An era of coalitions could be upon us

.. but if it is, they should be more mature than this one, and Labour needs a radical rethink of how it conducts its politics

Share

Cosy texts between Ed and Vince. Lib Dem-hating Tory backbenchers who tell their Labour Oppo's they have already written off the next election. Public antipathy to being sold a pup by the Government that austerity is working when it palpably isn't. Does all this mean politics is shifting to a Labour win next time?

Although conventional wisdom says it's too big an ask for Ed Miliband to lead Labour to victory in 2015 after such a terrible defeat just five years before, new times defy electoral orthodoxy.

The Tories took office without winning on a historically low base for a governing party. Their vote inched up painfully slowly from a low of 30.7 per cent in 1997 to 31.7 per cent in 2001, then to 32.4 per cent in 2005 Ω and finally to just 36.1 per cent in 2010.

Despite facing Gordon Brown, an unpopular prime minister, and a Labour government which had lost the public's trust, mainly by being in office during the worst global banking crisis for 80 years, the Tories gained a mere 5 per cent over 13 years Ω one of the reasons why David Cameron is unpopular with many in his own party.

Just 23.5 per cent of the electorate voted Tory in 2010. Apart from when Tony Blair led Labour, and despite a significant population rise, David Cameron achieved the third-lowest number of Tory votes since 1931 and the lowest Tory percentage of the electorate since 1918.

Moreover, Labour under Ed Miliband has quickly recovered more than 10 per cent in the polls – overwhelmingly its natural voters, who had, stage by stage, defected, for the most part to the Liberal Democrats. These voters feel utterly betrayed by the Lib Dem leadership's embrace of a right-wing policy agenda that makes Margaret Thatcher seem a moderate.

Perhaps most fundamental, the Tory/Labour political duopoly seems broken. Its high point in 1951, when 97 per cent voted either Tory or Labour, collapsed to just 65 per cent in 2010 – a nadir resulting from the steady rise of other, smaller parties and a reflection of increasing political disillusionment.

And the more opportunities people have to vote for different bodies or posts, the more politically promiscuous they have become.

In the past, voting might be every four years in a general election and for local councils, often on the same day. Now there are European elections, annual elections for multiple layers of local government, and elections for mayors and devolved institutions in Wales, Scotland, London and Northern Ireland.

The Lib Dems were the main beneficiaries of this, but Ukip, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party have also enjoyed increased votes. Once people broke the habit of a lifetime by voting for neither Labour nor Tory, they were more likely to do so again and it became much harder to win them back.

So, despite Labour's strong recovery, there is no reason to suppose the two main parties will bounce back to their previous hegemony. As political scientist John Curtice has argued, "the hung parliament brought about by the 2010 election was no accident. It was a consequence of long-term changes in the pattern of party support that mean it is now persistently more difficult for either Labour or the Conservatives to win an overall majority."

Coalition politics may become a semi-permanent fixture in British parliamentary democracy. In which case, such politics must be enacted a lot better than by Cameron and Clegg, who have made it a byword for betrayal of election promises, incompetence and dogmatic addiction to a failed economic policy.

If it is the will of the people that no party should govern alone, they deserve a more mature approach to coalition government, and that means Labour radically rethinking the way the party does politics.

By joining the Tories on an agenda that repudiated all their long held claims to progressive credentials, the Lib Dems gave up, if not forever then for at least a generation, their niche as the "anti-politics" party – and thus lost their ability to tap the growing reservoir of disaffected British voters.

By promising to abolish and then trebling student fees they also lost trust. The Lib Dems face a grim future Ω although they are likely to win facing Tories in constituencies where they have been long dug in, even with a poor national vote.

Some of the anti-politics vote the Lib Dems attracted will go elsewhere, in particular to Ukip, and a sliver to the Greens. The euro-crisis and the serious European fault line in the Tories means Ukip is likely to poll well at the Tories' expense.

Although someone who knows Cameron and Osborne well told me they will be "utterly ruthless, will do anything to hold on to office", their economic failures will be their epitaph, and their attempt to rig parliamentary boundaries in their favour has hit the buffers.

So, on a good day Labour could well defy the odds and win outright in 2015. Even on a bad day, and doubtless after a relentlessly negative and well-resourced Tory assault, Labour is well-placed to be the largest party, able to form a government.

But with whom? It seems likely that the "Orange Book" Lib Dem leadership – which hijacked their party and took it into bed with the Tories – will be rejected by a membership desperate to restore the tradition of Asquith, Lloyd George, Keynes, Beveridge, Grimond, Steel, Ashdown, Kennedy and Campbell.

A new Lib Dem leadership more in tune with the party's traditions will make it much easier for Ed Miliband to strike a deal – assuming, of course, that there are sufficient Lib Dem MPs remaining after a probable battering.

In that context, Ed Miliband's vision of Labour holds great attractions for those anxious to establish a government for the progressive, anti-Tory majority that was often denied office in the last century.

This is a vision of a more equal, more just, more free, more green Britain: both pro business and pro worker; pro private competition and pro public services; pro state intervention and pro market efficiency; pro individual freedom and pro collective solidarity; pro active government and pro community empowerment.

The shifting tectonic plates of British politics are creating new, but very different, opportunities for Labour.

Peter Hain has just published his memoirs, Outside In. He is a former senior Labour Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet minister

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Print / Warehouse Operative

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Supply Chain Assistant

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Advisor

£13000 - £13500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Energy Broker & Sales Consultant - OTE £65,000

£18000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Long-established Energy Brokers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The dress can be seen in different colours  

White and gold or blue and black - why has this dress captured our collective imaginations?

Victoria Richards
 

Daily catch-up: the battle of the election videos, and a robot sarcasm detector

John Rentoul
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower