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.


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.


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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.