Are we on the verge of a blue-yellow coalition?

Senior Lib Dems are optimistic about doing a deal with Cameron.

Memo to fellow progressives: this might not be our "moment". Sorry to be the bearer of bad news on the day that hundreds of people are gathering in central London to call for electoral reform, but I'm here to inform you that the Lib Dems might be about to do the unthinkable and join up with the Tories.

One senior Lib Dem frontbencher told me this morning that the Tories will "offer us a referendum on electoral reform. I have no doubt about it. They are desperate." He added: "My ideal outcome is unachievable. Personally, I would like to have done a deal with Labour."

So, are we on the verge of a blue-yellow coalition government, with Lib Dem ministers taking seats in a Cameron-led cabinet? Perhaps -- but almost everything about this election and the campaign that preceded it has been unpredictable. There's no reason why these post-election negotiations won't turn out to be just as volatile or as erratic.

Personally, I hope and pray that Nick Clegg does not fall for the Tory proposals that are put in front of him in the coming days. He has to remember that Cameron and co can't be trusted on electoral reform; the Conservatives are -- and always will be -- the party of the status quo.

But I've prepared myself to be disappointed. A Cameron-Clegg administration is no longer inconceivable. The Lib Dem leader's ludicrous decision to refer to the party with the most seats and votes as having a "mandate" boxed him in and forced him to negotiate with the Tories first. I asked my Lib Dem source why he had done so. His reply: "There is no point in saying we're going to play by rules that don't exist. We've got to play by the rules as they are."

Clegg and co may regret that decision at the next election.

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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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.