By Peter Hoskin
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at ConHome, we’ve tended to mention the areas of political
overlap between Labour and the Lib Dems. Indeed, Paul Goodman highlighted two
such areas – pensioner benefits and the mansion tax – only last week.
there are now so many examples, with new ones by the day, that a brief list in
in order. Here goes:
public finances in general. This is the Big One. As the excellent Lib Dem blogger Stephen
Tall noted last
week, Ed Balls’ recent speech on the economy did much to move Labour closer
to Nick Clegg’s party. This was true in a general sense: with, at least rhetorically,
more acknowledgement of austerity and its necessity. But also in the specifics:
Balls’ call for increased capital spending, “financed by a temporary rise in
borrowing”, recalled Vince
Cable’s words on the matter.
While Lib Dem MPs may not
have fallen for Labour’s recent, mischievous vote to impose a mansion tax
on all properties worth over £2 million, what matters is the policy itself.
David Cameron and George Osborne have both spoken out against the proposal in strong, unequivocal
terms, leaving it for Labour and the Lib Dems to unite over during the next
election. And if the Lib Dems scratch out further wealth taxes for their
manifesto – as is likely
– you can bet it will be Labour, rather than the Tories, who line up with them.
Consistently, since the beginning of the Coalition, Nick Clegg and his party
have advocated withdrawing benefits from those higher up the income ladder.
Sometimes, as with child benefit, the Tory leadership has agreed. But more
often, as with Winter Fuel Allowance, they’ve been bound by the read-my-lips
promises that David Cameron made before the election – and fought to leave the hand-outs
in place. But what about Labour? Until recently, they seemed reluctant to
dismantle the benefits sprawl that Gordon built. Yet that’s now changing. Not
only is there Balls’s pledge to restrict Winter Fuel Allowance from the highest
earners, but there’s also the possibility of more
Decarbonisation targets. Ed Davey’s stated position on the Energy Bill is basically, “You
should totally vote for it, you guys, it’s awesome” – but he previously
made it clear that he wanted it to contain firmer provisions for decarbonising
the electricity sector by 2030. And guess what? Labour yesterday
confirmed that their manifesto will set a target for decarbonising the
electricity sector by 2030. This is no small thing, this, given the extent to
which Lib Dems see environmentalism as part of their political make-up.
5. Syria. The balance may
have shifted, today, in favour of those who would prefer to help arm the rebels.
And Clegg may not
have ruled out that course of action entirely. But we do know that the Lib Dem leader and Ed
Miliband are united
in their wariness of Cameron’s plan for Syria. This may not add up to much
in the next few weeks and months, but it could become significant should the
conflict, and British involvement with it, stretch on.
And these are just
the ones that we can be sure about, with Ed Miliband’s policy-book as thin as
it is. Chances are that more will emerge as more of Labour’s policies do likewise.
This wouldn’t matter
as much were it not for the fracturing political and personal relations between
the current Coalition partners. I once, er, drew a graph of the Lib Dems’ “differentiation
strategy” for this Parliament. It had “Lib Dem identity” rising as time passed,
and “Government unity and strength” falling – and there’s certainly been
progress on the second count, at least. Barely any of the ideas for Tory-Lib
Dem cooperation and concession that I suggested last year are now
workable. Barely any of the rosy bonhomie of 2010 persists along Downing
And, at the same
time, as we know, relations have improved between Ed and Nick and Ed and Vince.
This, as Andrew Adonis notes
in his new book, is crucial for the building of coalitions. During the AV
referendum, the “Yes” campaign was undermined
by personal enmity between Miliband and Clegg. That probably wouldn’t
This isn’t to say
that Labour and the Lib Dems will end up together. There are still plenty of
areas of difference between them, particularly when it comes to civil liberties
and public service reform. And there is still Nick Clegg, who, despite his increasing
tetchiness in Coalition, remains spiritually
in tune with the Cameroons. But the chances of LibLab cooperation are certainly
higher than those days when Ed Miliband decried the Lib Dems as a “disgrace
to the traditions of liberalism”.