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Will those fighting Labour’s ground war be consulted on who we work with after 7 May?

Miliband & Salmond at No10Following a local discussion recently I realised that not only had I not thought about or had any clear ideas as to whether or how the membership would be consulted in the event of a hung parliament, but that this was largely the position across the board, with few commentators or bloggers addressing the question, although Jon Lansman has written twice about it in Left Futures. In his first article (So who decides if Labour should enter a coalition government?) in August 2013, where in commenting on the 2010 negotiations he opined, correctly I think, that if a coalition had been agreed it would have been endorsed by no more than the PLP, which he considered ‘not good enough’, clearly implying but not spelling out the need for more extensive consultation within the party. The second article in January (Deciding on a coalition: should Labour follow Attlee or MacDonald?) advocated a democratic consultation with the NEC and NPF playing a major role prior to a reconvened conference.                         .

Apart from the wartime coalitions of 1915 and 1940 Labour at Westminster has never entered a coalition from the outset, although it has governed as a minority government on three occasions,  (1924, 1929-31, 1974 ) and had a pact with the Liberals on two (1906-14 and 1977-78).

Consultation could and should have happened after the 2010 election, when the possibility of a coalition was effectively scuppered by a small number of leading Labour figures, as outlined in the excellent Coalition on C4 last Saturday. It is true that it would have been difficult and would probably not have happened even if Labour had appeared much more positive. However, there was no attempt to consult the membership, in contrast to the Lib-Dems who held a special conference before parliament reassembled in May which predictably endorsed the agreement, although it did not have to.

The model for Labour is surely the One Wales agreement of 2007 when a Labour/Plaid Cymru coalition for the then Welsh Assembly Government was agreed after full consultation with the membership and a special conference. This in part reflected the divisions over the question, although it was at the end of the day overwhwelmingly endorsed.

The possible permutations resulting from a hung parliament are well known, including the not altogether ridiculous suggestions, by Gisela Stuart and later Charles Clarke, of a grand Labour/Tory coalition, and in an article by Anthony Painter of a deal between the Tories and the SNP. The ‘Grand coalition’ proposal no doubt has some Blairite support, but would stand little chance in a democratic debate, but a Tory SNP deal, based on giving the SNP everything they want short of independence, might be a goer, although it would be regarded as a betrayal by many in both parties.

Hopefully Labour will win a majority and these considerations will no longer be relevant, but if we wake up to a hung parliament on 8 May, as the polls indicate that we will, then we must not allow Labour’s role to be determined only by the shadow Cabinet and MPs. There must be meetings for all CLPs culminating in a Special Conference before any arrangements with other parties can be endorsed, while as Jon rightly says, the negotiation process should be centred on the NEC and NPF and not restricted to a few leading heavyweights. The stakes are just too high for this not to happen, and it is the least that the membership should expect.

There is another aspect to this. The current editorial of Labour Briefing states that “Labour could …. end up being hostage to right wing parties, including the Lib Dems. Only a majority Labour government will do”. This clearly implies that a continuation of the current coalition would be preferable to a Labour based one.

This is I fancy not a position which many would support. In my view an arrangement with the SNP or a coalition with even the Lib Dems would clearly be preferable to another Tory based coalition, but for Briefing preserving socialist purity ( which they attack Labour for not having) is more important. Some confusion here I think.

Nevertheless, much or most of the left continues to support our current ‘first past the post’ voting system and to oppose proportional representation on the grounds that this is the only way to achieve a majority government. This used to be so, at least since 1945, but it is now clear that our current voting system will not automatically deliver a majority government. I fervently hope that it will, for Labour on 7 May, but if it doesn’t not only should the membership be fully involved in determining the outcome but we will have to begin adapting to a political world where coalitions are no longer exceptional.




  1. The reason why Labour is in such a desperate state is the consultation process it foolishly adopted in the 1980s. In 2010 it went into its tent and when it came out 6 months of condem propaganda had established the deficit was its fault and all else followed

    In Scotland when Salmond stepped down the SNP anointed Sturgeon within days and again when Labour came out of its tent she was out of sight.

    The idea that the government of the country should wait while the Labour creaks into a consultation process should not get out as otherwise it will be even more of a laughing stock than otherwise.

    In the modern era decisions are made quickly and the 24 hour news machine gets its fodder. Get real and give the decisions back to the PLP. Labour is not a part of government.

    Trevor FIsher.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Who gives a flying F*** about the PLP?

      British political democracy, (post-Blair,) is completely broken and has been thoroughly hijacked and subverted to serve only the narrow financial and personal interests of about 20% of the population, (represented by the PLP,) who own 80% of the property and command 80% of the income.

