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The policy basis for Labour and Lib Dems happily sharing a bed

1 October 2012

7:19 PM

1 October 2012

7:19 PM

Beyond whispering about a possible Lib-Lab pact, what actual policy evidence is there for the two parties looking to work together? Quite a lot, it turns out. The basis of a joint programme appears to be forming, with the parties already converging on a surprising number of policies. Here are some of the areas where Lib Dems and Labour would be quite comfortable with one another:

Splitting up retail and investment banking

Ed Miliband announced yesterday that he’d break up banks’ retail and investment operations. This policy is more associated with Vince Cable than any other politician, and the Business Secretary was a strong proponent of the plan when he was in opposition. Though the Coalition is technically ring-fencing retail operations, the plan was watered down after last-minute lobbying and Cable is said to be unhappy. Ed’s big conference announcement will be just as attractive to Vince as it will be to his own party.

Lowering the voting age to 16

In his Q&A on Saturday, Miliband again reiterated that he’d support lowering the voting age to 16. This is a longstanding Liberal Democrat manifesto pledge and it’s the sort of Coalition Agreement-friendly, deliverable constitutional reform commitment of the type the Lib Dems so love – and that the Tories have so far denied them.

A graduate tax

Vince Cable told a fringe at the Lib Dem conference last week that from now on he was going to call the Coalition’s tuition fees policy a ‘graduate tax’, which he said was ‘more accurate’ than referring to it as a fee system. Whether or not this claim makes any sense whatsoever, it’s an implicit endorsement of the graduate tax as a policy – one that Ed Miliband yesterday told his Q&A Labour were still looking at. That leaves plenty of room on both sides for reform of student finance after the election – probably something Lib Dems privately admit they need to do to ever win back student votes in key seats.

A state investment bank

Cable rather stole Labour’s thunder with his new Business Bank. It was one of the few credible policies in Labour’s cupboard – uniting the TUC and CBI in enthusiasm. And the Business Secretary scooped it up for himself. All Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna could say was that Labour wanted one too. On closer inspection the bank is a bit on the small size, dwarfed by the German KfW and even the Green Investment Bank the Coalition set up. If it turns out this is because Cable couldn’t get the cash out of George Osborne, expect Labour’s 2015 manifesto to talk about souping it up a little bit.

House of Lords reform

Despite some rather cynical mischief-making over the House of Commons programme motion that eventually brought down the Coalition’s Lords reforms, Ed Miliband was careful to say Labour supported the Lib Dems’ proposed changes to the upper chamber. That conveniently leaves the door open to a post-2015 agreement on the issue: Labour MPs probably do by-and-large support a democratic second chamber, and the Lib Dems will be keen to finish the job should the opportunity present itself in the next Parliament.

A wealth tax

Ed Balls told the Independent earlier this month he was planning a wealth tax of the type denied to the Lib Dems by the Tories. Short of rolling around in yellow paint, there’s not much more he could have done to woo the Lib Dems than that. But it’s particularly interesting that such a flirtatious policy announcement should come from the lips of the Shadow Chancellor: In the Observer this weekend an anonymous Lib Dem Cabinet Minister said Ed Balls would be a ‘roadblock’ to any Lib-Lab pact. Is Balls aware of this, and trying to make himself integral to any future arrangement, so that he doesn’t get ditched for Vince Cable after 2015? Or was the pledge a boastful ‘anything you can do, we can do better’?

It’s probably fair to say there’s already more overlap between the Lib Dems and Labour than there is between the two Coalition partners. But if there is a get-together planned, Nick Clegg seems to be uninviting himself: his election slogan ‘Are you read to trust Labour with your money again?’ and his conference speech peppered with attacks on the party suggest he knows there wouldn’t be much room for him in any deal. With Balls’ future uncertain, Cable for Lib Dem leader and Chancellor after 2015 might not be a bad bet.


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