Time for Labour and the LibDems to start talking

“…let me be clear: I have repeatedly stated that coalition government will not occur unless it is preceded by a meaningful change in our political system. That is merely stating the obvious.”

— Nick Clegg MP, Lib Dem leadership candidate, letter in the Guardian, 17 November 2007

It’s worth recalling that in the dear long-ago days before the 2010 election, almost all right-thinking progressive folk (apart from me) were in favour of going over to proportional representation (PR) for elections to the House of Commons, in large part because it was thought that only PR would produce hung parliaments and thus coalition governments; and the general opinion was that coalition governments would be a Good Thing, since the LibDems would always be members of them, and the LibDems could be relied on to ensure that coalition policies would be moderate, middle-of-the-road, small-l liberal, consensual, and generally acceptable to sensible fastidious middle-class people who found the tribal politics of the Tories and Labour distasteful.

Well, it turned out that we got the coalition without the PR, contrary to Nick Clegg’s and many other people’s expectation, and now people are complaining that the coalition government is pursuing policies that were not in any of the party manifestos on the basis of which we all voted in 2010, so there is no electoral mandate for these policies.  Government policies were worked out in hectic horse-trading (“you can have a referendum on electoral reform if we can go ahead with student fees and privatising the NHS”) behind closed doors between the Conservative and LibDem leaders after the polling stations had closed, too late for the benighted voters to influence them.  This was precisely the objection to PR and coalition governments that some of us, a small and much despised gang, had predicted.  (There were other objections, mostly also now confirmed by experience, but this was a major factor in our misgivings.)

When it came to it, coalition government seemed less attractive in practice than it had looked in theory before it happened, and even the diluted form of PR offered to us in the referendum on electoral reform was rejected by a healthy majority.

It now seems increasingly unlikely that any one party will win an overall majority at the next election, whenever that turns out to be — and the coalition won’t necessarily survive until 2015, whatever its members say.  If the election takes place after the Scottish referendum on independence in the autumn of 2014, there will be hugely important decisions for the new government to take if the United Kingdom is to survive as a single country, whatever the result of that referendum.  There will also be a pressing need for new directions in fiscal, social and economic policies.  So it’s by no means too early to start thinking about the shape that the next government will take, in the likely event of another hung parliament, and how its policies might be developed.  Here are two propositions for debate:

1.  Single-party minority government, with the main opposition parties promising to treat each parliamentary issue on its merits but to support the government in votes of confidence and supply, will be better than another coalition.  The opposition parties need not compromise their principles in the way that they must do if they are members of a coalition, and a minority government will be unable to pursue extreme or doctrinaire policies without the support of other parties.

2.  The most natural and congenial informal partner for the LibDems is the Labour party.  There should be the beginning of informal talks now, tomorrow, or next week at the latest, between the Labour and LibDem leaders and front-bench shadow ministers with their LibDem opposite numbers about the broad shape of the policies that a minority Labour government will pursue and to which the LibDems would give general support.  This set of informally agreed policies will eventually be reproduced, not necessarily in identical terms, in the manifestos of both the LibDems and the Labour party before the next election, so that the electorate will know what they are voting for (or against).  The Greens and the left-of-centre nationalist parties of Scotland (including the SNP), Wales and Northern Ireland should also be consulted about the general contents of the agreed policy proposals of Labour and the LibDems and invited to promise their general support for them — whether or not there is a hung parliament.

Come on, Ed!  Why not?



14 Responses

  1. Diarmid Weir says:

    And if that might work well in a Parliament elected <i>dis</i>proportionately, why then not in one elected proportionately? In which case the weighting given to the consulted parties’ views may bear some resemblance to their prevalence in the nation at large.

