Why a Coalition with Labour was impossible

by Leon Duveen on 24 September, 2014

Going around canvassing, I heard from many of those who were Lib Dem supporters in 2010 that if only Nick Clegg had gone into a Coalition with Labour then they would still support the party.

This complaint (encouraged by Labour who want to obscure the truth of what happened) ignores the reality of the situation in May 2010 as, despite the wishful thinking by members of the Labour Party, such a coalition just wasn’t feasible and probably not desirable.

Let’s first look at the maths. After the 2010, the number of MPs in each party was as follows:

Conservatives      307             Sinn Fein                5

Labour                  258             SDLP                       3

Lib Dems                57             Plaid Cymru           3

DUP                         8               Greens                     1

SNP                         6                Alliance                   1

Speaker                  1

Total  number of MPs             650

As The Speaker doesn’t usually vote and Sinn Fein don’t take their seats, to get a majority in the House of Commons, a government needs to have 323 MPs to support it. You don’t need a maths. degree to see that Labour & the Lib Dems together did not have sufficient MPs to form a Government. There was a possible Coalition if the Scots & Welsh Nationalists joined as well but that would have left the Government too dependable on two small regional parties and therefore unstable.

The second reason why a Coalition with Labour was not a good idea is that while no party won the 2010 Election, Labour definitely lost it, losing. 91 seats and over 6% of their vote. Gordon Brown had been completely discredited as Prime Minister and as leader of his party; after overseeing the biggest recession since the 1930’s. After the 2010 election, Labour was in tatters and in no state to be part of a Government. They had been comprehensively rejected by voters and if a Coalition between Labour, the Lib Dems and smaller parties been cobbled together, it would not have had the support from the people to take the harsh decisions needed to correct the economy (remember Darling saying he would make harsher cuts that Thatcher?), even if it could get them past the MPs in the various parts of the Coalition.

This meant the only options left were either a Tory minority Government or a Tory/Lib Dem Coalition. A minority Tory administration would not have been able to take the decisive action needed to restore confidence in the UK economy and a second General Election a few months later would have been inevitable. As Labour would have either limped on under the discredited leadership of Gordon Brown or been in the throes of a leadership election, and the Lib Dems were in no financial position to fight another campaign (as well, they would have been blamed for letting the Tories act without the Lib Dem restraint), the likely outcome of a second GE would have been a Tory Government with at least a 20 – 30 seat majority, strong enough to inflict all the policies that the Lib Dems blocked since 2010.

Given these facts, it is undeniable that unless the Lib Dems had taken the brave decision to go into Coalition with the Tories, the outlook for the ordinary people of the UK would have been far bleaker. I joined the Lib Dems in July 2010 because it was willing to take such decisions for the good of the Country as a whole even when it was clear that it was going cause the party severe damage.

You can criticise the Lib Dems for many things, but if it hadn’t made the brave decision it did in May 2010, we would all be far worse off.


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