Labour-led Coalition in three months?

First published on 14 Mar 2011 -

Only a year ago I was out there electioneering as an Independent Candidate in the last General Election. The reasons I did this were explained here at the time.

In short, alongside many other Independents, I thought the MPs expenses scandal was an issue that called into account their personal – and collective – integrity.

Surely they could not have each, individually, worked out that they were able to evade Capital Gains Tax by ‘flipping’ their houses? Did not one of them think of raising a hand to say there was something wrong in this behaviour? Unbelievable. Criminal.

Anyway, as I have a proven and demonstrable track record of financial integrity, I decided to stand up and be counted. At least it would be an interesting experience. And we achieved the local issue for which I campaigned, which pleases me.

During the experience, three Insights emerged which are relevant today:

1. In the political world, they really cannot predict what will happen at an Election.

In the event, this is what happened. No one foresaw the Coalition – apart from the exit polls, which were not believed until they were proved right.

2. Within the electorate, many voters are driven by traditional, tribal loyalties.

One Labour diehard told me his father would never forgive him if he didn’t vote Labour. ‘Doesn’t he think the world might have changed?’ I asked. ‘Dunno, he’s been dead for 25 years’ he replied. 

3. The extremes of the Conservative and Labour parties are extremely unsavoury. I attended a Conservative meeting where I met someone who blamed our economic woes on the Jews. I witnessed Labour tribalism that was physically intimidating.

Below, I will reveal an Insight I have on the middle ground of these two parties.

So, why am I reverting to last year’s General Election now, especially – and rightly – when world events are so much at the fore?

Well, the vote on the AV electoral system is less than eight weeks away and, with our interest much directed at Libya and Japan today, I hope you realise what is about to hit you very soon.

Because, whether we vote either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to AV, the Coalition will disintegrate.

Here’s why.

This referendum is the glue that has been holding the Liberal Democrats, and hence the Coalition, together. The Liberals have been campaigning, praying and begging for proportional representation since founding of the Electoral Reform Society in 1884. They would rather the Single Transferable Vote (STV) but, hey-ho, AV would be a massive step in the right direction.

Behind the scenes, since the Coalition came together last year, Nick Clegg has urged and cajoled his party to hang on through every compromising principle, every Conservative balls-up and all Cameron’s smug arrogance – all for this referendum. It was Clegg’s one big trump card in the Coalition Agreement.

And it is about to happen.

If there is a ‘no’ vote, there is no way the left-leaning, humane and socially-caring of the LibDem MPs will support the Stalinistic cuts that the Tories have been making. They won’t be able to look their constituents in the face, or live with their broken promises, any longer – as the Coalition and their leader have forced them to do.

If there is a ‘yes’ vote, despite their recent by-election embarrassment, the best chance of the LibDems achieving more seats through the AV system will be the sooner the better. The longer they leave it, the more the economy will recover and the more Labour will get their act together (which they haven’t yet, which is why the Labour peers tried to filibuster this Referendum Bill in the Lords).

But, actually, if Labour act quickly and think more strategically, then now may be their best opportunity to regain power (within, I hope, another Coalition).

The problem with politicians is that – unlike in marketing where we set objectives, interrogate human behaviour, agree a strategy and develop creative solutions – politicians wallow around with these things called ‘policies’.

‘Policy’ is a meaningless word lying somewhere within all of the above, subject to the events of the day (or, more likely, the opposite of whatever the other lot are saying).

Labour may or may not have developed what they feel are effective ‘policies’ so soon into the Ed Miliband leadership.

But, if they step back and do some ‘upstream’ thinking, they may have a chance.

Here’s how it goes.

The perceived wisdom is that Iraq will define Tony Blair’s 10 years as Prime Minister.

What if we refuse to accept this analysis?

I am a huge admirer of M&C Saatchi’s positioning ‘brutal simplicity of thought’, so please bear with me through some brutally simple thinking.

First, let us propose that the Thatcher years were not defined by coal miners’ strikes or the Falklands war or the Poll Tax.

Let us assume that history will define Thatcherism as the victory of free market economics over socialism. The wall came down. It’s as brutally simple as that.

Now let us propose that Blair years were not defined by the abolition of Clause 4,  the Iraq War or the shallowness of New Labour.

And let us assume that history will define Blairism as proof that there is a role for Government (the ‘State’, if you like) even in free market economies. That simple.

And taking these two consecutive eras, let us question where that leaves us now?

