There’s an age old Labour Party Joke:
Question: if you could push a Tory or a Lib Dem off the edge of a cliff, who would you choose first?
Answer: the Tory, business before pleasure!
There is a growing momentum within the Party, that our current strategy of calling out the Lib Dems is wrong, and is allowing the Tories to get away with the cuts Scot free. I disagree. It’s time too push the Lib Dems off the cliff.
That’s not to say that there shouldn’t – at some point – be an entente cordiale between Labour and the Social Democrat wing of the Lib Dems. It may well be the case that coalitions are more likely to happen again in future, and so to completely dismiss any and all relations would be stupid and would be likely to lock Labour further out of power.
But we need to be looking for two things from such a relationship. Firstly, we need to have a strong Labour hand. Secondly, and probably more important strategically, we need that wing of the party to be much, much stronger than they are at present. There are signs of this resurgence, as the leadership are increasingly getting the blame with their all-in-together attitude to coalition policy for the Lib Dems poll slump. But to really give the social democratic wing proper traction to build a post (current) coalition future for the Lib Dems, the party needs to see how much their current direction is hurting them.
So it may sound counter-intuitive, but I believe that in order for there to be a Lib Dem party Labour can work with the future, We need to show them how bad it is when they are so opposed to us. We need to hit them where it hurts. And where it hurts for Lib Dems is in Local Government. If we can make significant gains next May, on the back of a Lib Dem collapse (and all the signs are that we can) we will be strengthened as a party. We will also have weakened the link between the Lib Dem leadership and membership, giving their more sensible, less Orange Book wing the chance to asses the damage and rebuild from within.
This doesn’t mean that a future Lib/Lab coalition is wholly desirable or even possible under any circumstances. That will be up to voters and if needed, the party negotiators. But what is obvious is that such a coalition would need different Lib Dem leadership than we have now. Just as Brown going was a pre-requisite even for talks this time around, so we should make clear that for Labour, there are Lib Dems and there are Lib Dems.
So for now, I say keep the pressure on. Once the cuts start to bite, the Tories will be recognised as their architects. There will be plenty of time for us to tie them to the damage their Chicago School economics will do to society and people’s lives. But the Lib Dems are culpable too, and they need to know that the electorate know that.