In 2010, Labour joined in the general vilification of Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg for choosing the Tories over them after the general election produced a hung parliament. Now, with the next election on the horizon, Labour’s tune is changing.
It’s not hard to work out why Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, is courting Clegg through the columns of the New Statesman. Apart from the fact that the incompetent and tarnished Balls needs all the friends he can get, is the reality that another electoral stalemate is entirely possible.
Although most polls give Labour a lead over the Tories, it continues to narrow. Throw in the wild card known as Ukip, mass abstentions by a disillusioned electorate and a revival of the economic fortunes of sections of the middle class and you can see why Ed Miliband is nervous.
With policies that for the most part are indistinguishable from those of the Tories, Labour is keeping its options open. So Balls has made overtures to Clegg, whose party is responsible for propping up the most reactionary government of modern times.
Balls, part of the negotiating team that failed to woo the Lib Dems in May 2010, now says: “I understand totally why Nick Clegg made the decision that he made to go into coalition with the Conservatives at the time. I may not have liked it at the time, but I understood it. I also understood totally his decision to support a credible deficit reduction plan, because it was necessary in 2010.”
Balls’ adds that “I’ve no reason to doubt his integrity”. This is a conscious attempt to rehabilitate Clegg and his party in the eyes of the voters who abandoned the Lib Dems after they joined the coalition and then broke their pledge by voting for a tripling of university tuition fees a few months later.
As to a future coalition with the Lib Dems, Balls left the door wide open by replying: “I think what you always have to do is deal with politics as you find it . . . I saw that subsequently he made a further statement to one of the newspapers that these things weren’t about personalities, and I think he’s right about that.”
So the chances are that if you vote for Ed Miliband’s party in May 2015 you’ll get a Lab-Lib coalition – carrying on more or less where the present government leaves off. Labour is committed to the Tories’ spending cuts programme, free schools, academies, benefit cuts, workfare for young unemployed and scapegoating immigrants.
Even though a European Union commissioner has attacked David Cameron for “peddling myths” about an invasion of migrant workers, this has not stopped shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna from joining the blame game. Speaking on BBC One’s Question Times, Umunna played his own nationalist card, saying: “I think on low-skill immigration we believe there was too much of it from the European Union.”
He was against the “free movement of jobseekers” and was seeking talks with “our European partners” on the issue. Umunna is, of course, only the latest in a long line of Labour leaders to go down this road, including Yvette Cooper, Tristram Hunt and David Blunkett.
We don’t have to wait 16 months to discover that the general election will be a mass fraud perpetrated on unwilling voters by parties that more or less agree with each other on crucial issues. Better to hang on to your vote and work for a democratic alternative where it will mean something again because your ballot counts for very little now.