By Peter Hoskin
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any Kremlinologists among us, Lord Adonis’s new
book and his
interview with today’s Guardian are sure to be fruitful reads. Not only are
they about the Kremlinology of days past: about how the absence of any
relationship between Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown helped scupper a LibLab Coalition
after the last election. But they are also about the Kremlinology of days to
come: about how a LibLab Coalition might be born in 2015.
Lord Adonis’s main points is that Labour should, as the Guardian interview puts
it, “prepare for coalition, even when [they] are fighting all out for a
majority”. He reckons that the mistakes of the last election ought to be
corrected, such that Ed Miliband reaches out to the Lib Dems now and dangles
the possibility of major Cabinet positions in front of their rapacious eyes.
a point that comes at a particularly, though sadly, apposite time. The
aftermath of the Queen’s Speech suggests that the coalition between David Cameron
and Nick Clegg is fraying along its political seams as well as its personal ones.
From childcare ratios to EU referenda, this is one of the more tumultuous
periods of this Government.
Ed Miliband is, to some extent, sweeping in as Lord Adonis recommends. The days
when he described the Lib Dems as “a disgrace to the traditions of liberalism”
– which I used
to chronicle – are long since passed, replaced by text messages with Vince
Cable and “more
understanding and even respect” for Mr Clegg. And there are growing policy
overlaps, too. Mr Miliband’s speech about Europe today can be seen in that
context, as can his hints
about universal benefits last week.
remain several significant impediments to an unrestrained LibLab love-in, among
them Mr Clegg himself. For all his recent wavering, the Lib Dem leader is still
– as I’ve written plenty of times before, including here
– a more natural bedfellow for the Tories than for Labour. Ed Miliband’s party
is often ruled more by its heart than its head, and its heart will not be eager
to share power with a man who helped the Conservatives into Government and who,
with his tuition fees pledge, has become a magnet for left-wing discontent.
then there’s the economy, which remains a fairly fixed point around which this
current Coalition wobbles. Unless Messrs Miliband and Balls one day commit to a
relatively sane programme of deficit reduction, there will always be that to
divide them from the Lib Dems (although they will be heartened by some of Mr
in that regard).
those impediments can, and maybe will, be overcome by electoral realities. Only
half-a-year ago, Lord Adonis poured hot,
hot scorn on the possibility of a LibLab coalition, but now he’s saying one
would be “massively preferable” to a Labour minority government. The Tory
leadership would do well not to travel in an opposite direction when it comes
to the possibility of another LibCon coalition. It could turn out to be the
only chance they’ve got.