UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Alliance of the progressives or coalition of the damned?‏

Brown may have the (unwritten) constitutional right to try and form a government but does he have a political consensus to do so? Given the outcomes of last night possibly not but before we navel gaze on constitutional niceties let’s look at the consequences of not having a Lib Lab pact. Former Conservative student activist Clegg’s latest announcement is toying with supporting the Tories but is that really feasible?

The Tories will need to rely upon the DUP from within Northern Ireland which is facing unprecedented cuts within an economy that is dependent upon 60% of its activity from the public sector. Cameron’s emergency budget is a bigger threat to local economies within Northern Ireland than arguably anywhere else within the UK. That is a matter of public record:

The DUP support for Cameron’s conservatives will therefore come with a John Lewis price tag. Does Cameron therefore concede to a minor graze on their settlement skin compared to much deeper cuts for the rest of the UK? And where would that leave his overall emergency budget? He clearly has not been given a mandate to carry forward his slash and burn policies on the public sector and any favouritism in order to buy his way into coalition government would immediately discredit his attempts to present himself as the new face politics.

Nick Clegg the recognised king maker (albeit now leading a weakened army) has tussled between calling for PR as the deal breaker and then retracting this into a more softly softly form of language of a ‘dialogue on PR’. The reality now is that Clegg will go down in liberal democrat history as the man who threw away the once in a generation chance to secure some form of PR if he fails to pull a deal out this quagmire of an election result. As last night’s results have shown if there is not some form of PR they will be forever wondering in the political wilderness.

Whilst Cameron’s advisors will no doubt now want to court Clegg with promises of the possibility of PR it will surely not be enough to persuade Clegg’s followers. And could the Liberal Democrats really vote on Tory policies that they have so openly opposed?

We could all visualise Vince Cable in a coalition cabinet role as Chancellor within a Lib Lab government but it is impossible to imagine that Cable would be able to give way to a Cameron assault on major planks of fiscal policy. Moreover the Lib Dems are bound by their own party constitution to go back to their party conference on major policy changes. Highly unlikely in the circumstances that they have any wiggle room from their own party members to concede the chance of PR.

So what should be the pragmatic response from the left?

Brown has consistently polled higher than any of the other leaders in terms of who they would trust as prime minister and his record on the economy, despite his detractors, is grudgingly recognised, and is held in high regard on the world stage. For the sake of saying to the new labour project ‘we told you so’ it would be wrong for the left to just right off Brown. But we should accept that in the longer term hanging on, to quote the Tory presenter Nick Robinson, like some sort of ‘squatter’ will only stoke up longer term damage for the labour party.

Cool heads are needed . The critical date is not until the 25 May in reality when the Queens speech is due and could lead to the dreaded vote of no confidence. Brown has already acted statesman like in issuing his civil servants to work with the other political parties on the basis of the agreed cabinet protocol. Does this leave him vulnerable? Arguably not and the left should not call for his scalp too soon. We have far more to lose from the Tory emergency budget.

It might not be the left’s ‘dream ticket’ but a workable solution could well see Brown remain in Cabinet as a special economic secretary to provide the stability on the financial markets with Cable and Clegg ushered into Downing Street. A caretaker prime minister from amongst labours high command, but with a promise of an early election once there is that much needed stability, would dilute criticism. Whilst this is not a perfect solution and the media will hound the issue of Cameron's right to lead, the reality is no one had been given a mandate to be Prime Minister. An agreed leader amongst a progressive alliance is surely a better outcome than Cameron who the public have clearly rejected.

It is not a comfortable ending for anyone but if Cameron bullies his way into Downing Street the consequences for our members and all public sector workers will be disastrous. Let’s make sure we look after or own and stick two fingers up to any suggestions of purism when it comes to the deals that will need to be made to protect our own.

Anna Rose