Ten depressing things about the seven-leader election debate last night

From the viewpoint of a committed Labour party supporter, here are ten things about last night’s television debate that depressed me:

1. The commentariat treated it as a beauty contest, with numerous polls declaring winners, losers and rankings (all mutually inconsistent and therefore meaningless) instead of an opportunity to assess the competence, values and personalities of the seven party leaders. Virtually every newspaper declared a clear victory for the leader of the party supported by that newspaper, a wretched commentary on the objectivity of our organs of information. (I make no pretence of objectivity on this blog, of course. I offer opinion, rarely information.)

2. Ed Miliband did extremely well for Labour, making several devastating points, but he was easily outclassed by the three women leaders – Natalie Bennett (Greens), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru) and especially Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), who all spoke the language of real people instead of the speak-your-weight machine auto-pilot clichés reeled off by all the men: Nick Clegg (LibDem), the worst; Nigel Farage (UKIP), the most shameless; David Cameron, who had most obviously learned his coaches’ scripts off by heart, and to a much lesser extent Ed Miliband himself.

3. Miliband inexplicably failed to nail the lie, repeatedly thrown at him by Cameron and most viciously by Clegg, that the Labour government had “crashed the economy” and caused “the mess that the coalition inherited.” This was a golden opportunity to confront Cameron with the reality that the crash was caused by the international bankers, the Tories’ friends. It was left to Bennett and Wood to make this elementary but crucial point.

4. MilibanLabour leader Ed Milibandd committed a tactical error in repeating his apology for New Labour’s “failure adequately to regulate the banks” (although he did confront Cameron with the Tories’ record of complaining that the banks were being over-regulated!). This is like the police accepting the blame for a burglary because they didn’t have enough bobbies on the beat in the relevant street. It appears to validate the unscrupulous but effective Tory and LibDem attribution of blame for the global banking crash and recession to the then Labour government.

5. Similarly, it was and is a serious tactical error for Labour to accept any blame for Labour governments’ “failure to control” (i.e. reduce) immigration, another issue on which Miliband unnecessarily apologised last night. Labour should instead explain the economic and social benefits of immigration, stressing the absence of reputable evidence that immigration depresses native workers’ wages, and pointing out the benefit to Britons of freedom to live and work anywhere in the EU. The shortages of housing and of school and hospital places associated with areas of high immigration are failures of government planning and provision, not a justification for limiting immigration.

6. Clegg repeatedly asserted the need for the next government to “finish the job” of “balancing the books”, eliminating the deficit and continuing the economic recovery – with the clear implication that if, or when, there’s another hung parliament after 7 May, the LibDems will again throw in their lot with the Tories, probably (depending on the arithmetic) condemning us to five more years of Cameron, Osborne and Duncan Smith and the completion of the wreckage of the welfare state, and opening the door to Brexit. That at any rate sounds like Clegg’s intention: will the LibDem rank and file allow him to commit another such betrayal? Is that what Tim Farron and Vince Cable want?

7. It was left to the three splendid women to attack the whole philosophy of austerity, insisting that further cuts would hinder the recovery and increase the already intolerable burden on the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society. Aggregate demand needs to be revived, not further squeezed. Miliband’s insistence that a Labour government would have to make further cuts in public spending to balance the books and eliminate the deficit, just doing these things ‘more fairly’ than the Tories, encouraged the false impression that there’s not much to choose between him and Cameron.

8. How refreshing if Miliband had explained that borrowing is needed for essential investment in our decaying and inadequate infrastructure, that borrowing by government is no worse than taking out a mortgage to buy a house or borrowing to expand or modernise a factory, that the level of the national debt is perfectly manageable, indeed rather low by historical standards, and that while interest rates are so incredibly low it makes excellent sense to increase government borrowing for capital spending. Alas, it was left to two of the women to make this basic point. (Clegg actually demonstrated his level of economic expertise by denouncing Labour policy for planning to “borrow money that they haven’t got”, one of the evening’s few gems. Or did I mis-hear him? I don’t think so.)

