Monday, April 26, 2010

Nick Clegg goes public on coalition – and looks to the Conservatives.

As I suspected yesterday, Nick Clegg is making it clear that his choice of partner in any coalition - should we end up with a hung parliament - would be the Tories.

Nick Clegg today signalled that he would speak to the Conservatives first about the formation of a minority government if Labour came third by share of the vote on 6 May, rejecting the constitutional convention that the prime minister should be allowed to try to form a government first.

The Liberal Democrat leader also made it explicit for the first time that electoral reform would be an unavoidable precondition of any coalition government as he insisted that Labour will have forfeited the right to govern if it comes third.
The electoral reform precondition is hardly a surprise, but I am surprised that he has made his preference for a coalition with the Tories as blatant as he now has. His success has come from appearing separate from the other two parties and offering something new and different. Now he has left it open for Labour to portray a vote for him as a vote for Cameron, which they have wasted no time in doing.
Lord Mandelson, Labour's election strategist, immediately warned in a campaign memo that "voters who flirt with Nick Clegg are likely to end up married to David Cameron". He said Clegg "had made clear his hostility to Labour and his preference to side with the Tories in a coalition if this arises. In other words, vote Nick and get Dave and George – not a nice prospect for people with progressive values."
Mandelson has a point. Surely anyone who wants to vote for Clegg is on the progressive side of the political debate? Clegg has made it clear that voting for him makes a conservative becoming Prime Minister much more likely.

I simply don't get the logic of that. Indeed, it makes me think of the formation of the SDP which split the progressive vote during the late seventies and early eighties ensuring Thatcher's domination of the British political landscape.
The Lib Dems insisted that Clegg's remarks were being over-interpreted, and he was merely rejecting the constitutional assumption that the prime minister in the event of a hung parliament would always have the first opportunity to try to form a minority government.
I hope they are being "over-interpreted", but he should never have made them. He's left himself open to the charge of being a conduit that sweeps Cameron to power, especially if Cameron will agree to proportional representation. Which makes him look self serving.

All in all, it's not the cleverest statement he has ever made. Silence would have been the far better option.


Peter Hain makes the point which I am making:

Hain also claimed he did not believe the Liberal Democrats' membership would accept Clegg making a deal with David Cameron, a possibility that Labour inferred from Clegg's remarks yesterday.

Hain said: "The Liberal Democrats are a centre-left party, and on issues like securing the recovery, political reform, fairness and helping the poor, their members have far more in common with us than Cameron and his agenda of DIY public services and big cuts in public services. I don't think [Clegg's] party will want to see him do a deal with Cameron."

The Tories are not the Liberal Democrats natural bedfellows, which is why I find Clegg's statements so puzzling.

Click here for full article.

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