The latest ConHome poll of polls is still pointing to a hung parliament (I can’t believe that will last as the economic news gets grimmer and grimmer) and Peter Oborne believes that Labour and certain Liberal Democrats are now positioning for a coalition.  Here are three quotes from his piece in the Daily Mail:

"[Brown] is seriously toying with the idea of bringing the Liberal Democrats into a possible coalition. Private discussions  –  all, of course, totally deniable  –  are taking place secretly."

"First, there are signs of a deal being thrashed out between Downing Street and the LibDems over the appointment of the next Commons Speaker… The [Labour] Whips’ Office has already launched a campaign to get Labour MPs to back former LibDem leader Sir Menzies Campbell to become the new Speaker."

Second: "It is normal, as an announcement of the date of polling day becomes imminent, for the opposition party to be granted limited access to the machinery of the Civil Service in order to go through their plans for government.  However, this traditional arrangement has been unexpectedly altered. Gordon Brown (to the embarrassment of the Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell) has gone out of his way to try to prevent the Conservatives gaining their normal access to Permanent Secretaries.  After criticism of this controversial ploy, Brown eventually was forced to grudgingly relent  –  but only on one condition. In a departure from recent precedent, he has also authorised-Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats to be given full access to key civil servants."

Oborne goes on to mention the possibility of Vince Cable become Chancellor – he recently praised Brown’s handling of the economic crisis – and Paddy Ashdown becoming Defence Secretary.

The great problem with this scheme – already floated before Christmas by Iain Martin – is that a number of Orange Book Liberal Democrats – notably Jeremy Browne and David Laws – will hate the idea of a coalition with Labour.  The Tories have long sought defectors from the parliamentary Liberal Democrats.  If Clegg allows Ashdown-Cable-Campbell to push him towards a LibLab pact (and it’s far from clear that he is happy with the talk according to Oborne) he may find he loses MPs (and more councillors) to the Conservatives.  In the long run it will destroy the Liberal Democrat brand in southern England if they prop up a Labour government that the voters of, for example, Taunton, Richmond and Sutton and Cheam wanted out.

Tim Montgomerie