9. Labour really ought not to encourage the Tory obsession with the budget deficit. It makes good sense to run a deficit while the economy is still in slow and unbalanced recovery from recession. There are much more serious problems that need to be more urgently addressed, such as the deplorably low level of productivity and the potentially disastrous external trade deficit.

10. How depressing that according to several opinion polls, Farage’s disgraceful performance was rated a success on a par with that of Miliband and Sturgeon, along with Bennett and Wood, the true successes of the event. Farage was consistently xenophobic, cheaply populist, anti-Europe, bad-mouthing immigrants and HIV sufferers, appealing to the worst and most ignorant national prejudices. It was left to Leanne Wood to tell him he should be ashamed of himself. Cameron’s sole complaint was that UKIP risked a Labour election victory by taking votes from the Tories. If only!


10 Responses

  1. Acilius says:

    I’m beginning to suspect that the likeliest outcome is a grand coalition. I know that all the insiders keep saying that the SNP vote won’t be nearly as high on the night as the polls are suggesting, and they may be right, but there is still likely to be a parliament in which SNP, plus either Labour or the Tories, would have a majority. I can’t imagine Labour doing anything that would help SNP present itself to Scottish voters as a serious force in national politics, and Tory backbenchers are all going to be such in a cold sweat if the UKIP vote swings even a dozen seats from Conservative to Labour that any leader who wanted to make a deal with SNP would be ousted immediately. So that leaves a grand coalition as the only available outcome. Unless, of course, the SNP vote collapses more dramatically than anyone is predicting while UKIP surges more dramatically than anyone is predicting, in which case Labour may squeak in with a narrow majority,

    So perhaps what we saw in the Miliband-Cameron exchanges was a phase in what you’ve been calling for, a semi-public discussion between potential coalition partners, and not a debate between opponents at all.

  2. Tom Berney says:

    >> I’m beginning to suspect that the likeliest outcome is a grand coalition <<

    I think you might be right. There is no possibility at all of the SNP supporting a Tory government. To do so would kill them stone dead in Scotland and they have the Scottish election to win in 2016. Similarly, though, a Grand Coalition, would kill Labour in Scotland and be a tremendous boost to SNP and the next referendum. So the question for Milliband would be "Does a taste of power with the Tories make it worth writing off Scottand, or is compromising with the SNP on a progressive agenda a more principled position?" Cameron, of course, has nothing to lose in Scotland except Scotland itself.

  3. Tom Berney says:

    I’m glad you liked Nicola and noted that she made many of the points you felt Milliband missed eg “There’s is nothing that Farage will not blame on foreigners” (to Farage Scots are also foreigners) It has been nice to see that many English commentators wish that they had a Nicola to vote for. Perhaps you will now see the attraction of the SNP to many Scots. It is now the third largest party in UK as 1 in 50 Scots are now members. That would be an equivalent of about 1.2m in UK terms. Apparently 1,800 new members joined after the debate.

    You suggested earlier that even if the present polls are correct the SNP would have no power in Westminster. That overlooks the fact that its policies are attractive to many on the left. In fact John McDonnell has said that about 40-50 left MPs would be happy to collaborate with the SNP in pushing a Red Ed government a bit more leftwards. Polls have shown that a majority of Labour candidates share SNP’s opposition to Trident being renewed. I expect that is also true on welfare issues. SNP naturally would want the “vowed” new powers to be devolved to Scotland.

    You justified your position by saying SNPs only weapon would be to bring down a Labour government and they would not be forgiven for that. But That is an English viewpoint. Bear in mind that the sole Labour pitch in Scotland is if you vote SNP you will get a Tory government. Milliband has been, stupidly in my opinion, bolstering that by adamantly denying there could be any collaboration with the SNP. And yet the indications are we will do it anyway. You should consider that the present popularity of the SNP is due to the enthusiastic collaboration between Labour and Tories in the referendum to the point where many former Labour voters see little to choose between them.

