Tuesday 15 November 2011

United we fall

It’s hard to disagree with the assertion that the Labour Government in Cardiff has behaved in a somewhat high-handed fashion in preparing this year’s budget proposals, with no meaningful discussion with the other parties.  It’s easy to see how frustration with that approach has led the three opposition parties to table a joint amendment.
But I’m not overly impressed with that joint amendment.  In trying to combine three different and incompatible sets of priorities, it ends up putting forward little which is constructive, and is little more than a fig-leaf to justify them all voting together against the government’s proposal.  One doesn’t have to agree with the government’s own proposals to realise that there is no way of changing them to fully accommodate all the points raised by the amendment.
It’s true of course that the government doesn’t have an overall majority to vote its budget through; but neither does the combined opposition have a majority to vote through an alternative – even in the unlikely event that they were able to agree on a positive alternative rather than simply a wrecking amendment.
The stalemate of tied votes may make for a few newspaper headlines, and seen from the perspective of the bubble, it may even give the participants a welcome bit of excitement, but it has little to do with good government.  Those proposing the amendment must also be fully aware of all this.  So what do the opposition parties really hope to get from this, knowing as they must that they are asking for the impossible? 
One and a half of the opposition parties would rather like to join Labour around the cabinet table in coalition, and if that were to happen, we could be sure that much of what is ‘unacceptable’ today would not only become ‘acceptable’, but even ‘essential’, as the members currently lined up to vote against the budget found themselves whipped into supporting the same basic proposals with a few cosmetic changes around the edges.
If the government avoids the coalition route, and tries to offer enough concessions to get the support, or at least the abstention, of one of the opposition parties, the result would be that two of those parties will have got nothing out of this little collaboration.  It makes me wonder whether they’ve really thought through what they’re doing rather than indulging in a little bit of short term game-playing. 
Given Labour’s one-tune narrative of presenting anything and everything as being a choice between a Labour government and a Tory-led opposition, it’s hard to see how the opposition parties are doing anything other than reinforcing that narrative.

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