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.

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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.