    I’d say Salmond and Sturgeon are more astute than Milliband and if he does take that line, they would pick a popular issue possibly with the Labour left, PC and the Greens to bring him down. They would then tell Scotland “Look that confirms there is no difference between Labour and Tories. We need independence.”

    It does occur to us that if the English are so keen to elect the Tories then isn’t that the government they should have? In the last election we sent only one Tory to Westminster. What more could the Scots do?


  4. Ken Blyth says:

    Your point 3. Yes, staggeringly inexplicable. Especially as the ‘chaos’ would have been worse if the Tories had been in power. What conceivable reason can there be for Labour reacting, if at all, with shrugs of the shoulders when the claim is repeated incessantly by the Tories?

  5. robin fairlie says:


    Only one point in your analysis to reject: your assessment of Milliband’s performance says more about the quality of your rose-tinted spectacles than about perceptions among even those who wanted him to shine. The best you could say for Milliband’s poor showing was that it was not quite as bad as Cameron’s. But opportunity after opportunity was missed; there was no real punch; no blood was drawn.

    What destroyed this “debate” for every watcher was that it simply wasn’t a debate. I agree that the best performances came from the three women – but even they were more concerned to say what they had been trained to say than to attack their real opponents. Tactically this should have been an opportunity for every opposition party (except UKIP) to unite to destroy Cameron: there was no point in attacking Farage, since every vote he takes from the Tories is an advantage for the left; there was no point in attacking Milliband, since his is the only party actually able to oust the Tories. There was little point in attacking Clegg, who should have been characterised as a figure of pity for being dragged at the Tories’ chariot wheels. Every single shot fired should have been aimed at Cameron, who should have been left as a puddle on the studio floor, a flip-flopping PR man making up, and then abandoning, policy on the hoof. But no one went for the jugular. What a missed opportunity.

  6. Pete Kercher says:

    An interesting assessment, Brian. I only realised halfway through the “debate” that it was possible for me to tune into it on the BBC News satellite channel, so I only caught the second half. That said, I have to agree with Robin Fairlee that your appraisal of Milliband’s performance is seen through rose-tinted spectacles (and I think Robin is being rather kind to put is so mildly). I found Nicola Sturgeon to be refreshing and thoroughly believable, Natalie Bennet to be far less credible, but hugely lucky, in that nobody challenged her on how she would expect to pay for her policies, and also tiresome when she tried to hijack a question to feed the Green “party line” rather clumsily into a discussion that was really about other issues: she could have done it more elegantly and gained points, but she messed it up. The real surprise for me was Leanne Wood, who came across very well.
    The pathetic performance by all four men does not deserve much in the way of comment, except to say that they (or their advisers) had clearly misread the context of a seven-party line-up and behaved as though they were three plus Farage.
    Of course it’s easier to be the underdog and we all remember how Clegg excelled in that role five years ago, but since you approve the three women’s performances so strongly, what do you propose should be done to enable the voters of England to get a fair crack at something like SNP and PC? Personally, I don’t see the Greens as England’s potential answer to them, but I certainly don’t see Labour in that role either: your party simply has far too much baggage.
    Disclaimer: although I’m an individual member of the ALDE Party at European level, for the first time I think I might well have to hold my nose when voting LibDem if I had a vote in the UK (which I don’t, of course, nor anywhere else for that matter, except for local and European elections). It would really depend on the individual candidate and would certainly not be automatic. Perhaps Labour voters who really want change (probably a tiny minority, as we all know just how small-c conservative many Labour voters are, but still enough to make some difference) need to consider a similar flexibility in their voting behaviour?

  7. Brian says:

    I am grateful to all those who have commented on my list of disappointments over the seven leaders’ ‘debate’. All these comments have raised interesting questions that deserve further discussion, not necessarily in the narrow context of the television programme but also in the wider perspective of the political scene and prospects for the election.