  2. Pete Kercher says:

    Personally, I never despised those of you who were against PR. In fact, the experience of living in Italy, the country of constant electoral “reform” (well that’s a bit generous: let’s call it by its name and say it is blatant gerrymandering of the system to favour those in power, on both sides of the oligarchic spectrum), which has tried most methods in the last 20 years, has left me with a degree of respect for the identifiable Member of Parliament with a local remit, although the d’Hondt system used in Germany illustrates that it is indeed possible to make a pragmatic stab at having the best of both worlds.
    As you write, Brian, it loks as though the chances are that the UK will have a future coalition scenario, volens nolens. Yet the performance of the current coaltion leaves a rather sour taste in the mouth, making it a rather unpopular option: all the more so for those, like yourself, who always opposed it, head held high.
    I make no excuses for having favoured and still favouring coalitions in UK politics. But with one proviso: the junior partners (probably the Lib Dems in future, too, but not only) really need to learn how to play the junior partner in a coalition, rather than bleating their opposition while dutifully doing the bidding of the senior partner. Clegg would have done well to have studied the impact of Germany’s FDP over the years, whose clout was always far superior to its voting power, yet which truly did act as a force for moderation, with the result that Germany’s society and economy never wavered to the wild extremes experienced in the UK as it swung to and from from Wilson and Callaghan to Thatcher.
    If the scenario of future coalitions in the UK is so much more unpopular now than 3 years ago, it is largely because th Lib Dems have been perceived to be such a weak and spineless junior partner in the present coalition. That does not make the formla itself negative, just the current partners and their leading personalities.
    The minority government supported issue-by-issue that you propose is ultimately no more than an informal coalition, one in fact though not in name, something along the lines of the informal grand coalition that supports the government here in Italy now (although that is not vested nominally in the hands of any single party). If that is what it takes, then so be it, but I suspect that little egos in other minor parties will also be too thrilled at the prospect of ministerial titles to throw up the opportunity in future, regardless of what the voters think.

  3. David Campbell says:

    Let me try to contribute a Scottish perspective.
    PR is about fairness, not coalitions. It has been a shot in the arm to Scottish politics. Prior to reform the only real  elections in the Scottish Central Belt were in small back rooms where the Labour Party decided who should be their candidates. Inertia and corruption were dire. (On second thoughts, delete corruption. Insert “lack of transparency”). And guess what. At national level, despite PR, we have single party government. Not Labour, and not my choice, but a fair reflection of what Scottish voters wanted.

    The Coalition was cobbled together too hastily, and its policies on constitutional reform have always been divisive and unrealistic. It should have been possible for both parties to agree on something more modest – building on Scottish experience, for example, by introducing STV for local elections. A good system, unlike AVS, transformative without being destabilising, and a shot in the arm to local democracy. Going in at national level without agreed policies was asking for trouble.

    As for encouraging the Lib Dems to do a deal with Labour – they’d be eaten for breakfast. They belong where they are, trying to moderate the policies of the party most voters wanted. It’s just a pity they don’t seem to be all that good at it.

  4. Brian says:

    @Diarmid Weir:  I am not saying that an informal pre-election policy agreement between Labour and the LibDems would necessarily “work well” — only that it would have a better chance of working at all than any other approach, such as either agreeing in advance on a formal Lab-LibDem coalition, or leaving it until after the election to decide what to do, as the LibDems did in the run-up to the 2010 election.  I suggest that an informal pre-election agreement on a post-election confidence and supply arrangement, combined with an agreement on the main areas of policy that Labour would adopt and the LibDems would support, would be good for both parties and for the country;  and that it would work equally well in a house of commons elected by PR (which is not going to happen) and one elected by First Past The Post (which is).  We’re talking about the best way to proceed in a hung parliament, not principally about how it should be elected.  In 2011 the proposal to change the electoral system was defeated by better than two to one, and that issue is now a dead duck — for the foreseeable future, anyway.

