so on the 10th May when he could have done something about it. But no. There will be a national debate and a full consultation. We know what that means.

Oh you can have the pupil premium, so long as we can dictate what it gets spent on, because government knows best.

Yes, you can have a personal tax allowance of £10,000, wait for it, only for pensioners. Was that an attempt to be funny? Labour doubled income tax for many low earners when they abolished the 10p rate, and this is how they treat the opportunity to put right that injustice.

No. Labour knew the next government would be unpopular because of the state of the public finances. We've all seen Labour's joy at seeing both their opponents suffer the consequences of the £150bn per year fiscal turd they left behind. We've heard senior Labour figures brief against a Lib Lab deal and talk of 'principled opposition' - as if there were any principle that should cause a centre-left politician to reject a centre-left deal in favour of a centre-right one. Although to be fair, this government is better than the last one even by centre-left standards.

Laws talks of Labour's lost opportunities from 97 to 2010 to attempt to forge any kind of closer links with the Liberal Democrats, that might have paved the way for a different outcome, and of Gordon Brown's deathbed conversion to pluralism, at a minute past midnight.

I look at it differently. Labour have been in a coalition with the Conservatives, almost as along as they have existed. But it is the kind of coalition where you take turns enjoying untrammelled power rather than sharing power. They have been quite happy to maintain this closed political system despite the fact that it led to frequent Conservative governments that did more harm to the interests of people who Labour purport to protect, than Labour could ever undo when it was their turn. The party has every reason to be terrified that a different kind of politics might work better. Voters with Labour values on the other hand have every reason to welcome it.