Labour should not aid the Lib Dems

By Stephen MacAvoy

The forthcoming election is being fought with all three main parties committed to unprecedented cuts in public spending. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies has recently described, the Conservatives’ plans for public spending from this year onwards would make it the “tightest five-year period since (at least) World War Two” whilst Liberal Democrat and Labour plans would see the “tightest four-year period since April 1976”. The Financial Times has outlined various scenarios of what this will mean for the population here.
This consensus on cutting spending needs to be opposed by the widest possible coalition. Not only will these cuts unleash serious attacks on living standards of the population but they will undermine the restoring of economic growth, as the TUC has recently noted. Given that the recession has been driven by a collapse in investment and the government budget deficit is overwhelmingly a product of the falling tax receipts caused by the recession, the priority should be to increase investment.

Whilst all of the main political parties propose enormous cuts, there are important political differences regarding the outcome of the election. The best outcome of the election would be a majority Labour government. This gives the working class the best relationship of forces to resist the cuts. If this is not possible, then a Labour-led coalition with the Liberals would be preferable to a Tory government or a Tory-Lib coalition – for the same reason that this gives the working class a slightly better relationship of forces within which to resist the assault on its living standards which will be unleashed by any government arising from the current election.

Current polling suggests that a hung parliament may be an outcome of the general election. The Liberal Democrats and the Tories are both seeking to find the basis for a post-election deal. In The Observer Cameron did not rule out moving to a PR system which the Liberals are likely to make a demand – although Clegg has already indicated this will be less important for the Lib Dems than forming an alliance with the Tories on what will be a deeply reactionary economic programme.

Clegg has indicated that he would not forge a coalition with Labour should it come third in the popular vote – as it is currently placed in opinion polls. The Guardian has reported that the more ‘progressive’ wing of the Liberal Democrats is likely to sanction any deal with the Tories.
It is against this backdrop that a debate has been taking place in the Labour Party as to whether or not to assist the Liberals in securing more votes from Labour supporters by ‘tactical voting’. To encourage Labour voters to switch their votes would only strengthen the Liberals in boosting its share of the vote. This would give it additional weight in any negotiations with Labour or – worse still – help it to forge a government with the Tories, as Clegg has indicated is a possibility.

This latter alliance is entirely possible. There are a number of policy areas where the Lib Dems are close to the Tories. The election of Nick Clegg as Liberal Democrat party leader was a victory for the most right-wing forces in the Liberal Democrat party, reflected in his immediate moves to rescind progressive liberal taxation policies and to downgrade the priority given to the campaign for electoral reform – only revived now by the prospects of winning change through the current election.
The Liberal Democrats are hostile to trade union funding of the Labour party and favour restricting it by placing a cap on trade union political donations. Last week Vince Cable told the Institute of Directors: ‘We question some welfare payments – like Winter Fuel Payments for pensioners under 65, tax credits and the Child Trust Fund; public sector pensions, which are running out of control, particularly at the top; not ring fencing spending by government departments which will merely ensure that some really useful spending is cut deeply to protect bureaucrats in other, higher profile, departments.’ He also added that the Liberal Democrats have ‘been consistently opposed to the Working Time Directive’ that guarantees minimum annual leave and maximum working hours. In a radio interview in March Vince Cable also stated that he supported legislation to curb the right to take strike action in public services.

Some within the Labour Party see a coalition with the Liberal Democrats as ‘the ultimate fulfilment of the New Labour mission’ to re-organise British politics and weaken the Labour Party. This is, for example, why the Blairites are putting a coalition with the Liberals before maximising the Labour vote – as articles on this site have previously pointed out.
Some forces previously on Labour’s left have joined this campaign, calling for ‘tactical voting’, i.e. not making the priority to maximise the Labour vote. While all the major parties in this election – including Labour – are proposing to launch an unimagined level of attack on the working class, the most favourable outcome remains a Labour government with the highest possible vote. That is why the left should not make concessions to the Lib-Lab strategy implied in the call for ‘tactical voting’.