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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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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