Labour should stop flirting with the toxic Lib Dems

There is nothing progressive left in the party of Clegg, Laws and Alexander, writes Simon Danczuk MP.

It was Bill Shankly who famously said, "first is first and second is nowhere". At half time in this parliamentary term there are some in the Labour Party who’d do well to listen to the former Liverpool maestro. Heading towards a General Election we should be doing all we can to cultivate a winning spirit and not contemplate for one second the prospect of losing and forming a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Our energies should be firmly fixed on winning a majority not thinking about a coalition consolation prize.

Harriet Harman is right to say there should be “no cosying up to the Lib Dems”, but there remains a residual persistence in some quarters to continue some sort of dalliance. This appears to be built around the fanciful notion of a "progressive alliance", which is completely at odds with the reality of Clegg’s party.

There simply is no point pretending the party of Clegg, Laws and Alexander is a progressive force. Despite their pantomime conference caricatures of nasty Tories every year the reality backstage is that many Liberal Democrats in the Coalition are extremely comfortable with their Conservative counterparts. You didn’t have to look far from the main stage at last year’s Liberal Democrat conference to witness a love-in between Greg Clark and Ed Davey. These people deserve each other.

Troweling a thin veneer of progressive politics onto the Liberal Democrats is pointless. Their brand is toxic. Anyone who has campaigned against the Liberal Democrats in a marginal seat will know the Liberal Democrat values that Nick Clegg boasts of are a myth. The only value they hold is that of survival.

“A candidate must be a chameleon, adapting to each person he meets,” reasoned Cicero in 65 B.C and Liberal Democrats follow this to the letter, making all kinds of promises to every voter and practicing their usual brand of gravity defying contortionism.

Joining forces with a party whose Effective Opposition handbook advises activists to “be wicked, act shamelessly, stir endlessly,” can only be seen as a regressive step.

Worse still, we run the risk of presenting our opponents with the slogan of ‘Vote Ed Miliband, get Nick Clegg’. We should be straining every sinew to build on the momentum that Ed Miliband is creating and leave the Liberal Democrats behind in the slow lane.

There are, of course, many who say that coalitions are here to stay but that argument cuts no ice with me. This is the first coalition we’ve had in 70 years and it clearly isn’t working. The rose garden rhetoric of providing stability for the country has given way to a painful reality of Downing Street dithering, a double dip recession and coalition paralysis afflicting policy making. The country needs dynamic and decisive government not endless spats and bickering between Liberal Democrats and Tories.

We should be learning lessons from the coalition’s many failings not seeking to repeat their mistakes. It’s clear that both parties can’t be trusted as tribalism has long since replaced the good intentions behind the coalition agreement. And if the Liberal Democrats can’t be trusted in Government now why should they be trusted in 2015? Having lost out on getting most of their policies through Government this time round no doubt they would be much more ruthless next time and who knows what ridiculous policies they’d try and force on the Labour Party.

When the coalition was formed it was largely supported by the public. But I no longer detect any public appetite for more coalitions. It’s left a bad taste. Too much policy cross dressing just looks like political parties have lost any sense of identity and are being led by shallow expediency rather than a real conviction or sense of purpose. We should never lose sight of this. Now is the time to replace a mentality of wooing with one of winning.

Simon Danczuk is Labour MP for Rochdale

Nick Clegg gestures at his party's conference. Photograph: Getty Images

Simon Danczuk is MP for Rochdale.

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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