Forming alliances: a run-down of the parties’ red lines

Hung parliament preparations.

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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 the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

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