Will a transnational coalition form a stable government?
It is unlikely that the Tories and Liberals will form a coalition. Thus the next choice would be a lib-lab coalition. Alone they would hold 305 seats, one less than the Tories. This would mean the other national parties would play a role. Hatred of Tories in Scotland is palpable and long standing. It is unlikely SNP would support the Tories. DUP has stated publically that they share policy goals with Labour and are willing to work with them. Plaid Cymru have stated they will not form a coalition with the Tories because of their plans of cuts and would work with Labour. Could a transnational coaltiion work in parliament? Would the English public accept this coalition.
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Liberal Democrats and the Tories have little in common and although Nick Clegg may want to make a deal, the party members will refuse. A coalition between Lib Dems and Labour could lead to a stable government as their policies have large areas of overlap, ie economy, stemming from their left of centre standing. In addition, many voters voted lib dems because of their disgust of labour and their handling of the Iraq War. Therefore, a lib lab coalition could be palpable to the public. Some in the press have reflected this sentiment [[http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/election-2010/7674000/General-Election-2010-A-Lib-Lab-coalition-is-now-the-best-hope-for-Labour-and-for-Britain.html; http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2010/04/the-dream-ticket-a-lib-lab-coalition/%5D%5D and the New Statesman threw their support behind a lab-lib coalition. Together the two parties represent 52% of the electorate. This could be important if tactical voting played a role in keeping the conservatives out.
Common Ground among the parties
The lib dems and labour share common ground on their policies with the national parties as well as a shared interest in keeping the conservatives out. Both are the progressive parties especially on issues such as political reform.[[Neal Lawson, 'Lab and Lib: a dream team', Guardian.co.uk, 9/5/10, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/09/labour-liberal-democrats-progressive-alliance%5D%5D The Nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales (as well as the SDLP and Greens) are reletively left wing and for higher public spending. They do not agree with the conservatives desire to cut the deficit quickly through slashing public services as this would in turn affect their spending interests in Wales and Scotland. Instead they would prefer Labour's policy of waiting a year to decrease the deficit and then in part doing it through increases in taxation rather than through spending cuts.
The question is whether they can paper over all the cracks rather than whether their policies are close enough. The Conservative and Labour policies would most likely be close enough to create a coalition if necessary. However it is not policy that creates divisions between parties. Even during the hight of Blairism when most of the public considered New Labour and the Conservatives to be standing on the same core set of policies they would not have considered working together on many things (with the exception of terrorism and other national security areas). The main problem is rivalries. Except for Scottish independence the SNP are very similar ideologically to Labour, but could they work together despite decades of bitter division?
Desire to keep the Conservatives out
In the fringes of the country, as well as the inner cities of the North there is a folk memory of Maggy's cuts in the 1980s. Fears of the cuts the conservatives would make at their expense would keep even a reletively disperate coaltion together if necessary. The SNP in Scotland and Plaid in Wales are not likely to vote legislation down or abandon a coalition if they think there is a good chance the Conservatives will get in as a result of their actions.
A desire to keep someone else out will only go so far. It will not trump the individual interests of all the parties involved meaning that any such coalition will not be stable. At some point a party will forget the reason that they are all together or will decide that they could afterall manage with a conservative government and bring the coalition down.
Lib Dem policies need coalitions to work
The Liberal Democrats need a coalition government to work. Their position on electoral reform is essentially predecated upon coalition governments working and being stable. The Proportional representation that they advocate is likely to result in hung parliaments much of the time so in order to be able to convince the general public to support their favoured reforms they need to show that paralysis will not result. This could just as well be in a traffic light coalition as one with the conservatives, indeed the broad tent needed for a Lib/Lab pact plus nationalists etc could be a very good demonstration that Proportional Representation would work even with diverse interests.
Has worked before
A Lib-Lab pact was formed in 1977 when Callaghan faced the prospect of losing a non-confidence vote in the house commons. The two elections of 1974 produced first a hung parliament and then a Labour majority of three seats. Once Labour loss those three seats it was forced to form a coalition in order to pass its legislation. It produced stability for over a year. Subsequently coalitions were made with the national parties and this extended the government to 1979. Thus, for two full years coalition government managed to govern through a time of great economic difficulty with high inflation and industrial unrest.
Too many parties
A Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition might initially seem like a good idea but it would be very difficult to make it work in practice once it has been agreed on paper. Such a deal would have to include not only Labour and the Liberal Democrats but also include the SDLP who traditionally take the Labour whip in the House of Commons anyway, Caroline Lucas, the Green MP who is to the Left of the Lib dems and The Alliance who unseated the DUP leader along with the two nationalist parties, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalist Party to get a total of 329, a majority of three.[[http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/election_2010/8670411.stm]] Keeping all the parties involved happy would be an immense task for any leader as almost any one of the parties could hold the whole coalition to ransom. The small parties in the coalition would very quickly see how much power they have over Labour and the Lib dems who would be the main shareholders. Labour and the Liberals would have a lot to lose should the coalition fail as they are likely to lose ground to the Conservatives in any election that occurs due to the conservatives being able to accuse them of putting the country in peril. The nationalists on the other hand would probably gain as they would be able to say they had been fighting for the interests of their country by holding the rest of the nation to ransom.
A Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition would not need to formally include the other smaller parties. SNP and Green have already stated that they would not join a coalition. Lab-Lib coalition could work with the smaller parties on a issue by issue basis. If the the national parties are called upon to pass a piece of legislation on cuts and they refuse, the coalition dare these parties to support the Tories and bring down the coalition government. It is unlikely that the national parties would be so inclined. It is known that cuts need to be made and if they are spread evenly around then it would be difficult for the nationalist parties to argue against them. Especially since they know that if an election were called and Tory win then they will face cuts, worse than during the Thatcher years. As for Northern Ireland, DUP traditional side with the Conservatives, although they have stated that they would look at issues on a case by case basis and the SDLP traditionally vote with Labour. Conservatives plus DUP and one independent unionist come to 315 and Lab-Lib and SDLP come to 318. (The Alliance are closest to Liberal Democrats in philosophy and policies) So, it may be possible to simply have a Lib-Lab coalition and leave the other parties to judge issues on a case by case without yielding too much power to them on the threat that the Tories would do worse to them.
Coalition of losers
Any coalition created by the Liberal Democrats and Labour would be seen as a coalition of losers. Labour is the obvious loser of the election and it is almost universally agreed that the electorate voted for change in one form or another, even those who voted for Labour may well prefer to have labour under a different leader. However the Liberal democrats despite their percentage of the vote going up by more than 1% are also being seen as losers. This is because they lost 7 seats as well as because the Cleggmania made everyone expect more from them. Such a coalition would simply be seen as being stubborn and being unwilling to concede that the Conservatives won the election.
This does not mean that the electorate have voted for the Conservatives either. The Centre-Left parties between them managed to secure 57% of the vote meaning a Lib-Lab coalition would really be the coalition of winners rather than propping up the centre right by a centre left party which would be the case in a Con-Lib coalition[[Neal Lawson, 'Lab and Lib: a dream team', Guardian.co.uk, 9/5/10, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/09/labour-liberal-democrats-progressive-alliance%5D%5D
Gordon must go
Gordon Brown must go seems to be about the only thing that everyone, except Gordon himself, can agree on. This is the case whether Labour becomes the governing party or goes in to opposition. While this is not very relevent if Labour moves into opposition, it can take its time to sort out its leadership issues, it is a big problem for creating a broad based coalition to govern. Polly Toynbee usually pretty left wing says
[[Polly Toynbee, 'Gordon Brown must go – by June 5', guardian.co.uk, 11/5/09, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/may/11/labour-gordon-brown%5D%5D while to the Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson
[[Boris Johnson, 'General Election 2010: Get Gordon Brown out of the bathroom and deal with the real problems', The Telegraph, 10/5/10, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/borisjohnson/7703966/General-Election-2010-Get-Gordon-Brown-out-of-the-bathroom-and-deal-with-the-real-problems.html%5D%5D Everyone is against Gordon, and he is seen as a major sticking point in any potential coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party as the Lib dems do not want him to remain as PM[[Hung parliament: Lib Dem negotiators met Labour team, BBC News, 10/5/10, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/election_2010/8671661.stm%5D%5D however does not seem to be in a hurry to go. What would be done, would there be a set of coalition talks being directed by someone who will not even take part in the coalition? All in all even getting to the point of setting up a coalition may be difficult.
Edit: now that Gordon has in fact said he will be going the situation has changed. However some think that he is just trying to buy a little more time in Downing st. by making the possibility of him being PM during a coalition while a new labour leader is elected by the party.
This has however proved to be incorrect as Gordon Brown has shown himself willing to move for the greater interest of his party, or possibly the national interest. Brown's standing down has given Labour a greater chance of being able to persuade the Liberals that a progressive alliance would be best for everyone. Nick Clegg seemed to think that it was progress as well
[[Gordon Brown 'stepping down as Labour leader', BBC News, 10/5/10, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/election_2010/8672859.stm%5D%5D
A coalition with SNP involved seems to have been ruled out
Douglas Alexander the Scottish Secretary seems to have ruled out having the SNP involved in and 'rainbow' coalition that Labour and the Liberal Democrats could make.
[[Labour MP rules out deal with SNP, BBC News, 11/5/10, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/election_2010/scotland/8674214.stm%5D%5D Without the SNP the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats could potentially try to form a coalition minority and govern on the assumption that the SNP will not vote against them with the conservatives looming. That however would seem to be playing with fire and would rule out any potential cuts in Scotland as the SNP would just vote against, at least if they were in the coalition they would have a sense of ownership of policy so might allow some cuts in the interest of everyone. Without being a part of the coalition they can fall back on Scottish nationalism as a justification for blocking anything. They would also be secure from any unpopularity severe cuts bring.
The SNP really dislike the Conservatives. They would not risk bringing down a minority Lib-Lab coalition by voting against them on anything major. Bringing down the coalition would be likely to result in an election and the conservatives getting in.
Would lead to fissures within the parites
The prospect of a Lib-Lab coalition has already begun to reveal cracks in the Labour party especially between the right and left wings. Many within the party feel that the electorate have signalled that they want the Labour party to step down and renew itself. ((see http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/wintour-and-watt/2010/may/11/coalition-talks-libdem-labour-deal and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/labour/7708071/Labour-MPs-fear-Browns-plan-could-destroy-the-Left.html)) The left wing feel that the Labour party has swung for to long to the centre and that it should return to the centre. In addition, many Labour mps are not in favour of electoral reform. To further complicate the situation, a new leadership contest is set to be launched within the Labour party, thus, the new leader may not be in favour of the coalition conditions that may reached at this time.
As for the Liberal Democrats, the coalition would validate the charge levied by the Tories that a vote for Clegg is a vote for Brown. They could end up losing voters over this coalition and see a return to duopoly.
What do you think?