Monday, July 12, 2010

Peter Mandelson: Clegg told Brown he would have to go.

Nick Clegg told Gordon Brown that he would have to stand aside if there were to be any hope of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats and wanted a change to the way MP's were elected without any consulting of the electorate, according to a new book by Peter Mandelson.

Both claims about the Lib-Lab talks have been made before, but it is the first time the assertions, likely to put Clegg in a questionable light, have been backed by detail. In his memoir serialised in today's Times newspaper, Mandelson claims that Clegg said to Brown directly at a secret meeting: "Please understand, I have no personal animosity whatsoever. But it is not possible to secure the legitimacy of a coalition and win a referendum unless you move on in a dignified way."

It is possible the Liberal Democrats were at this point seeking to maximise their negotiating position with both Labour and the Conservatives, and indeed were putting demands in the hope they would be impossible for Brown to accept. Brown did end by offering to step aside as prime minister, but was unable to get an agreement to form a coalition.

It never struck me as if Clegg was remotely serious about forming a coalition with Labour, so perhaps he was saying this knowing that it would be unlikely that Brown would accept it, but it is nevertheless outrageous that Clegg should have demanded that he gets to state whether or not the elected leader of the Labour Party is acceptable to him.

It is alleged that late in the negotiations Clegg changed his position, and told Brown to remain in office since he secretly wanted Brown in Number 10 to increase his negotiating hand with the Conservatives.

Brown's s team have claimed after collapse of the talks that they felt they were being used by Clegg, and he was pressing Brown to cling on so he could have time to finalise his deal with the Conservatives and sell it to his party.

Brown lost patience, and told Clegg he could not wait any longer before going to see the Queen to resign. One reason was Mandelson did not want him to leave No 10 at night. It meant Clegg was in a coalition before his party had signed a final deal, and Cameron arrived in Downing Street more in the twilight.

"I was fearful that if the denouement was delayed much longer, Gordon would have to leave Downing Street after dark. That was not the image I wanted for his leave-taking."

Mandelson's report certainly fits in with the feeling that I had at the time. Clegg never struck me as being remotely serious about a deal with Labour, even though most of us feel that this would have been a much more natural alliance.

I think Clegg always wanted a deal with the Conservatives. Which is an odd thing for any liberal to want.

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