    I don’t believe that a ‘grand coalition’ of the Conservatives with Labour is conceivable or desirable. I can’t imagine that Ed Miliband, brought up from infancy in the heart of the Labour party, would consider it for a second: I’m convinced that he would resign as leader without hesitation in the unlikely event that his party colleagues tried to steer him into it. It would split the party in a way that would make the defection of the Gang of Four seem like a minor disagreement among friends. The echoes of Ramsay MacDonald, the great betrayer, would be defeaning. A huge proportion of Labour party members (certainly including me!) would resign from the party in anger and disgust if the Labour leadership were to go into a partnership with the most reactionary, anti-social, inhumane, chauvinist and incompetent Conservative party of our lifetimes. Conflicting attitudes to Europe and to the welfare state alone make any such collaboration unthinkable. I guess that the Conservatives would be equally deeply split. It’s not as if the country faces the kind of existential threat that made an all-party national government essential in 1939-40: we face grave problems but there are clear remedies for most of them readily available — and almost no consensus between the two major parties about what the remedies should be. And, finally, it’s unnecessary. As experience in Scotland and continental Europe has demonstrated, a minority government can function quite satisfactorily in a multi-party parliament provided that it can forge temporary ad hoc alliances on specific issues at different times to enable it to win parliamentary support for at least some of its programme.

    I’m puzzled by some of the comments on my assessment of Ed Miliband’s performance in the TV programme, including my alleged perception of him through ‘rose-tinted spectacles’. My post listed my disappointments, without attempting an all-round assessment of either Miliband’s or any other participant’s performance as a debater or position on matters of substance. It seems important anyway to distinguish between the two. Miliband seemed to me to succeed in what must have been his principal aim, namely to show himself at least Cameron’s equal and indeed as Cameron’s superior in authentically strong feeling, humane understanding of ordinary people’s problems, personal authority, and grasp of facts and figures. Stuck in the middle of a lot of essentially more insignificant politicians, at least two of them virtual unknowns, with only a few minutes at his disposal to rise above the pathetic figure of Tory sneers, he clearly acquitted himself more effectively than many viewers can have expected. No complaints there. It was on the substance of the issues that I thought he fell so disappointingly short, for all the reasons spelled out in my list of ten things that I found depressing. Of course as party leader Miliband must be held responsible for the timidity and lack of radical imagination that characterise too many of Labour’s policies, all of which Miliband was bound to uphold. There are many reasons for these policy shortcomings and for Miliband’s failure, or inability, to strike out in the bolder directions demanded by the SNP, Plaid and Green leaders in the debate — the principal one being the continuing domination of the parliamentary Labour party by unreconstructed Blairites, the majority of whom voted against Miliband for party leader and who have resisted any changes that might imply repudiation of the failures of New Labour in office. (Those failures, by the way, were emphatically not the ones for which Miliband thought it necessary to apologise during the debate.)

    I have never suggested that the SNP would have “no power at Westminster”. I have pointed out that in the proceedings in the house of commons that will determine whether Cameron or Miliband forms the next government, the SNP is already committed to supporting the latter and opposing the former, so at that stage it will neither have nor seek any special leverage enabling it to affect the outcome. For example, the SNP will not be able to make it a condition of its support for a Labour government in a vote of confidence that Labour must promise any particular concessions to Scotland that are not already in the Labour manifesto. The only penalty it could impose for failure to accept such a condition would be to withhold support for Labour in the confidence vote, and the likeliest result of that would be a Tory government even less likely to look sympathetically on SNP demands or Scottish interests. If and when a Labour minority government is formed with SNP and other parties’ support in the necessary vote of confidence, the situation will be different. On each specific issue that comes before parliament, the SNP will have exactly the same opportunities for influencing government policy as any other parliamentary party as part of the process of building a majority for each measure, concessions and all, that will be a necessary feature of minority government as practised elsewhere in the world (and quite recently in Scotland). On some issues, such as Trident, a Labour minority government will need the support of the Tories to get its policies through parliament against the opposition of the SNP and perhaps others. On other issues, such as welfare cuts, Labour may have to make limited concessions to the SNP and others if it is to get its programme approved, if necessary after modification. Such transactions involving bargaining and horse-trading go on all the time within the main parties of government and opposition, usually discreetly: all the major parties are coalitions of frequently conflicting factions, and policy emerges from internal debate and compromise. A minority government will need to operate these processes more openly and transparently than hitherto. It might be quite a healthy experience.

