Two days after the general election, and it looks as if the Tories and LibDems may be coming closer to a deal on a new government. But that’s certainly not what should be happening. Although there are clearly lots of differences between Labour and the LibDems, the fact is that the stated policy positions (and more importantly, the views of many of their supporters) are much closer to Labour than the Tories. So a Lab-LibDem coalition would certainly make a lot of political sense.
I know that such an outcome would be hard for many supporters and more particularly MPs of both parties to accept. I’ve certainly no reason to be friendly to the LibDems, having been the subject of a particularly vicious and negative campaign by the LibDems in my constituency. But MPs and parties have to look to the wider interests of the country, not just their own personal interests. And the fact is that while it might be interesting to watch the LibDems tear themselves to pieces over a deal with the Tories, I am sure that what most Labour AND LibDem voters would prefer would indeed be a ‘progressive coalition’, as opposed to one led by David Cameron.
And the numbers in the Commons actually add up more favourably to achieve that than might seem the case at first sight. Of the 650 seats in the Commons, you can take away the 5 Sinn Fein MPs who do not take their seats. That means a governing coalition would require 323 for an effective majority. Labour and LibDems together have 315. Add to that the 3 SDLP MPs and 1 Alliance MP, who have links with Labour and LibDems respectively, and that makes 319 to the Tories’ 307 (if they hold the one constituency where the election has been postponed). It’s hard to see the SNP and PC – or the Green MP or Sylvia Hermon (the independent Unionist who left her party because she opposed their links to the Tories) – swinging their 11 votes behind the Tories, even if the DUP were to do so, which is by no means certain.
So there is a possibility of a Lab-LibDem coalition governing. I’m glad that Gordon Brown has recognised this and offered legislation on electoral reform. I certainly welcome that – and I hope that the LibDem leadership does not turn down an historic and perhaps never to be repeated opportunity to bring about a fairer voter system. If they do, they will be betraying not only their supporters but many others who would like to see real reforms of our outmoded political system.