Would the Lib Dems consider a pact with Labour? Of course

After what the Tories have thrown at us, the odd insulting speech will not block dealings with Labou

"Lickspittle". It’s a great word to use as an insult, rolling deliciously off the tongue in all its onomatopoeic glory. The sort of thing New Statesman readers write about me in the comments section on a weekly basis. And I’m sure it reflects how many Labour supporters genuinely feel about the Lib Dems, collaborators with the evil Tories.

Only it wasn’t a Labour member who threw that particular bon mot in our direction from the green benches. It was a Tory. With friends like that, eh?

So when I get asked, should the electoral arithmetic in 2015 end up suggesting a Lib Dem coalition with Labour, would we consider it, it’s a bit of an eyes to heaven, and deep sighs all round moment

Of course we would.

Does anyone really think after everything the Tories have thrown at us – including just the other week the Prime Minister telling his PPCs that he has effectively dealt with us  - that the odd insulting speech or overture to our support would block us dealing with Labour? And for all the "Yellow Tories" insults, we’re not Conservatives. Nor are we Labour. We’re Liberals.

This is not to say that there wouldn’t be some hurdles to overcome. We’d have to be convinced that we would genuinely get more Liberal policies in place, like taking 2 million workers out of tax altogether (let’s not forget, Labour MPs voted against that – what were they thinking?). We’d probably take a view on how progressive Labour had been over supposedly shared ambitions – Lords reform being an obvious example.

And this time, ahead of any negotiations, we’d have to rethink our strategy in government.

Having maintained from the word go that the "not a cigarette paper between us" strategy in government was the road to disaster (however short term a tactic it may have been) I believe any negotiations with potential partners in government must include some safeguards about what areas of policy we would own – perhaps giving us responsibility for single departments rather than shared responsibility across all. (Tim Montgomerie was suggesting the opposite yesterday, indicating he felt an end to the current differentiation strategy is a good idea. Maybe for the Conservatives. Not for us, thanks).

And of course, there is the danger that, having gone into coalition with the Tories, jumping into bed with Labour will lead to the accusation that "they’ll sleep with anyone". Which will only be avoided by setting up some pretty clear criteria for who’ll we’ll talk to up front, before a vote is cast. And honestly, if that’s the worst of it, I think we’d cope.

I know Labour doesn’t want to talk to us. Of course you don’t and you’re probably already trolling "dream on" remarks in the comments section. You want to win a majority off your own back. I don’t blame you. For what its worth, I want the same for us.

But if you the good people of Britain decide that a Lib-Lab pact is the way forward in 2015, I’m not going to turn my face away in a sulk. And neither, frankly, is Ed Miliband.

We’ll see you in 70 Whitehall.
 

Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. Photograph: Getty Images

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Photo: Bulent Kilic/Getty Images
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We need to talk about the origins of the refugee crisis

Climate change, as much as Isis, is driving Europe's migrant crisis, says Barry Gardiner. 

Leaders get things wrong. Of course they do. They have imperfect information. They face competing political pressures. Ultimately they are human. The mark of a bad leader is not to make the wrong decision. It is to make no decision at all.

David Cameron’s paralysis over the unfolding human tragedy of Syrian refugees should haunt him for the rest of his natural life. At a time when political and moral leadership was most called for he has maintained the most cowardly silence. 

All summer, as Italy, Greece, Hungary and Macedonia have been trying to cope with the largest migration of people this continent has seen in 70 years, Downing Street has kept putting out spokespeople to claim the government is working harder than any other country “to solve the causes of the crisis” and that this justifies the UK’s refusal to take more than the 216 refugees it has so far admitted directly from Syria. The truth is it hasn’t and it doesn’t.

Anyone who truly wants to solve the causes of the nightmare that is Syria today must look beyond the vicious and repressive regime of Assad or the opportunistic barbarism of ISIL. They need to understand why it was that hundreds of thousands of ruined farmers from Al-Hasakeh, Deir Ezzor and AL-Raqqa in the northeast of that country flocked to the cities in search of government assistance in the first place - only to find it did not exist.

Back in 2010 just after David Cameron became Prime Minister, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation warned that, after the longest and most severe drought in Syria, since records began in 1900, 3 million Syrians were facing extreme poverty. In 2011 the International Institute for Strategic Studies published a report claiming that climate change “will increase the risks of resource shortages, mass migration and civil conflict”. These were some of the deep causes of the Syrian civil war just as they are the deep causes of the conflicts in Tunisia, South Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Egypt. So what about Cameron’s claim that his government has been working to solve them?

Two years after that Institute for Strategic Studies report pointed out that conflict as a result of  drought in countries like Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia had already claimed 600,000 lives,  the parliamentary Committee on Arms Export Controls found the UK Government had issued more than 3,000 export licenses for military and intelligence equipment worth a total of £12.3bn to countries which were on its own official list for human rights abuses; including to Libya, Tunisia, Somalia, Sudan, Egypt and Syria. That was the same year that UK aid to Africa was cut by 7.4% to just £3.4billion. Working to solve the root causes? Or working to fuel the ongoing conflict?

A year later in 2014 home office minister, James Brokenshire told the House of Commons that the government would no longer provide support to the Mare Nostrum operation that was estimated to have saved the lives of more than 150,000 refugees in the Mediterranean, because it was providing what the government called a “pull factor”. He said: “The government believes the most effective way to prevent refugees and migrants attempting this dangerous crossing, is to focus our attention on countries of origin and transit, as well as taking steps to fight the people smugglers who wilfully put lives at risk by packing migrants into unseaworthy boats.”

In fact the ending of the rescue operation did not reduce the number of refugees. It was not after all a “pull factor” but the push factor – what was happening in Syria - that proved most important. Earlier this summer, David Cameron indicated that he believed the UK should consider joining the United States in the bombing campaign against Isis in Syria, yet we know that for every refugee fleeing persecution under Assad, or the murderous thuggery of ISIS, there is another fleeing the bombing of their city by the United States in its attempt to degrade ISIS.  The bombing of one’s home is a powerful push factor.

The UK has not even fulfilled Brokenshire’s promise to fight the people smugglers. The Financial Action Task Force has reported that human trafficking generates proportionately fewer Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) annually than other comparable crimes because the level of awareness is lower. Prosecuting the heads of the trafficking networks has not been a focus of government activity. Scarcely a dozen minor operatives pushing boats on the shores of Turkey have actually been arrested. But it is not the minnows that the UK government should be concentrating on. It is their bosses with a bank account in London where a series of remittances are coming in from money transfer businesses in Turkey or North Africa. Ministers should be putting real pressure on UK banks who should be registering SARs so the authorities can investigate and begin to prosecute the ultimate beneficiaries who are driving and orchestrating this human misery. They are not.

That image, which few of us will ever completely erase from our mind, will no doubt prompt David Cameron to make a renewed gesture. An extra million for refugee camps in Jordan, or perhaps a voluntary commitment to take a couple of thousand more refugees under a new European Quota scheme. But if the UK had been serious about tackling the causes of this crisis it had the opportunity in Addis Ababa in July this year at the Funding for Sustainable Development Conference. In fact it failed to bring forward new money for the very climate adaptation that could stem the flow of refugees. In Paris this December the world will try to reach agreement on combating the dangerous climate change that Syria and North Africa are already experiencing. Without agreement there, we in the rich world will have to get used to our trains being disrupted, our borders controls being breached and many more bodies being washed up on our beaches.