The Lib Dem Tina myth

There were alternatives to this full-blown coalition of convenience with the Tories.

Do you remember Margaret Thatcher's slogan "There is no alternative" (aka "Tina")?

In recent days, I've clashed with Liberal Democrat MPs -- from the unconvincing and uncomfortable Simon Hughes to the pompous and prickly Greg Mulholland -- who have pushed the Tina line in order to defend the indefensible: their opportunistic coalition of convenience with Cameron's Conservatives. What else could we have done, bleat the Lib Dems? What was the alternative, they repeatedly ask?

As someone who was once a supporter and admirer of the Liberal Democrats, in the pre-Clegg era, let me refer to two of Clegg's more progressive predecessors. Here is Charles Kennedy in today's Observer:

I did not subscribe to the view that remaining in opposition ourselves, while extending responsible "confidence and supply" requirements to a minority Tory administration, was tantamount to a "do nothing" response. I felt that such a course of action would have enabled us to maintain a momentum in opposition, while Labour turned inwards.

Here is Paddy Ashdown on the Today programme last Tuesday, rubbishing the idea that a Labour/Lib Dem coalition would be unstable:

If this was a coalition made up of what you might call the panjandrum elements that you suggest, I would not be in favour of it. It is a coalition made up of Liberal Democrat and Labour in which we would dare the other elements if they wished to vote us down and, I can tell you, I can think of no political circumstances where that would happen.

Lib Dem apologists -- like the odious Greg Mulholland and various commenters on this blog -- can get as worked up and outraged as they like. But their own former leaders tell us that alternatives to this Tory/Lib Dem coalition were available: 1) a minority Conservative government relying on "supply and confidence" from the Liberal Democrats, and 2) a Lab-Lib minority coalition governing with the implicit support of the nationalists and others.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.