Leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, has refused to rule out the possibility of aligning with the Liberal Democrats, should Labour fail to win an overall majority at the next general election.
The Labour Party enjoyed huge success in last week’s local elections, gaining 537 councillors and 22 councils. However, some analysts are still dubious about whether these results will translate to an overall majority at the next general election, which will take place at some point between now and January 2025.
Although still positive, the results aren’t comparable to the local election success that Tony Blair’s Labour Party had in 1995 prior to their landslide general election win in 1997. Additionally, the Liberal Democrats gained 400 councillors last week, predominately in traditional ‘blue wall’ seats which suggests they are going to play a big part in the next GE.
When pressed by reporters yesterday about the possibility of a coalition government being formed, Starmer ruled out working with the SNP due to “fundamental disagreements” on Scottish independence but wasn’t as firm when it came to questions about working with the Liberal Democrats. He said “these are hypotheticals for the future. I want to be clear that based on those results we’re on course for a Labour majority. That’s what has been my ambition for the country ever since I took over as leader, that continues to be my ambition.”
This response is not only very different to his response to a question about potentially working with the SNP but also very different to his response to a question about working with the Lib Dems last year. Back then, Starmer said that he was “ruling out any arrangement” with any other party.
How could a coalition occur?
To gain an overall majority, a political party must win more seats in the House of Commons than every other party combined. If no party achieves that, then the result is a hung parliament. When this happens, the party with the most seats will be asked to form a government, however, they won’t have enough seats in the House of Commons to implement parts of their manifesto without needing support from other parties. In order to achieve an overall majority, the party with the most seats will have to either establish an informal deal with another party or form a coalition.
If the Liberal Democrats agree to a coalition with the Labour Party after the next general election, then it will be the second time they have been part of a coalition government in 15 years. Back in 2010, Nick Clegg joined forces with David Cameron after the Conservatives failed to win an overall majority on their own. This coalition government lasted one term, with the Liberal Democrats losing 49 seats at the following election and the Conservatives winning it outright. The damage to the Liberal Democrats image was severe, and the current leader Sir Ed Davey has ruled out aligning with the Conservatives next time around.
Interestingly, though, he failed to do the same when asked about a potential coalition calling it a “hypothetical question” in a similar fashion to Keir Starmer. Davey added that he didn’t want to “take voters for granted” and that his plan was to target the “blue wall” in Southern England.
Despite Starmer being adamant that his full attention is on establishing an overall majority for Labour, voters across the country aren’t particularly confident that he will get what he wants. According to a new poll by YouGov, only 11% of people think that Labour will secure a large majority at the next general election. The poll isn’t all doom and gloom for Starmer, though, as 50% of voters believe Labour will win more votes than any other party which would at least put them in the strongest position to form a coalition.
The same poll is pretty damning for the Conservatives. Only 4% of voters believe that the Conservatives will secure a large majority while only 22% think that they will end up with more votes than any other party. In light of poor polling and poor results at the local elections last week, with the loss of over 1,000 council seats, Rishi Sunak is promoting his five priorities, which include cutting inflation and tackling small boat crossings, in an attempt to put his party back in a strong position ahead of the next general election.
After the local elections, Starmer claimed that Labour were “on course” for an overall majority win. However, his comments yesterday perhaps resemble a man who has a contingency plan with the Liberal Democrats in mind. The fact that Sir Ed Davey used the same “hypothetical question” line as Starmer when asked about the chances of a coalition suggests that there is a degree of political flirting going on between the two parties, especially as they have categorically ruled out working with anyone else.