Sunder Katwala, the Big Cheese of the Fabian Society, has written a piece for the New Statesman in which he talks about the benefits of forming a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition before a general election.
Mr.Katwala is an intelligent chappie whose opinion I always take seriously. However, I am deeply sceptical about any suggestion of reviving the ‘progressive’ alliance and do not find his article convincing. Just because Vince Cable and Shirley Williams come along to speak at Fabian events does not mean that a Labour-Liberal coalition could work smoothly or would be worth the trouble.
What would such a coalition mean for the Lib vs Lab struggles at a local level? Here in Islington, for example, we are unfortunately presided over by a Liberal Democrat Council which avoids Labour-advocated progressive policies like the plague. Whilst the Lib Dem councillors are spiteful and petty their Liberal Youth contingent are getting high as kites and encouraging others to do the same (read the story here: Lib Dems Give Drugs Equipment to Children!). The Labour Group is hopeful that the years of Liberal misrule will soon be coming to an end and that a Labour Council will be able to oversee changes such as strictly enforcing the target of at least 50% of new homes in the borough being affordable and implementing a plan of free school meals for Islington’s children. How would a national Labour-Liberal love-in change the dynamics of local Labour-Liberal loathing?
I am also very uncomfortable with the idea that “Labour should stand down in those Lib Dem seats where the Tories can challenge from second place”. Again, Sunder Katwala does not take into account the difficulties this would pose for Labour councillors battling it out with the Liberals at a local level. Once Labour ceases to contest ‘no hoper’ parliamentary constituences I shudder to think what the consequences would be for our identity as a national party and for the morale of those (already neglected) local bands of Labour supporters who find themselves in hostile territory.
Obviously I do not want to see the Conservative Party victorious at the next general election and any strategy which claims to make that event less likely to happen should be fairly considered. However, I would hope that it should be possible for Labour to rejuvenate itself without the assistance of the Liberal Democrats. That way lies (potential) madness!