It leaves us in a massive financial mess that is probably not as much Labour’s fault as the Tories purport it to be (because the rest of the world is suffering too) and worse than Labour will admit to (although ‘there isn’t any money left’ is pretty bad).

And it leaves us not knowing how the financial wealth generated by a service-driven free-market economy (as opposed to a manufacturing-based economy) can spread wealth down to the underclass in our society that is poorly educated, badly behaved, hopelessly deprived and disgracefully ignored by the rest of us.

This is Labour’s opportunity.

I said I would return to an Insight on the ‘middle ground’ of the Conservative and Labour parties.

The irreversible belief among reasonable-thinking Conservatives is that Labour have always been, and will always be, financially irresponsible. They will spend money on ‘the State’ that the State does not have.

The irreversible belief among reasonable-thinking Labour supporters is that Tories always put money before people. They have no humanity. They don’t care.

This position, I am afraid, is one that the Conservatives, with all their Old Etonians, multi-millionaires and family trust funds, have already shown to be the case.

So now is the time for Labour to pounce.

After the AV referendum on 5 May, whatever the result, the Coalition will be creaking – in my view to the point of destruction.

So Labour have just a few weeks to develop a strategy that delivers just two things:

1. They can manage the economy.

2. They care.

The first challenge will be hard to overcome but they do have a case. They can say they have learnt their lessons, admit they did overspend, emphasise they did not foresee the global economic breakdown and, I am afraid, put Gordon Brown out to dry (and probably Ed Balls, although that may be too executional for now).

The second, and I would argue, is a more important yet more achievable strategy.

Today, millions of people, including public sector workers (even the police and armed forces for goodness sake!) are really suffering under these Conservative cuts. These people don’t give a toss about the global economy. They have families to feed, children to educate, relatives to care for and homes and TV licences to pay for.
Labour should disrupt and undermine the Coalition more directly and aggressively.

They should develop innovative solutions that build on their heritage and pull at the heartstrings of their traditional supporters in a way that only Labour can.

In my career, I have learnt that it is unwise to give away upstream thinking and creative ideas for free.

As previously discussed – – I did this on a professional basis (and as a non-party-member) for the Conservatives in 2007. For free, I submitted a document to Steve Hilton’s office that challenged the Role of Government in modern society. This, I believe, led to the current Big Society initiative (a potentially Big Idea that, sadly, has been poorly, and anti-socially, executed).

However, as I have given the Tories something for free, I will give this to Labour:

1. As we have moved from a manufacturing to service-led economy, your traditional support within the Trade Unions has become less influential.

2. As we have developed into a service economy, more people have more money. The problem that has emerged is, at the same time, more people have less money. These people are likely to be condemned to a lifetime of unemployment, despair and hopelessness. In only a year, the Tories continue to show they don’t care about this. (Iain Duncan Smith had a chance but he has blown it by his ruthless approach).

3. So the Labour Party should take their undeniable heritage and develop a strategy to help these people by launching the equivalent of an ‘Unemployed People’s Union’ and a ‘Disabled Person’s Union’.

Who is fighting these people’s corner? I mean really standing up for them, pulling them together and aggressively, not advisedly (as in the Citizen’s Advice Bureau), arguing their case at the highest level of Government?

Clearly, it would be bad Government for one Government Department to fight against another so, de facto, this will force a simpler, fairer system across society.

Clearly, these Unions will not be funded by the ‘members’, but by the State. Having said that, it could be argued that these people are more vulnerable than any workers’ union. After all, they cannot go on strike. They have no leverage. They just have to accept the ruthless treatment of a ruthless Government.

But they do have a vote. Enter Labour.

If you are unemployed or disabled, Labour and these Unions will be there to help you fill in those forms you don’t understand and, more importantly, defend your rights. There will be high-profile public figures to fight your corner and develop innovative ideas to help dig you out of the hole you are in.

Fixing the state we are in can certainly be done in a more caring and humane way. There are lots of brutally simple thoughts and creative ideas just dying to take on this challenge. Those are for later.  

For now, look out for 5 May.

Personally, I will be voting ‘yes’ to AV because I believe coalition government is less corrupt than one-party government and that more people should have more say.

Either way, I predict the current Coalition will break down forcing a General Election.

As our MPs need their holidays in their second homes and/or with their rich friends with yachts in the Mediterranean or villas in the Caribbean, I reckon we are looking at sometime in June.

Not long to go now.

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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