    @Pete Kercher:  I agree with much of what you say.  I don’t see any point in re-opening the debate on the relative merits of PR and First Past the Post at this point, though, because since the referendum on electoral ‘reform’ that’s no longer on the agenda, although no doubt it will be resurrected eventually.  I agree with your strictures on the way the right-of-centre wing of the LibDems has allowed itself to be outplayed at every turn by the ever unscrupulous Tories, making a nonsense of the whole coalition concept.  But I suspect that this reflects unfamiliarity at the British national level with the idea of coalitions, the lack of a broad consensus on basic principles to which all our main parties could subscribe, and the fact that  there is no significant or identifiable interest group in society which the LibDems (unlike the Conservatives and Labour) can claim to represent, which is a fundamental weakness in their position.  As for the confidence and supply arrangement that I propose, backed by broad pre-election agreement between the main left-of-centre parties on the outline of future policy on a wide range of issues, I suggest that this would be very different from, and preferable to, a coalition government in which a junior partner holds ministerial posts and is bound by the principle of joint Cabinet responsibility.  Under the much looser understanding that I propose, a minority Labour government would be assured of a majority in the house of commons for those parts of its programme already agreed with the LibDems and other progressive parties in parliament, but for everything else it would have to negotiate and if necessary compromise to get its legislation through.  For the LibDems it would have the enormous advantage of giving them freedom to oppose — and if necessary veto — proposals by the government outside the broad framework agreement which it couldn’t bring itself to swallow, but it would be free to oppose individual policies and measures without bringing down the government, and without any necessity of terminating the entire informal agreement with the governing party.  (If only the LibDems had insisted on that kind of relationship with the Tories in 2010 instead of being seduced into a full coalition!)

    @David Campbell:  It’s fruitless to wish that the house of commons could be elected on the same basis as the Scottish parliament, or to regret that the referendum on a new electoral system was not handled differently.  Changes to the electoral system for local elections (in England, I assume) may or may not be desirable:  that’s irrelevant to the present discussion.  You say that “Going in at national level without agreed policies was asking for trouble”, to which I would merely say that my suggestions here are specifically designed to avoid making that mistake again.  As for your prediction that the LibDems would be “eaten for breakfast” in any deal with Labour, you seem to disregard the immense difference between entering a formal coalition with a much bigger party (especially a party as unscrupulous and doctrinaire as the current Conservative party) on the one hand, and coming to an agreement with Labour that would enable government to function while preserving almost complete freedom of action for the LibDems on the other.  If the result of such an agreement was that the LibDems split into their two wings, with the progressive wing preserving its identity and principles while the conservative wing was effectively (or even formally) absorbed by the Tories — tant mieux!

  5. David Campbell says:

    Fighting words, Barder, but I stick to my guns. PR at local level would be by no means irrelevant to national politics. By providing a reality check on the true balance of voter preferences it would do the Commons good. A consensus on introducing it is still attainable. The Lib Dems should cut their losses elsewhere and go for it.
    You are probably regretting that you conflated the quite separate issues of PR and electoral pacts. I apologise for going for the escort in my comments, rather than your main force – but I did so because I find your speculations – for all their piety and wit –  unrealistic. The moving finger writes and, having writ, moves on. For 25 years the Lib Dems had been putting in strong performances at national level, without ever holding a balance in Parliament. After their present performance it is unlikely they will come anywhere near holding the balance again. Up here they governed comparatively well at national and local level – and the most recent elections have pretty well wiped them out at both. I dread to think what a General Election will do to them.
    I think the Lib Dems were right to go for a coalition after the last Election. It would have been unthinkable to do a deal with Labour, who were arrogant with misused power (and still are). In terms of votes the Lib Dem mandate was comparable with theirs. If they wanted to become a convincing party of government, they needed experience. In the long run that experience, chastening though it has been, may prove to have done more good than harm.
    As a rather academic postscript – but you raised the point – I didn’t and wouldn’t recommend the PR system used for the Scottish Parliament for the Commons. The PR element is drawn from Party Lists, a recipe for voter disillusion. This was a major factor in destroying the SPD in Berlin when I was en poste there.

