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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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.