      How else can you explain the fact that a government; during a period closely resembling and almost classic financial depression, (and everything that is traditionally a consequence of that, such as massive unemployment, low wages, job insecurity and cuts to welfare and basic public services,) nonetheless still wants to make further cuts of another £ 12 billion to help and subsistence for those who are most vulnerable and at risk in society, whilst in the same breath is preening itself for giving away £14 billion, (that we have to borrow in the first place,) in foreign aid?

      Then there are all these massive subsidies and hand outs to businesses, from HS2, tax breaks and charitable status to zero interest rates etc.

      So who benefits?

      The well off 20%, those people like our bent MPs, who own houses, (often more than one,) often valued at well over a million pounds often with gold plated final salary pensions, good, generally managerial, secure employment with prospects, perks and progression or are rentiers or property speculators, (like both Miliband and Cameron,) etc…..

      Who loses?

      The other 80%, (us,) who are effectively being, “locked out,” of education, jobs, health-care, decent housing and even a benefits system that we’ve contributed to for all our working lives and so on.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        Typically; “represented by the PLP,” and others of an all but identically narrow and exclusive socio economic background whose first loyalty is always to the interests of their own, “class,” people like the odious Ed, (Light-Fingers,) Balls and co.

  2. David Ellis says:

    The short answer to your question is of course no. The New Labour clique have already ruled out formal coalition with the likes of the SNP and Plaid Cymru and have said that if they have the most seats but no majority they will rule as a minority administration relying on Tory MPs to get their legislation through. If the Tories have the most seats but no majority then they will keep a minority Cameron government in power on a confidence and supply basis. Either way we are heading for a Lab-Tory govt of national emergency and after the next budget which will make Geoffrey Howe’s 1980 version look like child’s play there will be a national emergency.

  3. PETER KENYON says:

    Dear Pete

    On a historical note, I was a member of the NEC at the time of the inconclusive 2010 General Election who lobbied for an NEC meeting asap, alongside a newly elected MP who was lobbying for a prompt PLP meeting.

    I have checked my eMails and a scheduled meeting of the NEC Org Sub on Tuesday 11 May was converted by the powers that be, initially into a telephone conference, and then into a face-to-face meeting. The issue of involving the wider membership, which was obviously a requirement of those of us on the NEC from the CLGA, was overtaken by events. By the time the NEC met, negotiations with the LibDems had broken down, and as we left the building Gordon Brown was preparing to go to Buckingham Palace to resigned as PM and recommend that Cameron be invited to form a government.
    Personally, I could not see how Labour could form a government on the basis of seats won, and that was the conclusion of Gordon Brown’s special envoy to the devolved nations, Peter Hain.

    The fact that Gordon Brown had no mandate from the Party to consult the other parties, or enter into negotiations to form a coalition was a party constitutional nicety that never crossed his mind or the minds of re-elected Labour MPs.

  4. David Pavett says:

    I agree with the broad lines of Peter’s argument. I was a bit puzzled though by the view that a grand Tory-Labour coalition was “not altogether ridiculous”. Perhaps Peter could come back on this. It seems not to hang with his discussion of possible non-Tory coalitions later in the piece.

    I endorse the view that a decision on coalition should not be left to the PLP, or even worse the Shadow Cabinet. We really do need a clear statement to be made about this.

    I would like, finally, to support and emphasise Peter’s last point about FPTP. This voting system was designed for a two-party world. The assumptions behind it no longer pertain. Do we want a left-Labour government to be obtained on the basis of mass support or by a happy fluke of the electoral system? I fear that many on the left have given up on the former and therefore plump for the latter. I think this is fundamentally anti-democratic. The present system is well-past its sell-by date and is now artificially propping up the two main parties. Even worries about “wasted votes” are not enough to stem the drift to smaller parties and will not guarantee majority governments which are becoming ever less likely, as Peter says. It is really time for a left that values democracy to take electoral reform seriously.

    1. Robert says:

      yes but we still have a two party country SNP and maybe labour in Scotland, Wales it’s just labour, in England it’s Tory labour, is that going to change any time soon I hope so but I doubt it.

      FPTP is here for the next dozen or more years.

  5. John.P reid says:

    As left futures, isn’t only for labour members, it should be said that Plaid,Greens ,Respect,should be consulted if they want a coalition too

  6. Peter Rowlands says:

    Yes Trevor, the leader appointing process was too long, but there are possibly crucial choices to be made here, and the membership should and can be involved. Peter ( Hello) makes the point that the NEC would have tried to push this in 2010.
    David, a grand coalition with the Tories may be ridiculous for most members, but not to all on the Blairite right.
    I did not want this to be a discussion about PR, but I broadly agree with your comments on this.

  7. Barrie Morgan says:

    ‘I have squandered my resistance for a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises, all lies and jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.’ Give me something to believe in!

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