  6. Alan says:

    Dear Brian, I think your whole premiss is based on your naturally pessimistic view of what any Labour Government can electorally achieve. I think had I known you in 1997 you would have been saying prior to the election that it will be a close run thing.  I know I am sure that you were delighted at the result, although like a mutual friend of ours you may have thought the majority too large. This time in saying three years before the full term that no party is likely to win a majority you are wrong.  
    The coalition is loathed and the Liberals in particular.  Except for a startling turn around in the British economy which won’t happen Labour will win the next election with a fair majority.  In the unlikely event of a hung parliament any negotiations with the Liberals can be done then…certainly not now!  

  7. Brian says:

    @Alan: No, it’s not a question of pessimism.  Even if I were to be confident of Labour winning an overall majority at the next election, which I agree is a real possibility (and one that I would of course welcome with great relief), I would still think it highly desirable for Labour to start talking now to the LibDems and the other progressive parties in parliament about the possibility of working together in the next parliament on a broadly agreed programme of reform which they could all support and which they could all offer to the electorate at the election — whether or not Labour has an overall majority.  Apart from anything else, this would be an excellent way to weaken LibDem allegiance to the coalition, to strengthen their hands in it, and to encourage the LibDems to split, although all that would be a minor by-product.

    I still however think another hung parliament is a real possibility, simply because of the huge shrinkage in the number of committed core voters who will always vote Labour or Conservative whatever happens, the corresponding expansion in the size of the floating vote and in the number of people who won’t bother to vote at all, plus the increase in the number of relatively serious minor parties which between them take away a fair number of votes from the three major parties.  It looks safe as of now to predict that Labour will win more votes than the Tories and that the LibDem vote will shrink, perhaps dramatically, but whether Labour — under its present likeable but electorally still unimpressive leadership — will win more votes and seats than all the other parties put together is much more problematic.  Not pessimism: arithmetic!

    I profoundly disagree, though, that decisions on future deals and alliances and agreed policies should be left until after the polls have closed at the next election.  What could be more undemocratic and cynical than to ask people to vote for you while keeping secret from them what you intend to do if you win?  This is exactly what Clegg and co. did in 2010 and the result is a government with no electoral mandate or legitimacy for anything it does, and indeed a government for which not a single voter voted.  That’s an outrage.  Labour — and the LibDems — have an absolute obligation to tell UK voters before they cast their votes what to expect if either Labour wins the most seats in a hung parliament, or if Labour wins an overall majority (of seats — no party these days ever wins an overall majority of votes). 

    I didn’t expect Labour to win with such a huge majority in 1997 — neither did Blair and Campbell!  (Did you?)   But I was delighted that they did.

    If the coalition manages to stagger on into 2015 as it hopes to do, I believe that the issue of the future of the United Kingdom in the light of the Scottish referendum in autumn 2014 (whatever its result) is likely to be as big an election issue as the state of the economy.  At the moment no UK party has the faintest idea what to do if the Scots vote for independence or even if they vote for full devolution of all internal powers instead of independence — quite a likely result.

    PS: I see that Peter Hain, no slouch when it comes to electoral strategy and far-sightedness, is also doubtful whether it will be possible for Labour to win an overall majority of the seats at the next election: see http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/aug/26/peter-hain-labour-lib-dems.

  8. Clive Willis says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more! The LibDems need an escape route from their present entanglement. Why not target Matthew Oakeshott? Then there are Ashdown, Hughes, Kennedy and Ming, all of whom, we can assume, viewed entering the Coalition with apprehension and/or distaste and now, no doubt, quail at the Party’s desperate opinion poll ratings after years of painstaking recovery from near-oblivion… Oakeshott (who talks immense economic good sense) could deliver Cable, one would hope, a man who must be wondering how he ever consented to clamber into bed with people like Osborne.

