What’s Left?

How will the politics of the left shape a potential rainbow coalition?

According to the YouGov seat projection from April 27th Labour is expected to end up with 277 seats. Though this may be an underestimate, should this come to pass it will not be enough to get the magic number – 326 seats – to form a majority. Ed Miliband has made it clear he is going for a Labour majority and that deals are off the table. However, should the Party fall short of a majority, what potential alliances would be open to the Labour leader and what would the potential programme for Government be?

It seems clear that if there is no majority for either Labour or the Conservatives there will be some serious deal-making to be done, and former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell – who led on negotiating the coalition agreement in 2010 – is right to identify that this time round could be more complex, with multiple interests around the negotiating table.

If Labour can reach closer to 300 seats then an alliance with the Liberal Democrats (at whatever degree of formality) could get them over the line to pass policy. The Liberal Democrats have played a careful campaign to keep the door open for negotiation with either Labour or the Conservatives but many in the grassroots of the party feel closer to Labour in values and policy. Areas on the agenda would be slower deficit reduction, higher wealth taxes including the mansion tax, and the Liberal Democrat ‘red lines’ of increased education and health funding (see Over the Rainbow) – likely to be uncontentious with a Labour audience.

The SNP could, of course, replace the Liberal Democrats as the third largest party in the UK Parliament, and potentially the only party with the number of seats required to help Labour form a majority. Ed Miliband has firmly ruled out a formal coalition with the SNP and has also been categorical in ruling out any deals with Nicola Sturgeon’s party, including ‘confidence and supply’ agreements, where support for a limited number of policies is negotiated between two or more parties. He is adamant this will be the case even if this means he will be unable to form a Government and he has become increasingly categorical about the issue as the Election campaign has progressed.  It means that Miliband does not need to be drawn into a complex discussion about post-Election negotiations before going to the polls; avoiding a distracting discussion about tricky policies where there is fundamental disagreement including national defence (specifically, Trident renewal) and, of course, Scottish independence.

Of course it’s possible for Ed Miliband to lay a Queen’s Speech and garner support across the Commons from multiple smaller parties as a minority government. However, it’s hard to make the numbers stack up. Plaid Cymru would have to have a very good night to come out with 5 seats and the Greens may struggle to hold Brighton, let alone grow their seats. This means that those parties would only hold the balance of power if a) Labour got very close indeed to a majority or b) there were a so-called ‘rainbow’ coalition with either the SNP or the Liberal Democrats in support – and even with the Lib Dems they may struggle to do this on the YouGov projections above. However, it is worth taking note of the policies of these smaller parties in case they do have a seat around the table.

For an in depth look at what a coalition of the left might look like, please see Over the Rainbow.