Ed Miliband will be forced to reach across the political divide as prime minister in the event of an Scottish National party landslide depriving the Labour party of an overall parliamentary majority, the former home secretary David Blunkett has said.
In a frank interview with the BBC, which highlights deep misgivings within the Labour party about its prospects north of the border, Blunkett warned of a “dangerous” situation as Scottish voters close their ears to rational arguments.
Blunkett told the World at One on Radio 4 that the threat to Labour was worse than what he described as its massacre in the 1983 general election when Michael Foot took the party to its worst share of the vote since the universal franchise in 1928.
Acknowledging that the SNP’s success would complicate Miliband’s plans for government, he said: “Now we have a situation where Labour could win literally scores of seats in England and Wales and see themselves unable to offer a majority Labour government because of what’s happened in just one part of the United Kingdom.”
Grant Shapps, the Tory chairman, said Blunkett’s comments undermined Labour’s declared position of not doing deals with the SNP. “This is the first crack in Labour’s dam ... A former Labour home secretary admits what all the polls show – it is impossible for Ed Miliband to get the keys to No 10 without being propped up by Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond. Next week, Ed Miliband could be prime minister with the SNP pulling his strings.”
Blunkett, one of the more thoughtful members of Tony Blair’s cabinet, who led the charge against Gordon Brown’s attempts to form a coalition in 2010 even though Labour had just recorded its second worst share of the vote since universal suffrage, spoke in a rather more nuanced way in his BBC interview. He spoke of a tsunami sweeping Scotland that would deprive Labour of a parliamentary majority even if Miliband notched up successes in England.
But Blunkett did not, as Shapps claimed, say that Miliband could only enter No 10 with the support of the SNP. He said that Miliband’s greatest task would be to “reach out across political divides” covering all the main parties and not just the SNP.
Blunkett said that Labour was struggling in Scotland because the SNP had successfully portrayed itself as the anti-austerity party and the only true voice for Scotland. He said: “I’ve got a former researcher of mine standing for the first time in what was a safe Labour seat and isn’t any longer. She’s fighting to the very end to try and hold on to that seat with what can only be described as a tsunami sweeping Scotland.
“Once people stop listening, once their minds have switched off to even rational argument, then it’s extremely difficult to win that back.
“People are not even prepared to take leaflets or to engage in discussion. It it as though a great part of the Scottish nation have switched off and that is so dangerous for the union and for the future of Britain as a whole.”
The former home secretary said that Miliband’s greatest challenge after the election would be to forge a new form of politics, which understands the new political settlement. He said: “I think it’s going to have to be what you might describe as more than grown-up politics. It’s going to have to be about reshaping the way in which Westminster operates.
“An incoming Labour government led by Ed Miliband will have to reach out across political divides to people who have voted Conservative and Lib Dem as well as to those who have voted SNP.”
Blunkett added that it would be possible for Miliband to run a minority government without the formal support of the SNP. Labour would draw up a Queen’s speech and a budget and simply challenge the SNP to support them.
The former home secretary said: “It is possible that we could put a minority government in place which did not have a formal agreement, was not in hock to and did not find itself run by a minority nationalist party but could expect them to actually vote on the things that they themselves have committed to. I think that’s a possible scenario.”
The need to create a consensus across the political divide after a SNP breakthrough meant that a Labour government would have to delay implementing some of its own ideas until it could win a majority, he said.
“A minority government led by Ed Miliband ... sometimes will mean that the cutting-edge programmes that we want to see will have to be delayed until eventually we can win an overall majority across the United Kingdom.”
Blunkett spoke after an Ipsos-Mori poll suggested that the SNP could capture all 59 seats in Scotland. The poll put the SNP on 54%, Labour on 20%, the Tories on 17% and the Lib Dems on 5%.
This article was written by Nicholas Watt chief political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 30th April 2015 16.53 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010