A formidable obstacle to a Lab-Lib coalition

The enduring hostility between the two party's activists could scupper a deal.

As the Lib Dems' poll surge shows no sign of abating, Labour ministers are beginning to dream again of a progressive coalition between the two parties that allows Gordon Brown to remain prime minister.

But one formidable obstacle to any political cooperation remains the fierce hostility between the two party's activists.

The leaflet below (from the excellent The Straight Choice) is an example of the sort of crude tactics Labour often uses against the Lib Dems at a local level. It combines an attack on the party as "soft" on murderers with an assault on the Lib Dems' support for the European Union.

The leaflet, distributed on behalf of Labour MP Roger Godsiff, even echoes Thatcher in declaring "no, no, no" to the European Court's ruling that the UK's ban on prisoners voting is illegal.

image.php

The ill feeling towards Labour that such tactics encourage wouldn't be such a problem if it wasn't for the notorious "triple lock" that binds Nick Clegg in any hung parliament talks. Imposed on Paddy Ashdown in 1998, it requires a Lib Dem leader to seek the approval of members and MPs before entering into a formal coalition.

The smear campaigns that both parties have run against each other mean that few will be willing to kiss and make up after 6 May.

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Facebook.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May's "clean Brexit" is hard Brexit with better PR

The Prime Minister's objectives point to the hardest of exits from the European Union. 

Theresa May will outline her approach to Britain’s Brexit deal in a much-hyped speech later today, with a 12-point plan for Brexit.

The headlines: her vow that Britain will not be “half in, half out” and border control will come before our membership of the single market.

And the PM will unveil a new flavour of Brexit: not hard, not soft, but “clean” aka hard but with better PR.

“Britain's clean break from EU” is the i’s splash, “My 12-point plan for Brexit” is the Telegraph’s, “We Will Get Clean Break From EU” cheers the Express, “Theresa’s New Free Britain” roars the Mail, “May: We’ll Go It Alone With CLEAN Brexit” is the Metro’s take. The Guardian goes for the somewhat more subdued “May rules out UK staying in single market” as their splash while the Sun opts for “Great Brexpectations”.

You might, at this point, be grappling with a sense of déjà vu. May’s new approach to the Brexit talks is pretty much what you’d expect from what she’s said since getting the keys to Downing Street, as I wrote back in October. Neither of her stated red lines, on border control or freeing British law from the European Court of Justice, can be met without taking Britain out of the single market aka a hard Brexit in old money.

What is new is the language on the customs union, the only area where May has actually been sparing on detail. The speech will make it clear that after Brexit, Britain will want to strike its own trade deals, which means that either an unlikely exemption will be carved out, or, more likely, that the United Kingdom will be out of the European Union, the single market and the customs union.

(As an aside, another good steer about the customs union can be found in today’s row between Boris Johnson and the other foreign ministers of the EU27. He is under fire for vetoing an EU statement in support of a two-state solution, reputedly to curry favour with Donald Trump. It would be strange if Downing Street was shredding decades of British policy on the Middle East to appease the President-Elect if we weren’t going to leave the customs union in order at the end of it.)

But what really matters isn’t what May says today but what happens around Europe over the next few months. Donald Trump’s attacks on the EU and Nato yesterday will increase the incentive on the part of the EU27 to put securing the political project front-and-centre in the Brexit talks, making a good deal for Britain significantly less likely.

Add that to the unforced errors on the part of the British government, like Amber Rudd’s wheeze to compile lists of foreign workers, and the diplomatic situation is not what you would wish to secure the best Brexit deal, to put it mildly.

Clean Brexit? Nah. It’s going to get messy. 

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