  9. Rob says:

    Hello Brian,

    The majority electorate will want a straight three way fight between the three main parties.  “Undemocratic and cynical’ or not, to announce publicly that Labour – not popular and only ahead in the polls because it is seen the least bad option – may be preparing to crawl into bed with an unpopular third Party is a risk too far. And why take the risk? Talks will carry on behind closed doors and behind is where they should stay.

    The majority electorate will accept whatever the election throws up because, when it comes to coalition politics, it gets its way in the end (sort of).  The number of seats gained by any one party determines the relative strength of partners within any probable coalition.

    Talks at this stage can only be in an informal ‘perhaps/maybe/if’ such and such occurs, setting. Politicians will have been drinking tea, plotting, stabbing and generally talking rubbish.  A word here, a promise there but only the naïve would trust the word of another politician, particularly one from another party – especially a Liberal Democrat.

    It comes down to the numbers so any talks worth having can only happen after the event.
    I would be content with a Lab/Lib coalition rather than a large Labour majority.  The last one gave us Blair and I use that to scare my grandchildren.

    Thanks for the blog, Rob

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Rob.  I think your objections would be valid in reference to a much more formal agreement than I envisage and indeed than I would think acceptable.  I would explicitly rule out a coalition anyway.  I just think it’s essential to pin down the LibDems in advance of the election about which way they would direct their support, however conditionally, whatever the election result. In 2010 they refused to do so in advance, with the result that they won thousands, maybe millions, of votes from people who had no idea that they might go into a coalition with the Tories or allow their votes in parliament to be used to enable the Tories to push through measures to which most LibDems were and are strongly opposed.  It makes a mockery of parliamentary democracy if a party offers candidates for election without revealing what those elected will do, especially (but not only) in the event of a hung parliament. 

    A broad agreement on which main areas of Labour policy the LibDems would support won’t affect the outcomes in the constituencies where there are thumping great majorities unlikely to be overturned regardless of the policies of the contenders.  But in a constituency where only the LibDem has any chance of beating the Tory (which may well be the case in enough constituencies to determine the result of the election), how is a progressive anti-Tory voter to decide how to vote if the LibDems refuse to say whether they would support the Tories again in a hung parliament, or whether they had agreed to support specific elements in the Labour manifesto?  You and I would probably vote Labour anyway; but the less committed progressive voter would be left in the dark unless the LibDems, or the centre-left section of the LibDems, had come clean in advance.

    Leaving it until after the election to embark on 2010-style bargaining and horsetrading until a brand new set of compromise policies emerges, for which no-one could have voted, is a shocking way to short-change the electorate.  In democratic countries in which coalitions of two or often more parties are the norm, broad agreements on policy issues are expected to be published before the electorate can properly be asked to vote on them: why not here?  We should make sure, as far as possible, that the disreputable post-election events of May 2010 are never repeated.

  10. Brian says:

    @Clive:Indeed. It would surely be fruitless for Labour to approach the hard-core hard right of the LibDems, such as Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander. The ground will need to be prepared with the likes of those you mention, who are likeliest to be receptive. As the project progresses, more and more prominent LibDems will be forced to decide whether they are sheep or goats, perhaps eventually to the point where their party is forced to split, at first de facto, later formally. Labour could then do the deal much more uninhibitedly with the separate progressive wing, even if its members continued to be nominally committed to the coalition until shortly before the election. There could be a risk of Cameron trying to take his revenge by prematurely terminating the coalition and asking the Queen for immediate fresh elections. But (a) there would possibly be grounds for refusing that request, and (b) depending on the state of the polls at the time, Cameron might be reluctant to go into an election in which Labour might win outright, or, even if there was another hung parliament, Labour was likely to win more seats than the Tories and be able to form a minority government with general support on a range of issues from the progressive LibDems and the other progressive parties.

