Lab-Lib Dem coalition ‘could work’ - without Clegg

Latest thinking is that Clegg will quit rather than deal with Labour – if he’s not ousted by Sheffield voters first

Columnist Don Brind

Hard on the heels of the polls showing that the Lib Dem duo Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander could lose their Westminster seats on 7 May comes a report suggesting that a coalition between Labour and the Lib Dems is a “realistic” prospect.

A joint report from two think tanks - the Fabian Society (for Labour) and CentreForum (for the Lib Dems) - says there is significant common ground and “the overlaps in the parties’ policy programmes suggest a realistic and comprehensive agenda for government could be negotiated”.

Andrew Harrop of the Fabians and Stephen Lee of CentreForum insist their report is all their own work and not “ghost written” by politicians. They list a series of issues where the parties have similar policies or where one of the parties doesn’t have a fixed position.

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They say the number of contentious issues is small – Trident replacement, airport expansion, the energy price freeze, the 50p tax. “The success of any negotiation would probably turn on how these issues were handled: if the two parties wanted to work together they could probably find a way around these conflicts.”

The obstacles to such a deal are, however, “forbidding”, says George Eaton of the New Statesman. A pact with the Lib Dems is unthinkable to many in the Labour party, including some shadow cabinet members and – crucially - Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, Labour’s largest donor, who has threatened to cut off funding. “For them,” writes Eaton, “the Tories are enemies but the Lib Dems are something worse: traitors.”

Eaton emphasises that Nick Clegg would have to be replaced as party leader to make a deal possible - and that might not be so difficult to achieve. Senior Lib Dems expect Clegg to stand down voluntarily if there is no chance of continuing the coalition with Cameron’s Tories.

“The working assumption among most in Clegg’s party is that the deputy prime minister, who has seemed increasingly demob happy in recent months, will depart after the election - assuming the voters of Sheffield Hallam don't oust him first.”

The alternative to a partnership with the Lib Dems (if Labour emerge on 8 May as the largest party in the Commons) is a minority Labour government – and that is not a happy prospect, argues Steve Richards in The Guardian.

Harold Wilson managed to make it work for him in 1974. But “neither Cameron nor Miliband are known for their strategic wiliness and are not in Wilson’s league. They would not survive long as leaders of a minority government.”

Most polls still point to a hung parliament with Labour as the largest party. Today’s YouGov poll has Labour one point ahead: Con 32%, Lab 33%, Lib Dems 9%, Ukip 15%, Greens 5%.

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