    The bizarre affair of the allegedly leaked report of Nicola Sturgeon’s conversation with the French ambassador is currently adding more heat than light to the situation. The full text of the ‘memo’ (a term not used in the FCO, incidentally) as published in the Daily Telegraph contains so much detail on topics other than the coming election that it is obviously a genuine government document, although the controversial passage purporting to quote Ms Sturgeon as preferring a Cameron government to one led by Miliband could conceivably be a forged addition. However that seems unlikely: the document itself questions whether Ms Sturgeon would really have spoken so indiscreetly about sauch sensitive matters and speculates that there might well have been misunderstandings of what had been said in the course of translation. Anyway Ms Sturgeon, the French ambassador and the French Consul-General in Edinburgh (seemingly the document author’s source for the report) all deny that Ms Sturgeon had spoken in the terms of the report. There are however three questions arising from all this to which we are unlikely ever to get answers, despite the official inquiry set up by the Cabinet Secretary at Ms Sturgeon’s request:
    1. Which official in which UK government department is getting confidential reports of Scotland’s First Minister’s private conversations with a senior foreign diplomat from the French Consul-General in Edinburgh? (The FCO has denied all knowledge of the document.) This is no doubt a question currently preoccupying the Quai d’Orsay!
    2. Who leaked that confidential and sensitive report, potentially so damaging to the SNP and to Mr Miliband, to a newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, which is little better than a Conservative party newsletter?
    3. What on earth possessed the normally hyper-prudent Mr Miliband to charge into this highly fraught controversy with comments that implicitly branded Nicola Sturgeon (and the French ambassador) as liars? No doubt he thought that by doing so he might undo some of the damage done by the report to Labour’s chances in Scotland on 7 May, bad-mouthing the SNP and rejecting Ms Sturgeon’s denial of having spoken as alleged in the report. If so, he showed uncommonly poor judgement. He knows that the SNP will support him in a vote of confidence at Westminster if he ever gets a chance to form a minority government — they will have nowhere else to go. But if he survives that vote, he’s going to need at least some degree of goodwill on the part of the SNP if he is to stand any chance of carrying out a Labour programme of modest reform, just as he may well need some conditional and ad hoc help from any Greens and Plaid MPs — and, most problematic of all, from the LibDems too, or some of them. The best, most helpful outcome in May will be a loose informal collaboration between all the progressive parties to sustain a minority Labour government in a programme designed to help Britain back from the wasted years of so-called austerity and to rescue what’s left of the welfare state. For that purpose a modicum of civility among the participants, if not actual amity, would seem desirable.

    One of the more conspicuous features of the political scene, obvious to anyone who gives it a moment’s thought, is that another five years of Tory government at Westminster (especially if it were to result in the exit of the UK from the EU) would greatly boost the appetite of the Scots for independence, which is of course the principal long-term aim of the SNP. It should be equally obvious that as long as Scotland is still part of the UK, which it will be for at least another parliament, its elected MPs at Westminster will have a strong interest in promoting Scotland’s interests in day-to-day matters of governance, not least with elections to the Scottish parliament due next year. It’s equally obvious from their respective public pronouncements that Alex Salmond, who will presumably be the SNP leader in the Westminster parliament, probably gives more weight to the opportunities the SNP might have for wrecking tactics designed to stimulate the demand for Scottish independence than Ms Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister at Holyrood, who stresses the opportunities for promoting Scotland’s interests by selective collaboration between the SNP and a minority Labour government (and with other centre-left parties) at Westminster. These realities are nothing new. It must be possible that in her now famous conversation with the French ambassador, Ms Sturgeon touched on them, however obliquely, and that the French Consul-General, who was present, gave her remarks more prominence than they deserved in giving his account of the conversation to the author of the leaked report. At any rate, they add nothing to the sum of our existing knowledge.

