I woke up to the dulcet tones of David Blunkett warning that a Lib-Lab coalition may not be quite the panacea that Lord Mandelson and others seem to think. “I believe it will lead to a lack of legitimacy. The British people will feel we have not head what they said to us,” the former home secretary warned.
“What would I have felt if Jeremy Thorpe had cobbled together a coalition with Ted Heath,” he said on the Today programme. “What would people have said?” (He also said the Lib Dems were “behaving like every harlot in history.”)
Tom Harris, Labour’s best (and arguably only readable) MP blogger, wrote this morning that the idea of a progressive coalition was looking somewhat desperate:
The word “progressive” has now been redefined as “willing to barter away everything you campaigned for in return for the chance to be in government, albeit at the beck and call of a party that has spent its entire existence trying to wipe you off the political map”. Who knew?
I’m equally incredulous about the attempts to cobble together up to seven parties (including the Greens’ single MP) to hold off the Tories at any cost. Not least because one pro-coalition cabinet minister told me at 5am on Friday that the game was up: “The arithmetic just isn’t going to work,” that person told me in the sleep-deprived early hours.
Now we are told that the maths does work; if you throw in Plaid Cymru, the SDLP, the Scottish Nats and some of the Northern Ireland MPs. It is a contraption described to me by one Labour MP as a “pantomime horse” which would soon be dispatched to the knackers yard.
John Reid, former cabinet minister, last night warned that the deal would be “bad for the country and bad for the party.” Not least because it would mean Britain’s second unelected prime minister in succession – and exclude the party with the most seats. Jack Straw was reported in the Times this morning to have warned colleagues that they looked like they were “desperately clinging to power”.
The “progressive coalition” – even if the Lib Dems decided to play ball – will be terribly hard to sell to Labour MPs; let alone the country. Knowing this, Clegg’s first option must still, surely, be the Tories (not least now they are offering a referendum on electoral reform). A Tory-Lib Dem coalition would have a substantial majority, unlike its esoteric alternative. Is Clegg merely playing footsie with Labour to strengthen his bargaining position?
Jon Cruddas (who could run for the leadership or bring left-wing support to the David Miliband campaign) has put out a statement saying any such deal would need party backing:
“I welcome any discussions about working together for the good of the country. To ensure any agreement is stable and strong, the involvement of the Labour Party should be subject to the full agreement of the Labour Party. The Parliamentary Party, the NEC, and the affiliated trade unions should be formally consulted on the terms of any talks undertaken by the Prime Minister and Cabinet.”