In the most unpredictable general election for a generation (a phrase used by journalists as frequently as the “long term economic plan” by the Tories) every potential outcome has been scrutinised at an almost forensic level. A single party majority? A single party minority? A coalition? A minority coalition? All are types of governments that can emerge from the very likely event of a hung parliament. But let’s rule one thing out: a grand coalition.
The grand coalition is something Norman Tebbit and I agree on (imagine chewing a wasp, that was the face I made just writing that). In the Telegraph Tebbit wrote: “I found that a good number of sensible, experienced people at Westminster have begun to wonder if there would be calls from the media, the CBI and TUC for a “Grand Coalition” in the European style, formed by the two major parties – which are in disagreement about almost every major policy for managing the country. I doubt if that could work.”
I doubt it too. Imagine the situation: following the general election David Cameron and Ed Miliband walk towards a lectern in the leafy garden of 10 Downing Street, smiling. They announce to the gathering of journalists that they, together, have formed a National Government. Sound slightly insane? Such a move would not only alienate voters from both Tory and Labour camps – both of the party leaders would be embarking on career suicide.
But, of course, it isn’t impossible. The last time the UK formed a grand coalition was in 1940, under Winston Churchill. The first was a Liberal-Conservative coalition formed in 1915. Both were during times of world wars. But there has been one peacetime grand coalition: in August 1931 Ramsay MacDonald – Labour’s first Prime Minister – was asked to form another government (his first collapsed following the Wall Street Crash of 1929) and he did so by uniting ministers from the Labour, Liberal and Conservative parties – under the banner of the National Government. Labour expelled its own members who rebelled and refused to support it. Unfortunately for MacDonald, he lost all his credibility as a politician.
Recently there’s been a renewed interest in this alternative, largely due to a surge in popularity among the minority parties. In January, Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat business secretary, said: “We may have to prepare ourselves for the possibility that we won’t be in the collation at all, that there will be a grand coalition between Labour and the Tories instead.”
And more recently, Gisela Stuart, Labour’s MP for the marginal seat of Birmingham Edgbaston, said that the Labour party should not rule out doing a deal with the Tories. Stuart said to the Financial Times: “If on May 8 you had a position where Labour had more seats than the Tories but not enough to form a government – but the Tories had more votes than Labour – I think you should not dismiss the possibility of a grand coalition in terms of regrouping the main.
“If no party has a won an overall majority then it will have to work with another party. And as you work through the options, do not rule out that you have a grand coalition.”
Unsurprisingly Labour has called the idea “utter, utter nonsense.” The Tories added the proposition has a “snowball in hell’s chance.” Interestingly, Stuart – one of a handful of eurosceptic Labour MPs – is suggesting something that is very ‘in’ at the moment in mainland Europe. A coalition between the left and the right is in place in Germany, where Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats party is holding hands with the Social Democrats.
Unless Stuart and Cable have gazed into a crystal ball and predicted another economic meltdown or a war that engulfs the European continent in the next 65 days then it wouldn’t be controversial to say that a grand coalition isn’t on the cards.