Outside the marginals

A commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010, 2015 & 2017 elections (and THAT referendum)

A Programme for the Majority?

Just imagine the following programme for government:

  • Reform
    • A shake up of Westminster
    • Abolition of the House of Lords
    • A fair voting system
  • Public Services
    • No tuition fees
    • Educational Maintenance Allowance including part-time college students
    • The NHS in public hands, halting the tide of NHS privatisation
    • Abolition of prescription charges
    • Explicit protection for the NHS on the face of the TTIP agreement
  • Fairness
    • Pensions that protect our older people.
    • A decent welfare system that helps people into work
    • Eradication of working practices that have no place in a decent, modern economy
    • a Living Wage nation
    • Strengthening of the law against domestic abuse – speed up the court process, give more support to victims, and expand schemes to help offenders change their behaviour
    • Gender Equality: Removal of Systemic and institutional barriers – the pay gap, occupational segregation, a lack of affordable childcare and, sometimes, just outdated attitudes
  • Other
    • No new generation of Trident nuclear weapons
    • Deficit reduction but not slash and burn austerity
    • Stay in Europe

If we could break the internal coalitions in the old elitist parties, could we envisage a parliamentary coalition to support this programme?

Unfortunately it won’t happen as both Labour and Conservative Parties have excluded any possibility of the above being part of a coalition agreement. And party discipline means that MPs put party before any specific policy that they might think should be supported.

The major problem of course is not any of the specific policies above, but the fact that they are being put forward by … The Scottish Nationalist Party.

The polls seem to be indicating that the Scots Nats will take sufficient seats off Labour to deny Labour a majority – and that seems to be the Conservatives’ hope.

The Conservatives seem to be driving the Labour Party into saying it will not do a deal with the SNP – which given the above policy points seems crazy.

Looking at the policy areas:

Reform

  • A shake up of Westminster
  • Abolition of the House of Lords
  • A fair voting system

Labour (as a parliamentary bloc) are probably wedded to the Westminster status quo as it has served them well in the past. They sort of wanted AV (the second worst system?) but failed to take their chance. And they blow hot and cold on what they want to do with the politicians’ OAP home. This set of policies however might suit the more progressive Liberals. How big a subset of Labour supporters would support the above?

Public Services

  • No tuition fees
  • Educational Maintenance Allowance including part-time college students
  • The NHS in public hands, halting the tide of NHS privatisation
  • Abolition of prescription charges
  • Explicit protection for the NHS on the face of the TTIP agreement

This goes in the same general direction as Labour, although abolishing tuition fees might be going too far for Chancellor Balls. They might as part of a coalition agreement get the SNP to agree to no change for Scotland, but reductions in fees for England and Wales – I can’t see it being a deal breaker. Prescription charges are hated by many Labour supporters but Balls may not wish to fund this change – but it’s devolved so again I doubt that it is a deal breaker. Liberals might take a similar approach

Fairness

  • Pensions that protect our older people.
  • A decent welfare system that helps people into work
  • Eradication of working practices that have no place in a decent, modern economy
  • a Living Wage nation
  • Strengthening of the law against domestic abuse – speed up the court process, give more support to victims, and expand schemes to help offenders change their behaviour
  • Gender Equality: Removal of Systemic and institutional barriers – the pay gap, occupational segregation, a lack of affordable childcare and, sometimes, just outdated attitudes

Here it must surely be a matter of agreeing speed of progress. I can’t really see Labour (or the Liberals) disagreeing.

Other

  • No new generation of Trident nuclear weapons
  • Deficit reduction but not slash and burn austerity
  • Stay in Europe

Now it begins to get problematic!

Where does the majority in the country sit with regard to nuclear weapons? There is probably a substantial minority that is morally against nuclear weapons, but that is a different question to support for a new generation of the Trident delivery system. In a situation where we need to fire a hidden continuous deterrent the Americans will probably already be firing theirs – and if they are not on our side four Trident subs will not be enough! Do we need the hidden continuous deterrent or is the ability to deliver nuclear weapons by other means a sufficient threat to dissuade those rogue states who are not sheltering beneath the Russian or Chinese deterrents? A deal that phases out the Trident base might be possible. Some Liberals would take this deal as well.

The economy is being stoked up as a big difference between Labour and the SNP – but it’s the Conservatives who seem to be doing most of the stoking with commentary by Nicola Sturgeon (for home consumption). Whilst the difference is probably too much for Orange Book Liberals, many other Liberals would probably happily sign up to a more balanced approach to the economy.

Europe realistically is probably an area of agreement – it’s just that Labour feels that it has to make Euro-sceptic noises to appease “Southern Voters” being wooed by UKIP.

The elephant in the room

  • Scottish Independence

The Scots Nats have not made a huge noise about independence being “the price” of coalition because they know that they have to win a referendum. I suspect that they do not want another referendum within the time-scale of say the next (2016 – ) Scottish Government. Mathematically they need to swing 5% of voters, but for a major change it is easier if you can take more than a bare majority with you. If waiting another 5 years means that you could get a 10% or (even 20% swing from a losing 45:55 to a healthy 65:35) you have a much stronger mandate. A clear substantial result has two major benefits. The minority are more likely to accept the result and absolute “refusniks” will be a very small minority. The Scottish Government will also have a stronger hand to negotiate with “Residual UK”. Concerns over the ability to negotiate separation were an issue in last year’s referendum; the prospect of a stronger mandate will reduce these concerns.

So in terms of Scottish self-determination and coalition forming, SNP demands are going to be more subtle and muted. A lot has already been promised post “the Vow” and the Smith Commission – and that has to be delivered whatever. Keeping Westminster (and Whitehall’s) feet to the fire does not seem unreasonable.

And if the SNP overplay their hand? If I was Labour, I would be tempted to “call them”. The SNP won’t (despite some headlines) actually want to be seen to put the Conservatives back in office. labour can risk either having to form a minority government or the collapse of a coalition – knowing that the SNP will not actually vote against a lot of what Labour are proposing and would be foolish to abstain from supporting proposals that go in the direction they want.

Would the SNP actually vote with the Conservatives to bring down a minority Labour government? The SNP is after all, the party that has made hay with the vision of Labour working with the Conservatives to oppose independence.

Given that many Liberals might also support much of the SNP policy programme, it might be sensible for Labour to think in terms of a confidence and supply agreement with both the SNP and the post-Clegg Liberals. Whilst the junior parties to such an agreement may be wary of going into such a three-way agreement, Labour might find that a little extra compromise might put them in a much more robust position.

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