    I apologise if I haven’t answered all the questions put to me in the preceding comments. Some, for example about the electoral system, go well beyond even a liberal interpretation of this post’s subject. And anyway this reply is already far too long. But it would have been incomplete without some reflections on the case of the First Minister and the Ambassador — both, incidentally, spectacularly impressive women.

  8. Acilius says:

    The makeup of the next government all depends on what the state of parties is after the election, of course. If, let’s say, Labour win enough seats that they can put together a majority by agreement with either the LDP or SNP or a combination of other small parties, then there will be a chance of a government based on “temporary ad hoc alliances on specific issues at different times.” If, however, it turns out that Labour and the Tories are each separated from an overall majority by fewer seats than SNP hold, that will be impossible.

    Granted Labour voters are deeply hostile to the Tories, and would hate a Grand Coalition almost as much in 2015 as they did when Ramsey Macdonald tried it in 1931. But that does not mean that a party split would be on the cards, as it was then, if Ed Miliband were to form such a coalition as a way of keeping SNP on the fringes of UK politics. Labour politicians may share some measure of their supporters’ antipathy to the Tories, but in the SNP they see a direct threat to their own personal ambitions. A Labour-SNP pact would risk putting the SNP in a position of dominance in Scotland in decades to come comparable to that which the Ulster Unionist Party held in Northern Ireland half a century ago, and no Labour politician can fail to see how dramatically that outcome would reduce his or her chances of ever being a senior figure in government. And if no Labour MPs bolt the party, there can be no party split, no matter how unhappy the rank-and-file may be.

    An historical comparison that comes to mind is the aftermath of the February 1974 General Election. After his meeting with Ted Heath, Jeremy Thorpe announced to the press “He offered us nothing.” Well, of course Heath offered Thorpe nothing. Moderate, pro-Common Market, anti-Powellite Tory MPs- precisely that faction of his party who formed the core of Heath’s support- tended to represent moderate, pro-Common Market, anti-Powellite constituencies which were the most responsive to Jeremy Thorpe’s Liberal Party, and so those MPs saw in the Liberals an immediate threat to their ability to hold their seats. By approving a deal that would have made the Liberals a serious party of government those MPs would have been signing their own political death warrants. Far better to let Harold Wilson form another government and to oppose that government than to make a bargain that involves the end of one’s own career.

    Continuing with the scenario in which SNP could provide a majority to either Labour or the Tories, we can rather safely rule out the idea that one of the major parties might carry on for more than a few months as a minority government with a confidence and supply arrangement with the other. That arrangement would give the official opposition all the power and none of the responsibility in the policy-making process. Assuming neither Labour nor the Tories want to call a second election before the year is out, that means a Grand Coalition.

    Again, that is only one possible scenario. I notice that 538 dot com is now predicting that the new parliament will be made up of 287 Tories, 271 Labour, 42 SNP, 27 LDP, 17 from the Northern Ireland parties, and 6 others. If that comes true, there would be almost as little prospect of a Labour government sustaining itself by the sort of shifting alliances you describe as there would be if (let’s say) Labour and the Tories tied at 287 with SNP holding 42 seats and a majority for either. Labour would need the SNP and virtually everyone else any time they faced Tory opposition, a situation that could well require the party not only to give up on Scotland but to write off seats wherever the LDP or Plaid Cymru were strong. Even if Ed Miliband’s upbringing had instilled in him a genuinely fanatical hatred of the Tories, he would have to match that hatred with an equal hatred of the Labour Party to try that course.

