12 May 2010

First thoughts on the coalition

OK people... this is very early on, just going on stuff from the Guardian live blog really, and full details haven't yet been announced, so it's subject to revision. But for now, here is my response to the first details of the Lib/Con deal.

  • The Tories got pretty much all the top positions. I guess DaveCam as PM was never in doubt but I'm amazed Clegg agreed to George Osborne becoming Chancellor over Vince. Vince is in there as Osborne's No 2 - Chief Sec... that'll be good fun for him. Taking his orders from a neo-con twerp. Poor Vince. He deserved better. Unconfirmed reports that Chris Huhne is getting Home Secretary. Given that the Tories' Chris Grayling is damaged goods after his homophobic remarks, that would make some sense.
  • Tories have given way on a central component of their tax plans - but don't jump in the air just now, as it's the plan to raise the income tax personal allowance to £10,000 - a £17 bn measure that gives no help at all to non-earners and very little to low earners. Something the Tories were committed to in the long run but said they couldn't afford. So we can surmise that public spending will have to fall even faster to pay for it. Badly targeted, crazy measure.
  • The IHT threshold increase has been ruled out for this parliament. Amen to that.
  • Not clear what's happening with most of the other parts of the Lib Dem package. The 'mansion tax' has been ruled out, not surprisingly, given the kind of people whose interests the Tory party is run in aid of. Apparently CGT will be increased - not sure to what rate, yet. I guess it could have been worse.
  • Tories seem to have got their way completely on immigration, defence, Europe. In other words, most of the most progressive parts of the Lib Dem manifesto have been dumped in the bin. Nice work, Nick!
  • Plan to equalise constituency sizes for the next election. This is being touted as an implementation of Lib Dem policy on the Guardian blog, but surely it's Tory policy as well? Probably will reverse the current bias towards Labour (although to the extent that several Scottish seats are Lib Dem, it's unlikely there will be complete equalisation of constituency sizes there without some kind of fiddling about.)
  • Coalition MPs will be three-line-whipped to push a bill for a referendum on AV through the Commons. (Not clear what happens in the Lords if it gets stalled there.) On the face of it this is the Lib Dems' greatest achievement from this deal. Labour should back the referendum in the Commons too - and campaign for it in the country as well (the Tories are going to be free to campaign against AV in the referendum campaign itself). In fact, Labour should up the ante by putting in an amendment providing a second yes/no question on the referendum ballot - for STV, which is the Lib Dems' preferred model - and then dare the Lib Dems to vote down the amendment. The sight of Lib Dem MPs voting down their party's own policy because the Tories told them to is not one that will go down well with party activists. See, kids, this is the kind of fun and games a well-organised opposition can have with the coalition.
  • Fixed term parliaments of five years - which is surely too long (why not four? Probably because these guys want to wait as long as possible before the next election before the economy recovers.) Not sure how this will work in practice. Surely you'd have to have the proviso that it can be overridden by a vote of no confidence? Otherwise, suppose that in 2012 (for example), the coalition breaks down - having passed this measure into law already - and Cameron is leading a minority administration. If there can't be a vote of no confidence, but he can't pass any legislation because he hasn't got a majority, what then? Complete impasse for 3 years? Begins to sound like the US model! Crazy stuff.
  • Banking levy and bonuses. If not sabotaged by the Tory right (which is a big if), this looks reasonably promising, to be fair - particularly if Vince is taking personal charge of this area.
  • Tory 'free school' plans going ahead. We'll see how this one pans out. My instinct would be it's the first step in dismantling the state education system - but I'd be willing to be proved wrong.

So, overall: with a few very honourable exceptions, this is the Tory manifesto being implemented with aid and comfort from a party previously described as "progressive" by many of its members. Alistair Campbell's twitter activity suggests that the Labour party has started picking up disaffected Lib Dems already. While that's probably gross exaggeration if not outright falsehood, what we see, as of 8pm last night, when we look at the mainstream UK political scene is: 2 centre-right parties, and one centrist party with the potential to be left. (And, of course, the Green Party further out on the left. Basically we have moved from the 2005 election, where the Lib Dems were outflanking Labour on the left on most issues, to 2010, where they have plonked themselves firmly on the right of the spectrum.

That leaves a huge amount of space on the left that Labour can exploit - particularly if the right wing of the Conservative Party (or the left wing of the Lib Dems) makes the coalition fractious (which seems likely, though not inevitable). I'd be feeling pretty optimistic now if I were running for Labour leader. New Labour (Mk 2 version) starts here.

Now it's time to get out there and fight those cuts on the streets.

1 comment:

Steve Pugh said...

Presumably what happens, in fixed term parliament, if the government fails a confidence vote is that the opposition are invited to become the government.

So in a hung parliament the lib-dems get to swap coalition partners every six months or so. Coupled with PR to ensure a hung parliament and the LDs stay in partial power forever.

Nice move if it works out...