Friday, August 20, 2010

How to negotiate...

I sympathise, a bit, with Labour at the moment.  They have, after all, been wittering about a ‘progressive alliance’ and the natural affinity of those parties ‘on the left’ for ages – though this might carry slightly more weight if they’d ever done anything about it.  Under the circumstances, it must be galling to see the Liberal Democrats so apparently content in coalition with those evil Tories.  If you accept the proposition that the Liberal Democrats are, basically, Labour at heart then it must be wounding to see them waltzing off with the enemy.
 
In the circumstances (and in light of the fact that the Lib Dems said that they would never do a deal with Gordon Brown as PM) it is understandable that Ed Miliband has ruled out working with Nick Clegg in a future coalition.  Understandable but, I think, a bit dumb.  The point about coalitions is that the big parties need to court the small ones.  Let’s war-game a scenario where Labour wins most seats but falls short of a majority.  They would then have the same choice that faced Cameron: try and run a minority Govt or try and form a coalition.
 
In that position, you can’t be the one making ultimatums.  Let’s imagine (for the sake of the scenario) that the Tories’ vote collapsed and the Lib Dems actually improved their seat tally.  If Labour were to say to them, “come and join us in Government, oh but we get to decide who your leader is” they’d get told to fuck off.  The larger party is the supplicant in coalition negotiations.  The trick is to offer a good enough deal that the smaller party comes on board.  So I’m afraid I think Hopi Sen is wrong here.  Ed Miliband is shooting his mouth off in order to obtain a short-term advantage in the leadership election – the problem is that if he wins then he’s boxing himself and his party into a bit of a corner.

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