Andrew Adonis: “I am much more negative about the idea of coalition now”. Is Labour pluralism dead?

by Stephen Tall on December 9, 2012

A couple of days ago, I suggested Lib Dems needed to think about how we rescue the idea of coalition as an effective form of government. Right on cue, former Labour cabinet minister Lord (Andrew) Adonis has slated the concept, arguing in The Guardian that:

Giving huge power to a very small party that is very unclear about what it wants to achieve in politics – I’m trying to be diplomatic about the Lib Dems – isn’t, to my mind, the best way forward. The best way forward would be to have a majority Labour government.

There are at least four interesting things about this statement:

1. Andrew Adonis was a member of the SDP, a founding member of the Lib Dems, an Oxford city councillor for a while and a prospective Lib Dem parliamentary candidate. However, despite or perhaps because of this background he’s not the least tribal of politicians, as I’ve noted before here and here.

2. It’s interesting to see that, according to Lord Adonis’s statement, the Lib Dems wield “huge power”. That’s not the most common accusation levelled at the party by Labour folk, but it’s interesting what sometimes slips out.

3. Lord Adonis suggests the Lib Dems are “very unclear” about our policies. This seems odd, to say the least (I’m trying to be diplomatic). It is, after all, the Lib Dems which have been the coherent party in this Coalition Government while the Tories have proved themselves to be little more than an inchoate shower, with David Cameron unable to unite his backbench MPs and his party tirn apart by internal civil war on issues such as wind farms, equal marriage and Europe.

4. Whatever happened to Labour pluralism? If even ostensibly reasonable liberal/left politicians like Andrew Adonis now decry the very idea of coalition, what are the prospects for future relations with the Lib Dems? It’s true that coalitions are driven more by the realities of election results — “we take our marching orders from the public,” as Nick Clegg would say — but initially this Coalition had also a uniting, driving purpose, not just on the economy but also on civil liberties. Yes, the hand we are dealt by the voters will decide what we are able (or unable) to do post-2015. But there needs to be a dab of uniting vision, too.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.