The parties are drawing up their "red line" policies. Photo: Flickr/bixentro
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Forming alliances: a run-down of the parties’ red lines

Hung parliament preparations.

As the polls have narrowed and the smaller parties are bigger than ever, a hung parliament in May 2015 is looking increasingly likely. The parties have started laying out their red (and pink) lines for when it comes to forming alliances next year.

Here’s what we know so far:
 

The Conservatives

An in/out EU referendum in 2017

David Cameron has made this a “cast iron” guarantee, promising that he will not “stand as Prime Minister” unless he can secure a referendum on the European Union in 2017.

Having caved into pressure from backbenchers and Ukip tugging incessantly at his arm, he had little choice but to make an EU referendum a “red line” once he’d finally promised one.

What will be more difficult for Cameron is his long-anticipated renegotiation of Britain’s membership. The Lib Dems, still his most likely allies if there were to be another Tory-led coalition, have essentially agreed to allowing the Conservatives an EU referendum; Nick Clegg said in October he had been a major advocate throughout his “adult political life”.

However, the Lib Dems’ idea of what the renegotiation should look like could clash with the Tories’ intentions. Clegg has warned Cameron’s renegotiation would be “largely synthetic”, and is against the Tories wanting to “reinvent the wheel” with their 2017 referendum pledge.

 

Labour

Because the party refuses outwardly to contemplate a coalition or alliance following the election, it has not set out its red lines explicitly.

However, what it is likely to hold sacred in negotiations includes:

  • Repealing the bedroom tax. The party has been banging the drum on this for some time, and it would be a severe let-down to voters and economically rather pointless to U-turn on it.
     
  • The energy price freeze. Possibly the party's most distinctive policy proposal.
     
  • £8 minimum wage. Seeing as the party is encouraging the Living Wage and making plans for stopping the exploitation of migrant workers, we can probably take an increase in the minimum wage as a given.
     
  • Repealing the Health and Social Care Act. This ties into continuing to protect the NHS, which is the party’s rather unsurprising first election pledge.
     
  • Sticking to the McKay Commission’s answer to the West Lothian question as a response to English Votes for English Laws. As a government, it can’t afford the loss to its authority the latter would bring.

 

The Liberal Democrats

It’s easier for the Lib Dems to lay down their red lines, because they can be open about forming a coalition with either the Tories or Labour next year.

During their party conference in October, some of their non-negotiable priorities were revealed – notably Clegg’s hinted acceptance of the Tories’ promised referendum meant a vote on Britain’s EU membership wasn’t one of them.

 

Improving mental health services

This was the Lib Dems’ big promise during their conference: to guarantee treatment within six weeks, or 18 weeks at the “absolute maximum”, and spend £120m on improving mental health services.

A Lib Dem spokesperson said this would be “smack bang” on the front of their 2015 manifesto, making it a red line issue. However, it’s unlikely any party they could form a pact with would refuse – it’s not exactly politically contentious.

During their conference, it was also reported that keeping the European Human Rights Act in place, and disallowing another welfare crackdown are “non-negotiable” for the party.

Shortly after this, a photo of the party’s strategy chief, Ryan Coetzee, taking a draft of the manifesto revealed some other policies likely to be red lines. These include: balancing the budget by 2018, cutting income tax by £400 for low and middle earners, equal care and waiting times for mental as well as physical health, protecting education spending.

Also, the party's flexibility on the EU referendum may be used as a bargaining chip for, say, constitutional reforms.

 

Ukip

An in/out EU referendum in July 2015

This is Nigel Farage’s “price” for propping up the Tories in a confidence-and-supply agreement after the general election. It is also thought that Ukip could demand a leader other than Cameron, although it’s rather unrealistic they would be in such a position to demand a different prime minister.

 

The SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Greens

Scrapping Trident

Although each of these parties have different priorities, they have all agreed that if they are to ally with Labour in Westminster, then their red line would be on Trident.

They gave a joint press conference on Monday, saying they would not enter government with Labour unless they secured a pledge from the party not to renew Trident. Labour has committed to replacing the nuclear fleet, in spite of the £80bn cost.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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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.