I was recently in London at a Fabian Society conference to see the new Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, deliver the keynote speech. At the same conference the Lib Dem Deputy Leader –and a good friend of Gibraltar – Simon Hughes was also taking part in one of the sessions. I had wanted to ask him what lessons the GSLP Liberal alliance in Gibraltar could learn from the British coalition should they win the forthcoming general election on the Rock. I soon realised this wasn’t the question at all – it was what Miliband and the progressive Liberals could learn from the GSLP – Liberals.
I had seen Ed’s brother a couple of times when he visited Gibraltar in 2009 for the ministerial meeting with the then Spanish foreign secretary Miguel Moratinos and the chief minister Peter Caruana. Caruana must feel a bit like HM The Queen who has been on the throne so long that she has seen numerous prime ministers and presidents come and go. Far be it from me to compare the chief minister with royalty but since he was first elected in 1996 he has seen numerous British premiers, foreign secretaries and ministers for Europe and their Spanish counterparts rise and fall too.
One of the key themes of Ed Miliband’s speech was the need to create a progressive alliance. He believes the British public want to see progressive politics and intends to position the Labour Party in the vanguard of that movement – indeed as its very standard bearer. He then held out his hand to those members of the Lib Dems who were unhappy with the coalition with the Tories. He is in the process of wooing Lib Dem voters to abandon their party and join with Labour instead. In that effort he is achieving a lot of success. However he accepts that many Liberals will want to stay within the party and fight for their beliefs – these he believes could be the coalition partners for Labour in the future.
There is extreme anger in the Labour Party towards the Lib Dems, not because they would not enter coalition with them but because by joining the Conservatives they are allowing Cameron and Osborne to push through their cuts and have also betrayed much of their election manifesto. Hence it was interesting to see Simon Hughes take part in a session – Challengers or collaborators? Can the progressives influence the coalition?
I have to be honest and say that I believe the idea of a coalition with the Conservatives sits uneasily with Hughes and he spent most of the session seemingly trying to convince himself that he and his party had been right. He lost his cool on a number of occasions especially when being baited by Labour’s then Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Douglas Alexander MP under the watchful eye of the chair, the Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee. Alexander played a key role in the negotiations with the Lib Dems after the last election and given his abrasiveness I am not surprised they failed. He is definitely not on my list as a companion on a walking holiday.
A split between Labour and the Liberals occurred in British politics over a century ago and before Tony Blair led New Labour back to power in 1997 he had spent several years along with Peter Mandelson trying to form an alliance of the left with the Lib Dems. For a variety of reasons that never happened but of course in Gibraltar it has.
Now whilst the GSLP and Liberals are very much Gibraltarian parties both have very close links with their British counterparts. Joe Bossano was closely linked with the British trade union movement and the Labour Party and it was a stalwart of the London Co-operative left, Alf Lomas, that helped him in forging the GSLP. The Liberals too have strong links with the Lib-Dems both in Britain and internationally.
So the very alliance that Miliband is trying to strike for the progressives in politics in the UK has been alive and well in Gibraltar since Joe Bossano offered the hand of coalition to the Liberal leader Dr Joseph Garcia ahead of the 2000 elections. I am sure there have been disagreements between the two over the last decade but I have certainly never heard of any rumours of a likely brake in the alliance unlike the constant media prattle over splits between the Tories and Lib Dems. Furthermore if Fabian Picardo becomes leader of the GSLP in place of Joe Bossano then the alliance is likely to be even stronger as both he and Garcia are from the same political stock.
Whether that leaves the GSD as the Tories in disguise is a moot point. One of those who would like to succeed Caruana is his minister for justice, Daniel Feetham, who is a socialist. Not only did he have ambitions to lead the GSLP but even formed his own Labour Party, so where his political philosophy fits in with the rest of the GSD is anybody’s guess.
So if the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition runs its five year course and in 2014 Ed Miliband wants some advice on how to bring his progressive alliance to reality then he should look no further than the GSLP and Liberals – who by then could have brought the art of a progressive agenda to government.