In today’s Daily Mail, columnist Peter Oborne writes that secret talks are underway between Gordon Brown’s government and the Liberal Democrats about them entering into government with him. This, he suggests, could be part of deal that included a Lib Dem Speaker to replace Michael Martin.
Aside from the fact that this would be a further parallel to the run up to the 1979 General Election, when for a time the then Liberals propped up a failing Labour government, this would surely sound the electoral death knell for many sitting Lib Dem MPs in the south and midlands of England. If it is true (and it is a big “if”) then it would certainly reshape the British political scene, in the short term probably to Labour’s advantage but in the medium to longer term, to the Conservatives greater advantage. It would also complete the “New Labour” project in that we know that Tony Blair originally planned to invite the Lib Dems under Paddy Ashdown, into government with him, after what he anticipated would be a narrow victory in 1997. Once he secured a huge majority he reneged on the deal.
I can imagine that tacticians in Conservative Central Office must be rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of the Lib Dems formally aligning themselves with Labour and every Conservative Parliamentary Candidate in a Lib Dem held seat would jump for joy! For that very reason this story will sound alarm bells in many Lib Dem MPs offices and I wouldn’t be surprised if the long rumoured clutch of defections from Lib Dem to Conservative happened at last. Lib Dem MPs have in recent times proved very difficult to prise from their seats but this would surely ensure that many more of them were unseated at the next election.
Oborne also speculates that Lib Dem Economy Spokesman Vince Cable could join the Cabinet as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Apart from the fact that I find Cable hugely over-rated by the chattering classes, having the man who very effectively characterised the Prime Minister as transitioning from “Stalin to Mr Bean” at his right hand around the Cabinet table is surely unthinkable to Brown. Also where would this leave Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg?
A final reason why I cannot see this happening is the reaction of members in both parties. The Lib Dems are held in contempt by many Labour activists and loathed in areas where they are a threat, particularly the North of England. Conversely Lib Dems in the South and Midlands are often closer to Conservatives in their thinking and share common agendas on civil liberties and now taxation. Would Brown agree to ditch ID cards and introduce Proportional Representation for elections to Westminster and local Councils or would the Lib Dems have to change their positions?
Whatever the truth, politics in 2009 looks like being VERY interesting!