— Nick Clegg (@nick_clegg) January 8, 2014
Those two small words tweeted by Nick Clegg this month has widely been seen as rapprochement between the two parties. Ed Balls, always the sticking point for Lib Dem ministers when considering coalition, has made encouraging noises towards the Lib Dem leader. ‘I agree with Nick’ he tweeted.
But as the election draws near, could a lib-lab coalition be a reality? At a cursory glance this seems like a real likelihood. The two parties are ideologically similar, (The Lib Dems were formed by the Liberal party and the Labour breakaway SDP) and Alastair Campbell, now working on Labour’s 2015 campaign, has admitted a coalition with the Lib-Dems will probably happen.
I agree with Nick… RT @nick_clegg: Ed Balls
— Ed Balls (@edballsmp) January 8, 2014
So what’s preventing this seemingly natural partnership?
Well for one, the rhetoric certainly isn’t helping. Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman constantly attacks Clegg for being a Tory and last month Clegg told Labour that neither the Lib-dems nor the Conservatives would have ‘broken the British economy in the first place.’
In presenting a united government, Clegg has barely distinguished his party as anything different to the Conservatives. The only person doing that seems to be David Cameron and his “Black Book” of Tory policies that the Lib Dems have blocked.
The Parliamentary system won’t help the Lib-Lab prospects either. If the ‘black is white’ spin-Doctor Alastair Campbell says that Labour won’t win an outright majority, then the prospects seem pretty bleak. This means that even if they secure the most votes, the Conservatives will still have the first chance to form a government after the 2015 election.
This will leave the Lib Dems in a tricky situation. Do they drive back to their ministerial offices and once more take up the mantle of government or do they opt for agonising negotiations with the still-smarting Labour ministers?
It’s a tough call.
Although some Lib-dem ministers would much prefer to join Labour, Vince Cable being the best example, it’s hard to see how Lib-Dem ministers could move from one party to the other without some major ramifications and the resignation of Nick Clegg. The Lib-Dem leader has to walk a fine line up to the next election. If he publicly attacks his coalition partners he will look unscrupulous and grasping; ready to say anything in order to maintain power. If he offers no olive branch, no Ed Balls tweets to sweeten the Labour front-bench, then a coalition with Labour would be difficult in practice and look hypocritical to the public. But Clegg shouldn’t be too worried about tweeting olive branches: poll ratings for Labour have declined as the economic recovery has continued, indicating that they won’t get an overall majority in parliament. If this happens, 2015 will see Clegg and Cameron once again in the rose garden of Downing Street, whispering tweet nothings as the cameras look on.