  11. David Campbell says:

    Brian: the partly dissembled glee with which you, and others, hope your ideas could force a Lib Dem split hardly suggests they should hurry to to adopt them. The Lib Dems are in office. Their priority is to make a success of the Coalition, build on their own achievements and, in due course, put them to the electorate. Much of what they have to do – in the economy, international law and human rights – is a result of the irresponsible behaviour of the previous government. They have no need of Labour now; and they may not share your view they will need them after the election. Voters have short memories; but Labour’s behaviour in opposition is keeping them alive. They are still in denial about their record, still dealing in virtual reality and still, in Milliband and Balls, having a toxic leadership – almost as toxic as Blair and Brown. They are likely to pay the electoral price.

  12. Brian says:

    @David Campbell:  Thanks.  Obviously I disagree with almost everything you say; and it’s difficult to pursue a useful discussion when we come at the issues from such radically different perspectives.  But on some of your points: 

    I believe that the price of survival for the LibDems as a party is acceptance of an eventual split at some point, and it seems likely that a good number of LibDems share that belief.  Glee, whether or not ‘partly dissembled’, doesn’t come into it. 

    I find it difficult to identify the ‘achievements’ of the LibDems in the coalition on which you say they hope to “build” (electoral reform? house of lords reform? more progressive taxes?  persuading their Tory masters to put the main burden of the cuts on the rich and not on the most vulnerable?  student fees?), and there’s plenty of polling evidence to suggest that if they put their coalition record to the electorate, now or in the foreseeable future, they’ll go down to a humiliating defeat.  (My own view, not universally shared among Labour people, is that the electoral extinction of the LibDems would be bad for the left in Britain, which is why I would like to see their progressive wing break away and begin to discuss common ground with Labour in order to facilitate a broad future alliance well short of a formal coalition after the next election.) 

    What the coalition, including the LibDems, “have to do in the economy” is likely to do it enormous additional damage, unless the Tories decide to ditch Osborne and execute a massive U-turn, of which there’s currently not the smallest sign. 

    I don’t accept that the current financial and economic crisis is the result of “irresponsible behaviour of the previous government”, partly because by the time of the 2010 election Labour was already beginning to foster a visible recovery  (which the coalition promptly reversed by adopting perverse, doctrinaire and illiterate policies), and partly because to attribute a world-wide banking crisis and recession to the behaviour of a single government in a country of the second rank lacks any semblance of credibility.

    Finally, you seem to have mixed up the respective performances of the Tories and the Labour opposition in regard to which is “in denial”.  Ed Balls has openly acknowledged that regulation of the financial sector by the Labour governments of Blair and Brown was inadequate and that this inadequacy contributed to the banking crisis which in turn led to the government being forced to bail out the banks, running up unsustainable deficits in the process.  But when and where have the Tories admitted that so far from advocating tighter regulation of the banks and financial institutions in the period leading up to 2007-08, they were incessantly clamouring for even less — doing the bidding of their paymasters by demanding “light touch” regulation, or better still, none at all?  So which of the two has been, and remains, “in denial” about their pre-crisis records?

    As for your dismissal of the current Labour leadership as “toxic”, it’s noteworthy that Ed Balls’s consistent criticisms of Osborne’s (and Cameron’s) economic and financial policies since May 2010 have been fully validated by events, as have his predictions of their inevitable consequences. Moreover he has consistently advocated measures to revive aggregate demand in the economy while the coalition, enthusiastically supported by Messrs Clegg and Alexander, have been doing everything possible to strangle it.  There’s plenty of toxicity out there, I agree, but which side is it coming from?

    (I suppose it could be said that your inability to spell the surname of the leader of the opposition after he has been in that role for nearly two years might suggest that he has not yet made much impression on at least one of his critics.  But no doubt it was just a typo.)

    However, I appreciate and welcome your comment.  It’s always useful to be reminded of what’s being said on the other side of the barbed wire.

  13. john miles says:

    “Come on Ed, why not?”
    Probably because of the people he’s stuck with.

    Some of us – I don’t know how many – will be voting LibDem next time regardless.


    Because we don’t like New Labour and we don’t like the Tories. 
    Having to form a coalition forces them to be more moderate in their behaviour.
    Looks like the least worst solution. 

