Is a Lib-Lab coalition on the cards?

I’m not a gambling man but, like our Prime Minister, I enjoy following political odds. Like public polls, I think they give a good snapshot of the state of the nation and indicate where we could be heading.

I particularly like following the odds for Britain’s next government. Paddy Power currently offers Labour as favourites to secure a majority at the next general election, closely followed by the Conservatives. No surprises there. But of most interest, in my view, is what the bookies see to be the equal third most likely outcome: a Lib-Lab coalition.

Could this really happen? In the event of a hung parliament, could Labour and the Liberal Democrats forget the acrimony of the last few years and form a progressive coalition to lead Britain? Like I said, I’m not one to place bets. But if I did, this one might just tempt me.

The odds have been shortening and here’s why. The Daily Telegraph revealed over the weekend that senior Liberal Democrats such as Vince Cable and Sir Menzies Campbell have allegedly been in regular contact with Labour leader Ed Miliband and his inner circle to discuss issues on which they have ‘common ground’. In the event of another hung parliament, it would seem, the two parties want to be ready to seize power.

And reports of such discussions don’t sound unreasonable. Cable has been a persistent grumbling presence in the current Coalition – criticising Clegg and Cameron whilst being viewed by one Tory donor as a ‘socialist’ – and the two parties share ideological sympathies on matters such as House of Lords reform and social justice.

Meanwhile, Miliband recently appointed Lord Adonis as his industrial strategy advisor, an influential peer who has strong links with the Liberal Democrats and who would be a good facilitator of talks between the two parties.

So the stars seem to be aligning. As in 1997, Labour and the Lib Dems appear to be making the strategic calculation that an alliance of sorts might be the only way of keeping out the Tories at the next election. But the difference back then was that Tony Blair went on to secure a landslide majority for Labour and so had no need for Lib Dem support when in government, a landslide that currently looks beyond Milliband’s reach. A coalition may be the only route to power.

And – whisper it – we might not even have to wait until 2015 for such an outcome. With the Liberal Democrats floundering at 9% according to the latest Yougov poll and Britain’s economy in double-dip recession, Cable and his key supporters might decide to take a risk and call for a radical change in the government’s economic policy. Plan A of fiscal consolidation has failed, they could argue, and it’s now time to switch to a bold Keynesian stimulus approach to lift Britain out of the doldrums.

Whether the Lib Dems would be brave enough to do this now is another question. Uncertainty is rife in the Eurozone and the Olympics are almost upon us, so the time doesn’t seem right to break up the Coalition. But the seeds have certainly been sown. Could we see a Lib-Lab coalition in the near future? These are early days, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

Published in Palatinate, Official Durham Student Newspaper – 6th June 2012

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