Labour may need the Lib Dems as it couldn't afford another election. Photo: Getty
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Money matters: why Labour may need the Lib Dems more then the Tories do

Will the decision whether or not to go into coalition in 2015 depend more on money than on principle?

The hot topic in the Lib Dems right now is all coalition focused, post 2015. And this may well be misplaced. For example, Martin Kettle published an excellent analysis earlier this week about why a hung parliament in 2015 may well not result in another coalition government.

The reflexive prediction of a second coalition government is lazy. It is grounded more in past precedent than present fact. It overlooks something which many observers – including a lot of Liberal Democrats – have not spotted. It is that the Conservatives and the Labour party see powerful advantages in other governing options, even within a hung parliament. If the numbers permit – a proviso that should henceforth be taken as read — both the Tories and Labour will be tempted to spurn coalition and go it alone as a minority government.

He goes on to make a strong case for why both Labour and the Tories would rather tell Nick Clegg to stuff it next May. But I think one factor may have escaped Kettle, and it's one reason why many Lib Dems hope Labour get its act together sooner rather than later and end up as the biggest party in 2015. Sadly it’s less to do with policy and more to do with money.

Any minority government by definition is a vote of no confidence waiting to happen (and most Lib Dems are already dismissing the notion of any sort of confidence and supply arrangement – seen as the worst of both worlds for the party).

So that means a second general election in 2015 – 1974 all over again. If we find the Tories in No 10 in 2015, they’ll call that election themselves, knowing their coffers are full and making running a second campaign in a matter of months a straightforward undertaking. And as a bonus, Ukip will probably be all spent up by then too. It’s the option many Tories think Cameron should have gone for in 2010.

However, that’s not true of Labour, which has nowhere near the same financial clout. Will the unions put their hands in their pockets to fund a second election campaign? Given the unrest around the Miliband leadership already, it seems unlikely. Even less likely if he’s just failed to win a majority when he only needed 35 per cent of the vote to get it.

So while the Labour party may well desire to govern alone, the reality of their finances may mean that’s simply not an option, and the only game in town is a coalition.

Of course, this may not be with the Lib Dems. Who knows how the electoral arithmetic will work out, and maybe the SNP, Ukip, Plaid, the DUP and who-knows-who-else could be in the electoral frame.

But if Ed can’t get over that majority line next May, a coalition government looks far more likely than if the Tories find themselves in a minority position.

What price the reform of party funding then?

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

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