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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Polly gets to the root of Labour's problem

There are a lot of outraged Tories around at the moment. Some of them have even reverted to calling my party 'Liberals'. However, if the insight provided by Polly Toynbee in today's Guardian is anything to go by David Cameron has nothing to worry about.

She reports that Labour may not be as serious about a progressive alliance as they claim:

Talking to some high-ups on the progressive wing of the Lib Dems, they worry that some the Labour chief negotiators are just going through the motions while putting serious obstacles in the way. They fear many in Labour agree with the neanderthal tendency represented by David Blunkett – no deal is better than giving true proportional representation to the Lib Dems.

This is odd and unexpected: they say Lords Mandelson and Adonis are extraordinarily positive and willing to give most things on the radical Lib Dem agenda. Surprisingly it is those you might think on the left – Harriet Harman, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls who are foot-dragging. This team of negotiators claim Labour can't guarantee to get real PR through the party and none seem keen on it anyway. Their attitude, say my informants, is far from welcoming. The suspicion is they would prefer to sit on the opposition bench and watch the Lib Dems be slaughtered by tying themselves to the Conservatives.

She says that if the Labour team really is trying to make a deal impossible, they are making a historic mistake: Worse, they are betraying the people they stand for – every pensioner and poor family who always stand better protected by a left of centre government – however difficult that may be to construct. Is Labour's fatal fascination for a quiet life of internal debate (or strife) on the opposition benches getting the better of them? They should remember there is no guarantee they wouldn't be out of power for a long time, but the call of the wild is never far from their tribal instincts.

I have said on a number of occasions that this so-called progressive coalition is a non-starter simply because it would not have the numbers to make an impact and because many Labour MPs would revolt against passing a referendum on the Alternative Vote system of voting for Westminster. It may well be that the last 24 hours has been all about Nick Clegg demonstrating this basic fact to his MPs but who would have thought that we might now have Labour MPs actually advocating handing Government over to the Tories? So much for their anti-Cameron rhetoric during the election.

Meanwhile over on the Channel Four blogs Gary Gibbon says it is game-on for a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. He has the same information as Polly Toynbee that Labour were less than enthusiastic for a deal:

Last night’s two-hour meeting of the Lib Dem MPs (with a sprinkling of peers) seems to have swung the party decisively behind a Lib-Con coalition deal. An announcement is widely expected now today.

There are last-minute talks going on between Labour and the Lib Dems right now but that was not the deal that the Lib Dem leader and his negotiating team were steering the party towards last night.

Danny Alexander told MPs that the Labour negotiating team (or more precisely one half of it – the two Eds, Miliband and Balls) were not giving off good vibes. The whole body language of the Labour parliamentary party was bad. Ministers were knackered and most had already disengaged from their jobs. These opening addresses changed the mood music from the afternoon meeting.

The march towards a formal coalition between the Conservativees and the Liberal Democrats now seems unstoppable. However, Nick Clegg still has a big job to do in getting it through his party. Not enough attention has been paid to selling the deal to activists out in the country, whilst MPs appear also to be in need of further convincing.

The party leadership may be doing the right thing but they should not forget that they have to take others will them if they are going to seal the deal.
Diane Abbott was quite rude about Lords Adonis and Mandelson on TV just now.
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