Ed Miliband is said to have entered the New Year in a conciliatory mood, hoping to make new allies inside his party and beyond. Key to this strategy was an attempt – which he explained at the weekend – to bury the hatchet with the Liberal Democrats.
As our political editor George Parker wrote on Sunday night, Miliband is trying to shed his image as an old-style tribal Labour leader by reaching out to Lib Dems such as Lord Owen*.
Ed Miliband portrayed himself on Sunday as the leader of a “progressive” alliance against coalition cuts, claiming that Simon Hughes, deputy Liberal Democrat leader, had joined his fight against the abolition of grants for poor students.
The concept is being taken seriously in some quarters; Mary Riddell in today’s Telegraph is talking about a ‘rapprochement’ between Lib and Lab. (Others may suspect that Miliband is more keen on pinching former Lib Dem voters than forging bonds with Lib Dem politicians).
But in senior Lib Dem circles today there is nothing but fury about last night’s attempts by Labour to sabotage the AV/boundaries bill in the House of Lords. “Of all the things to pick a fight on, Miliband must know that this turf is Lib Dem, constitutional reform, it makes a total nonsense of his words about reconciliation between the two parties,” says one Lib Dem source.
Not only Nick Clegg and his advisers seething about the supposed filibustering but they also believe it will not play well in the country at large – to the extent that the general public are interested at all.
Expect the deputy prime minister to make some withering comments about the situation during DPM questions this afternoon in the House of Commons.
The Lib Dems don’t see how Labour could hope to win votes by preventing the government from cutting the number of MPs. (Of course this ignores Labour’s protest that equal-sized seats will help the Tories at their expense).
They point out that among those talking away late into the night was Lord Martin of Springburn, formerly known as Speaker Michael Martin (pictured in his old outfit). During the all-night session, peers were plied with free toasted sandwiches and treated to “entertainment” (presentations by Seb Coe and Julian Fellowes).
Here is part of Lord Martin’s contribution. It reminds me of the Radio 4 game “Just A Minute” where contestants must aimlessly rabbit on about something without mentioning certain words:
I remember well that just after Tony Blair won, there was the big campaign-”Things can only get better”. Things got better and there was a Labour majority. All Labour MPs, some of whom are now here, were called to Dover House. I had a great affection for and remember fondly Donald Dewar. Those who knew him talk of his jokes and his generosity. On the day he told us that we were going to lose 12 seats in Scotland-it was not a collective decision by any of us-I remember that there was a buffet of two sausage rolls and three sandwiches. I said that it was the most lavish redundancy party I had ever gone to. That was how the reduction of seats came about.