If there is no outright winner of the next general election, who should the Liberal Democrats form a coalition with in 2015? Is the deal sealed with the Conservatives, or can the hatchet be buried with Labour? That is a question that will trouble strategists of all three parties as the next year, and the two following, develop.
John Kampfner has explained why he thinks that the Lib Dem’s future lies with the Labour Party, while Labour Leader Ed Miliband has indulged in petty personality politics in refusing to even consider an alliance as long as Nick Clegg remains leader. So could the Lib Dems really work with Labour?
It’s not as crazy as it might sound. It’s not as if the Tories are a natural fit for a party that likes to see itself as “of the Left”. Admittedly, the Conservatives may be far more sensible than the borrow-and-be-damned Labour Party when it comes to deficit reduction, but the Labour Party are in opposition; in government, we all know Labour would have introduced cuts deeper than those introduced under Margaret Thatcher. In opposition, the Conservatives made many loud and populist noises that they knew they would have to ditch once they were in power.
So, can the Lib Dems work with Labour? It depends very much upon which Labour you are talking about. The tax-and-spend, borrow-and-spend, ignore-falling-productivity-and-spend Labour Party can never be allowed to reign again. They were a menace to the British Public and left the UK in no position to face a global recession.
Neither can we willingly join forces with a Labour Party that is willing to keep interest rates artificially low just to achieve unsustainable short-term growth. But then, we should say the same about the Conservatives, who created the Lawson Boom that turned into the recession of 1990-92 and are again hoping to fuel the UK economy with a bout of cheap credit.
But the Labour Party’s legacy was not all bad. This was the party that stood against prejudice and allowed the hard-working, entrepreneurial people of Eastern Europe to come to our country, “steal” jobs nobody wanted, create lots of jobs they people <i>did</i> want and pay a bucket load of tax in the process. The Tories, by comparison, are poisoning the UK economy with their anti-immigration bias.
This was also the party that, famously, was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.” That may seem an unpopular sentiment now, but one should remember the words of the Liberal Prime Minster and leading light of New (now irritatingly re-labelled “social”) Liberalism, Herbert Asquith, who observed that:
“Socialism seeks to pull down wealth; Liberalism seeks to raise up poverty. Socialism would destroy private interests; Liberalism would preserve private interests … Socialism would kill enterprise; Liberalism would rescue enterprise from the trammels of privilege and preference. Socialism assails the pre-eminence of the individual; Liberalism seeks, and shall seek more in the future, to build up a minimum standard for the mass…”
There is nothing wrong with extreme wealth. There is something wrong with hopeless poverty. A Labour Party that was more interested in social mobility and wealth creation and less interested in envy and wealth destruction, that was willing to adopt fiscal prudence and spend within its means, that was willing to put petty personality politics aside and work for the good of the country… That is a Labour Party that we could work with.