There was an interesting column from Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer yesterday, suggesting that the relationship between Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg is warming. In many ways that’s unsurprising – it would have been impossible to keep up such high levels of disdain forever – but if this is a precursor to Miliband and Clegg working more closely together, the Labour leader should be very cautious.
Regular LabourList readers will know that I’m not keen on the idea of building towards a Lab/Lib coalition. I think it sends two awful messages to the public – that whoever you vote for you get Nick, and that Labour aren’t confident of winning a majority. Both of these are more likely to increase the chance of a hung parliament. Some are willing to stick to the fallacy that the Lib Dems (currently helping to ram through austerity and secret courts, to name but a few of their “triumphs”) would help make Labour a “better” government. On the contrary – they’d lead to a muddled coalition lashed to the mast of failed austerity.
Yet even those who have advocated a rapprochement between Labour and the yellow peril have always been clear on one point – if a Labour-led coalition came to pass, it could not feature a Lib Dem Party led by Nick Clegg.
Clegg has gone from being the poster boy for a new politics to the living embodiment of a vile and unpleasant old politics, with a ministerial career built on failure and broken promises, as he and his party cling to the government benches for safety.
And although the Labour Party could (just about) swallow a Coalition with the Lib Dems as the price of unseating the Tories, it couldn’t swallow the thought of Nick Clegg remaining as Deputy Prime Minister. And nor could the country. It would risk being the bitter, toxic poison pill that sinks Labour’s chance of winning a majority.
The irony is that one major reason that Rawnsley cites as an example of Miliband’s strengthened relationship with Clegg (working together to kill Cameron’s
gerrymandering boundary changes) actually increases the chances of an overall Labour majority.
Yet Labour people should nt worry too much. It is still Miliband’s stated position that he couldn’t work with Nick Clegg. What appears to be happening is a tactical briefing from those closest to Clegg designed to sustain his position as Lib Dem leader by aligning him more closely with Miliband. But when Lib Dem members and MPs see Clegg sat in the house, inches from Cameron, they will know that it is politics, as well as proximity, that draws these men together. Labour should no more consider a coalition with Nick Clegg than it would with David Cameron. They are both responsible for the policies of this government, through either desire or acquiescence, and should be treated accordingly.
The Labour Party couldn’t stomach an alliance with Nick Clegg, or his return as PM under Ed Miliband. If a coalition is necessary, Miliband will need to call Clegg and tell him what the Lib Dem Leader once told Gordon Brown:
“Please understand I have no personal animosity whatsoever… but it is not possible to secure the legitimacy of a coalition…unless you move on in a dignified way.”
And in the unlikely event that Ed thinks otherwise, he could have a mutiny on his hands. Not just from the party, but from a fed up public too.