    As for the Tories, under the 538 dot com scenario they too would be stuck with a Grand Coalition. As I mentioned in my first comment, UKIP doesn’t have to win a single seat to scare Tory backbenchers into demanding that their party turn further to the right. They just have to receive, in a handful of constituencies, more votes than separated the Tory candidate from the winning candidate. That will tell Tory backbenchers that if they do not appease UKIP voters they might lose their seats. So a Tory deal with SNP would not only be unpopular in Scotland, it would be a non-starter in the parliamentary Tory party. Likewise a renewed pact with the LDP, even if the LDP had the votes to give the Tories a majority. The only government the Tories could enter, on 538 dot com’s projection, would be a Grand Coalition, as indeed the only government Labour could enter on that projection would be a Grand Coalition.

    When so many voters are leaning to minor parties, polls are particularly tricky to evaluate, so it is certainly possible that one of the major parties could emerge with a majority, or that LDP might bounce back and be in a position to give Labour a majority, or that multiple small parties will break through and it will become possible to have the a government by ad hoc, informal agreements. At the moment, however, the likeliest outcome of next month’s general election would seem to be a Grand Coalition. Mr Miliband’s debate performance, the aspects of it that puzzled you, might then be best understood as a stage in the negotiations to set that coalition in place. For that matter, both Ms Sturgeon’s glittering performance in the debate and the peculiar controversy that has sprung up about her since then might be evidence that she too expects such a coalition to emerge, and is taking advantage of the freedom it gives her to attack both Labour and the Tories as the tactical exigencies of the moment may require.

  9. Brian says:

    Acilius, I’m impressed by your ability to marshal such a weight of argument and evidence in support of such an inherently improbable proposition (that the outcome of the election is likely to be a Labour-Conservative Grand Coalition). I won’t attempt to argue the toss with every one of your points, but I would just comment that the SNP have already repeatedly made it clear that they will not support a Tory-led minority (or any other) government but that they will support a Labour minority government in votes of confidence, so in your arithmetical sums you need to lump the SNP (and Plaid and any Greens) in with Labour, not as a potential kingmaker that could go either way. The same goes in effect for UKIP and the DUP, clearly willing to support the Tories but not Labour. The only wild card is the LibDems with their neat formula that could theoretically enable them to put into No. 10 either of the two candidates for prime minister willing to horse-trade with them, awarding the trophy to the higher bidder almost regardless of policy differences.
    I also think your comment gives too little weight to the important factor that a large section of the Labour Party both in parliament and in the country strongly supports many of the policies being advanced by the SNP, Plaid and the Greens but largely rejected by the Labour leadership (phasing out Trident, reversal of the austerity programme’s obsession with the deficit and cuts, more borrowing for capital infrastructure projects, repudiation of military interventions overseas without UN authority, nationalisation of the railways, sharp reduction of private sector involvement in the NHS, no more reductions in welfare entitlements, increased taxation on the rich and on big companies, and so forth). This wide policy overlap opens up obvious possibilitiers for conditional and ad hoc collaboration between these parties and a minority Labour government.
    The tantalising and still unanswerable question, it seems to me, is whether the centre-left parties, including the SNP and of course Labour, will together win enough seats to constitute a majority (326 or more) without needing to join an auction for the favours of the LibDems. Perhaps that will become clear, or clearer, nearer the time of the election, but I wouldn’t bet on it. In the meantime no-one who wants an end to mindless Tory austerity and Europhobia should dream of voting LibDem except, possibly, in constituencies where the only alternative is the Tory.
    Personally, I can’t see any permutation of seat numbers after the election that would point to a Grand Coalition. We shall see!

  10. Acilius says:

    Thanks very much for your replies. You are not only consistently informative and thought-provoking, but may well be the most courteous blogger on the web.

    Certainly, in view of Labour’s history, a grand coalition is an “inherently improbable proposition.” But the very thing that makes politics so fascinating is that yesterday’s inherently improbable proposition can occasionally become today’s sole viable alternative, and tomorrow’s tediously settled reality. Who knows, perhaps the next parliament will feature something even harder to imagine than a Labour-Tory coalition. Indeed, we shall see!