    Brian writes: I’m not sure what dislike of New Labour has to do with anything. New Labour went out with Messrs Blair and Brown. It’s by no means certain that Labour will “have to form a coalition” with the LibDems after the next election: Labour may have an overall majority, and even if it’s the biggest party but without an overall majority, that doesn’t mean that a coalition will be inescapable. A minority government with an informal confidence and supply agreement with the next biggest party might well be a better option. It’s your inalienable right to vote LibDem if you like, but I’m surprised that you would contemplate abandoning your option to use your vote in such a way as to influence which party leader gets the keys to No. 10 as a result of the election, a matter on which so much hangs. If, as I hope, Labour emerges as the biggest party, with a clear idea of how best to revive aggregate demand in the economy, start bringing down unemployment, repair business confidence and get firms hiring and investing again, plus taking urgent action to save the Union from disintegration and to restore constructive engagement with the EU and the Eurozone and an integrated transport system and local government control over education and to rescue the NHS from privatisation and destruction — if we get a Labour government energetically tackling all these crises constructively, the last thing they will need is some minority party dragging them back by their coat-tails and “forcing them to be more moderate in their behaviour”. Much better to have a lively radical group in parliament egging them on to be even bolder.

  14. David Campbell says:

    Thank you for saying it was useful to be reminded of what’s being said on the other side of the barbed wire, Brian. The metaphor is apt. As an apolitical, retired civil servant I feel as if I’ve strayed into a playground surrounded by ten foot high chain wire fencing. The political self absorption of its occupants is surreal. On a couple of your points:
    Many voters admire  the Conservatives and Lib Dems for compromising in order to forge a coalition. It’s a pity the coalition agreement was cobbled together so hurriedly, at the behest of unelected mandarins behaving as if they were politicians. This, you may agree, was a sad by-product of politicising the Civil Service, a process begun by Mrs Thatcher and carried to extremes by Labour. Another blot on the latter’s record. If reelected it’s a racing certainty they will carry on as before.
    On the economy, there is far more in common between the parties than you imply. Before the election Labour were talking “investment” while implementing cuts. After it the Coalition spoke up more honestly about cuts while trying to create jobs. This suggests that a more consensual approach to economic issues in Parliament would be appropriate. Balls is the last man to understand this. His acknowledgement of past errors is not reflected in any change in behaviour. He is still the man who helped Brown build up an over-mighty Treasury. To anyone who is reasonably open-minded, he manages to make Osborne look good.
    Didn’t it occur to you that, in picking me up on the spelling of Miliband, you might be drawing attention to how unmemorable he is?

    Brian writes: Thank you again. Rather worryingly, I rather agree with quite a lot of what you say. I think, OTOH, that the LibDems would have been braver to have kept out of a formal coalition with the Tories, letting a Tory minority government take office under a confidence and supply arrangement, and that this would have been better for both the country and the LibDems; that the coalition’s policies have never really focused on creating jobs or reducing unemployment since high unemployment makes the trade unions and non-unionised working people impotent and unable to defend their interests; that the wrecking of our constitution by Sir Gus O’Donnell (as he then was) and a few others immediately after the 2010 election stemmed from an ignorant misunderstanding of the role of the Crown in a hung parliament situation rather than from any party political bias; and that those who claim to be ‘apolitical’ generally turn out on close inspection to have distinctly right-wing views, sometimes extreme ones. (In the old days local government elected Councillors used to be roughly divided between Labour, the Liberals, and “independents” who were actually the Tories.)

    I’m surprised, finally, that you didn’t notice that in remarking on your misspelling of Miliband I had made precisely the point about this indicating Ed’s forgettability which you now say hadn’t occurred to me! (I wrote: “I suppose it could be said that your inability to spell the surname of the leader of the opposition after he has been in that role for nearly two years might suggest that he has not yet made much impression on at least one of his critics.”)

    End of this particular dialogue, I think.