How Labour and the LibDems can cooperate to stop No Deal

Paul Cotterill
5 min readAug 14, 2019


The new LibDem leadership and the not-so-new Labour leadership have, to differing extents, dug themselves into holes in respect who might lead a transitional government to avert No Deal, pending a general election.

It does not really matter much at this stage which side is most to blame: the LibDems, for their arrogance in thinking they, a party with a recent track record of backing an austerity government, can dictate terms to the Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, which in response reminds the LibDems of that recent history; or Labour, for allowing the factually basesless idea that a Corbyn-led government is a threat to national security etc. to flourish, such that the LibDems use it as a defence for their own self-interested positioning [1].

What does matter at this stage of national crisis is finding a way which allows the parties to work together in areas where there is a common interest, but where electoral self-interest is not damaged and thus allows of such tactical cooperation

There is no point in seeking to do this via the usual parliamentary means. There may in time be a late scrabbling at the sides of self-dug holes as the 14 days post-Vote of No Confidence ebb away, & a last minute compromise, but the very idea of that may deter moves to such a vote in the first place.

In any event, such backroom dealing as may occur will create a new stench of corruption, and further deepen the sense that parliament is broken, leading fairly irrevocably, I would suggest, to a rightwing populist government holding a majority by December.

In essence, parliament is now in the the throes of a legitimation crisis over its handling of the Brexit issue. The fact that it was all Cameron’s fault in the first place now means little.

That legitimation crisis over Brexit is fast becoming a wider crisis about the capacity of parliament to deliver sound governance at all, and crisis will be exploited to the hilt by the Faragists and others, whose mix of interest and ideology favour its demise and their rise.

But that very legitimation crisis creates an opportunity not just for the Faragists, but for those ‘progressives’ who want both to avoid No Deal and to develop a more radical democracy [2]

Those ‘progressives’, ironically, include many MPs in both Labour & the LibDems who at the very least pay lip service to the ideas/ideals of participatory democracy, and often genuinely believe in them, but are hamstrung by their own positions in centralized state unsuited to it.

The way forward in both parties, therefore, is for the leaderships themselves, under whatever pressure from members needed (see below) to a) accept that they are in their holes and need ladders of participatory & non-parliamentary democracy to climb out; b) back two such measures

These measures are as follows:

Measure I

Widespread ‘proposals’ should be made to government by a range of Labour and LibDem led councils (and Mayors by proxy), under the Sustainable Communities Act 2007/2010 (SCA), seeking from government the legal right, in the interests of the very sustainable of those communities, to intervene in the No Deal crisis

While locally specific in terms of rationale for the proposals (impacts in Labour Redcar will be different from those in LibDem Eastleigh) the key demand should be common to all, and be focused on the creation of a local -led veto to No Deal.

These proposals will, of course, be refused by government. Indeed, the government tactics may be simply to ignore their legal duty to respond, so to this extent the applications (a four page letter in practice) are purely symbolic in a way they would not have been if submitted earlier.

But that is not the point. The real point is it shows that beyond parliamentary (il)logics, it is possible to work to common purpose, both in submitting proposals and in demanding a government response (and then potentially around legal action around the Local Government Assocation appeal mechanism which is built into the SCA proposal process).

Such cross-party work, extra-parliamentary cooperation, fostered by the parliamentary leadership, then sets the scene for the next, more substantive cooperative measure.

Measure II

The leadership of both parties should agree, if necessary by force of a motion/amendment at their respective party conferences (though this leaves things far too late for comfort), not directly to negotiate a temporary anti-No Deal administration, but that they will BE BOUND to enact the recommendations of a quickly formed (quasi) Citizens Assembly drawn at random from their own party memberships, and perhaps also from a discrete number of progressive civil society organisations which command the trust of both party leaderships.

In this way, a ‘ladder of participation’ is built for both party leaderships, via which they can clamber from their holes, while still retaining their full party independence (and antipathy) on non-Brexit matters, but which also creates an initial model of direct democracy for the future (albeit one hastily put together here).

A Citizens’ Assembly was a popular idea as a way of dealing with Brexit in the months before the current crisis point, and I would expect those MPs who supported it then to support the idea, now that its role is more clearly defined in terms of relationship to parliamentary norms.

Of course the proposals set ou here will all be seen by many as idealistic hogwash, but unlike the widely publicized Caroline Lucas proposal for a fantasy government, they have the advantage of a connection to reality. Yes, there are a lot of moving parts — perhaps to many — but at least they move, and that’s a start.


[1] For simplicty I refer only to the LibDems here. Of course in reality the Green(s) and the SNP will have to be factored in, though the SCA process is not available to Scottish councils because it is England & Wales only legislation.

[2] This claim is at the heart of Chantal Mouffe’s recent short book ‘For a left Populism’. Mouffe is correct enough in her diagnosis of what she calls the ‘populit moment’, and her use of the term ‘legitimation crisis’ copies Habermas directly.

Her remedy — the development of a radical but always agonistic and ‘disassociative’ politics —lacks any grounding in social or psychological reality, however.

More of that at my other, specifically Habermasian site soon.



Paul Cotterill

Secretary General, Habermasian Labour (UK). Indefatigably focused on the promotion of ethical discourse in the public sphere, except when there's cricket.